Abel Barraza hasn’t shied away from challenges during his time at Wichita State University. The first-generation college student from Dodge City not only undertook a rigorous curriculum that included fluid mechanics and calculus, but he also served as president of his fraternity during his demanding senior year.
Abel is one of more than 2,400 students eligible for spring 2020 graduation. Learn more about his time at Wichita State and what’s next for the grad.
What is your degree in?
I'm graduating with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a minor in management.
What led you to WSU?
Talk of the engineering program and all the opportunities to work in the city while I studied were initially what drew me here. The smaller class size in comparison to other Kansas universities was also what made me feel like less of a number and an actual member of Shocker Nation.
How are you feeling leading up to graduation?
I'm very excited and also sad to be leaving the university where I found myself and grew so much as a person. The thought of not taking classes here anymore seems so surreal to me. I've grown accustomed to looking forward to my next semester, and now that there won't be another, it makes me want to get a master’s!
What are your career plans?
I recently accepted a position as a manufacturing engineer in Palmdale, California, for Northrop Grumman. I will be working on a secret program, and I feel like this is a big steppingstone into ultimately helping manufacture space shuttles. Working on something related to space has always been my career goal. My location in California also puts me close to my dream graduate school – California Institute of Technology. I plan on applying for the Master in Space Engineering program this coming fall.
How has the COVID-19 crisis altered those plans, if at all?
Being a first-generation college student, I always envisioned walking across the stage in May and hugging my family outside of the doors of Koch Arena. It was what I would think about when I felt overwhelmed or I questioned if this degree was worth it. Having it postponed was sad to say the least, but I still look forward to walking in October! I also wish I could've spent my last day of classes thanking my professors and making a final stop in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to thank them for all they've helped me through.
What advice do you have for other students on how to cope with the uncertainty of these times?
I think it's important to stay grounded during these times and try to utilize the extra time we have at home finding new hobbies or simply staying busy. Social distancing doesn't mean you have to stop talking to friends and family. Better days will come. Don't lose faith!
What has been your most helpful learning experience while a student at WSU?
I think serving as president of my fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta. This was the busiest academic year of my life. I learned how to manage my time effectively and how to prioritize. My leadership skills grew tenfold.
What was been your biggest challenge as a student, and how did you overcome it?
My most helpful learning experience doubled as my biggest challenge (serving as president of my fraternity chapter). What ultimately pushed me through was how much I genuinely cared about seeing my chapter succeed. This is where I learned that no matter how hard a project or role you take on, if you are truly passionate about the work you're doing, you will ultimately succeed. I will apply this to my so I can wake up excited to go to work every morning.