Schreyer Honors College mission lives in alumna Rebecca Allen Delaney

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.--In December 2014, Schreyer Honors College alumna Rebecca Allen Delaney, 2006 Penn State graduate in engineering, had just moved to Chicago, and was adjusting to a new position as a mechanical team leader for design firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s sustainable engineering studio. During this transition, entirely unbeknownst to Delaney, her former professors, mentors, fellow College of Engineering Young Alumni Advisory Board members and supervisors were in the process of recommending her for the Alumni Association’s Alumni Achievement Award.

When she learned that she had been selected for the award, Delaney said the honor came “completely out of the blue.”

[It was] incredibly humbling and flattering,” Delaney said of winning the award, commenting that it came at a time when she was questioning whether she was making an impact.

Making an impact has been a theme of Delaney’s career. As a member of Engineers without Borders, Delaney has traveled to Kenya and Uganda to teach sustainable practices in rural communities. Having learned about the program while living in New York City, Delaney became involved when she moved to Chicago and, seeing that there was a project in Africa, felt that was where she needed to be.

“Global travel has become a passion,” Delaney said. “I’ve fallen in love with eastern Africa, wholly and completely.”

As an undergraduate, Delaney had the opportunity to indulge her passion for global travel while studying abroad both in Italy and in England. She later returned to England for a summer internship abroad.

A focus on environmental sustainability was also a key part of Delaney’s undergraduate career.

“I was drawn to mechanical engineering because of the energy crisis,” Delaney said, noting that 40 percent of energy consumed is used by buildings. After graduation, Delaney moved to New York City, where her first project – which she also describes as her most interesting – challenged her resourcefulness. Her task was building a high-rise museum on a tiny plot of land with just 100 feet of street front.

The project was a success and Delaney has gone on to serve as lead mechanical engineer for many other interesting projects, most recently the proposed tallest office tower in the Middle East. However, she well remembers the stress that recent college graduates face when they enter the workforce.

“I felt completely underqualified the entire way through the project,” Delaney reflected on her first project.

As a mentor through the Architecture, Construction, Engineering (ACE) Mentoring Program, Delaney works with college students, making an effort to be frank with them about the challenges of moving to a new city, budgeting, saving and establishing oneself after graduation. Through other mentorship programs, Delaney works with a number of students, including high school students.

“Working with high school students is hilarious and refreshing,” said Delaney, and she enjoys hearing about some of the crazy engineering ideas that her mentees imagine.

This creativity has served her well in her time at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. In working for the design firm responsible for much of Chicago’s skyline and legacy buildings, engineering has “become much more of an art” for Delaney. Working on iconic buildings is “very cool, but kind of frightening,” said Delaney, who enjoys seeing some of the firm’s buildings featured on popular television shows like “Chicago Fire.”

Looking back on her decision to attend Penn State, Delaney has no regrets.

“The degree has paid off tenfold,” Delaney said, emphasizing the many networking opportunities she had while at Penn State. “It’s the relationships that will endure well past your tenure in State College.”

As a Schreyer Scholar, Delaney had the opportunity to form even closer relationships with professors and mentors through the honors option, a way for students to receive honors credit for a course by taking on additional projects and learning.

“[Honors options] pushed me out of my comfort zone [and helped me] build a personal relationship with faculty that I may not have pursued on my own,” Delaney said.

When she returned to Penn State to receive her award in April 2015, Delaney shared her advice for current students in her acceptance speech.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough,” Delaney said. “Dream big, because you’ve got nothing to lose.”

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars, including Gateway Scholars admitted after their first or second year of enrollment, total more than 1,900 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who perform well academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated January 25, 2016