Meet a Shocker: Claudia Rojo, aerospace engineering graduate


Claudia Rojo is one of more than 2,400 students eligible for spring/summer 2020 graduation. Learn more about her time at Wichita State and what is next for the grad.

Steve Rainbolt often uses visual aids from the archive of track and field photographs on his cell phone.

When he wants to show good technique at the moment of take-off during the high jump, he scrolls to former Wichita State All-American Hunter Veith. Rainbolt, WSU’s director of track and field, favors a picture of Gary England, an NCAA shot put champion at the University of Alabama, to demonstrate proper positioning to generate power.

When he wants to show competitive spirit, he calls up pictures of Wichita State senior Claudia Rojo, straining across the finish line at the end of a race and another of her long jumping. 

“I use them to show other athletes visible evidence of a competitive attitude,” Rainbolt said. “I like to see visible evidence of competitive toughness. She’s not an athlete that’s going to back off at the finish line.”

Rojo, from Naron, Spain, will cross the finish line in strong form athletically and academically.

She graduates this spring and will begin a graduate research assistantship at the National Institute for Aviation Research while finishing her final season of outdoor track eligibility in 2021.

Rojo, like all seniors in spring sports, was granted the option to extend her eligibility after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled spring sports. In 2019, she finished second in the heptathlon in the American Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships. 

She earned the 2020 Outstanding Student Member of Sigma Gamma Tau award for her studies as an aerospace engineering major. Sigma Gamma Tau is the aerospace engineering honor society. Awardees, selected by the faculty, are recognized for their outstanding academic achievements.

Rainbolt, who coaches Rojo in the pentathlon and heptathlon, knows that when he schedules a workout with her, she will fit it into a busy schedule of classes, study sessions, group projects and homework. Her organizational skills and work ethic make it possible to excel in both areas.

“She just simply thinks at a different level than most people,” Rainbolt said. “She’s very achievement-oriented. She intends to make good grades. She intends to compete successfully. She intends to get ready for any competitive effort she’s going to be involved in in life.” 

What is your degree in?

My degree is in aerospace engineering with minors in physics and mathematics.

What led you to WSU?

I am from Spain and I wanted to come to the US to study and run track and field at the same time. It is quite challenging to do both at the same time, especially engineering, back home because sports and universities are not related. I knew I wanted to study aerospace engineering so I did my research on schools that had a good program and I found Wichita State.

Then I talked to Coach Rainbolt and the decision was easy to make. Both the aerospace program and the track and field program were terrific.

How are you feeling leading up to graduation?

I am excited to finish my undergraduate program, especially after all the hard work I put in during this last year. I am feeling accomplished and happy to make this dream come true.

What are your career plans?

I am going to further my education with a master's program in aerospace engineering with a focus on structures here at WSU. I will be working with a graduate research assistantship at the National Institute for Aviation Research while I also take an extra outdoor season of track given to us due to the covid-19 cancellations.

After two years of graduate school, I would like to get a full-time position at one of the big aerospace companies anywhere around the world.

How has the COVID-19 crisis altered those plans, if at all?

COVID-19 has not affected my academic future plans at all. Due to COVID-19, my last outdoor season has been postponed for a year, giving me the great opportunity to be part of the track and field team for an extra year.

I will be walking and celebrating graduation either in October or December on one of the makeup dates the school will establish, and I hope my parents can come to celebrate with me since they were actually supposed to be here in Wichita right now to celebrate May's graduation.

What advice do you have for students on how to cope with the uncertainty of these times?

To remind yourself that even though these are tough times and you might feel low on motivation, you have been working very hard for something so just keep grinding. Also, to be patient and not to stress about not having much to do: find a new hobby, go out on runs, reach out to friends and family.

What has been your most helpful learning experience while a student at WSU?

Learning that teamwork makes the dream job. I have always been very individual when it comes to both do school work and also workouts for track and field.

WSU has taught me that with the support of a good group you can reach farther than if you are on your own. At track and field practice I was part of a large group of girls that we all pushed each other to the limits at every single practice, and that is what it got us all through practice every week and eventually to succeed at championships and be at the top of the podium.

What was been your biggest challenge as a student, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for me was learning how to be a team player. As I said, I like doing things my way. In engineering, we have many group projects and you have to learn how to cooperate with people, share the workload, communicate so there is a good working atmosphere.