Meet Olivia Rockwell, a Penn State civil engineering student and risk taker

Megan Lantz
April 26, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Olivia Rockwell, a senior civil engineering student at Penn State, describes herself as someone who is always up for a challenge. She said she enjoys pushing herself and failing in order to learn from that failure — that's why she made sure to immerse herself in a wide variety of clubs and organizations outside of her engineering studies.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of things at Penn State just because my interests kind of change and vary,” said Rockwell, who has been involved in Penn State Homecoming, the Swing Dance Club, the Ukulele Club and the Nittany Grotto Caving Club, among others.

Throughout high school, Rockwell loved courses involving STEM. She plunged into engineering, math and science courses, learning to use software like Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD and Autodesk Revit, which she found as a way to push herself and challenge her skillset.

“I liked the idea of being able to build things,” Rockwell said.

Olivia Rockwell headshot

Olivia Rockwell, senior civil engineering student at Penn State.

IMAGE: Penn State

Rockwell also joined a program called "Project Lead the Way," which consisted of three engineering courses that all focused on different aspects of the engineering industry: technology, software and design and static analysis for physics. At one point, she completed an independent study designing a train station on an Autodesk Revit. This project gave Rockwell a taste of what the engineering industry might be like.

“Project Lead the Way was what made me want to come to engineering,” Rockwell said.

When it came time for Rockwell to choose a college, she chose Penn State for one reason: the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) stayover. Each year SWE invites a number of prospective engineering students to stay at the University for one night. Rockwell described this experience as a night full of fun, where she learned a lot about Penn State and all it has to offer.

“After that SWE stayover … on the way home in the car, I said ‘Mom, I think I want to go to Penn State’,” Rockwell said.

Originally, said Rockwell, she wanted to be a landscape architecture major, until she realized it was "too artsy" for her interests. Given her love of STEM and an interest in building things, Rockwell finally settled on civil engineering.

Now approaching the end of her senior year, Rockwell has been reminiscing on all the experiences she’s had during her time at Penn State and how those experiences have helped shape who she is today.

Rockwell swing dancing with partner

Olivia Rockwell competes in a swing-dance competition.

IMAGE: Provided

During her freshman year, she joined the Swing Dance Club due to an interest in dancing that she developed at a young age. Rockwell shared how she grew up square-dancing to her grandparents’ band throughout much of her childhood, which inspired her to continue with a new style of dance.

“I was at the career fair, and I saw these people dressed up in nice clothes and they were playing music,” Rockwell said. “I went up to them, and I said, 'OK, well what is this about?' … From the very first day, I had so much fun.”

Rockwell was also involved in the Ukulele Club. She said she has always liked music and is a quick learner when it comes to instruments, so she saw this club as a nice way to escape the stress of her civil engineering studies and meet people with similar interests in the process.

Rockwell also participated in the Nittany Grotto Caving Club.

“I was actually at a career fair trying to get people to sign up for Swing Dance Club, I was wearing my swing dance dress and my heels and walking around, and I heard this guy say, ‘Well that girl wouldn’t go caving,’ and I said ‘Yes, I will!’ So, I signed up for the club, and I started caving,” Rockwell said.

She is also a member of the 2018-2019 Penn State Homecoming Court. She was nominated to apply to be a Homecoming Court member, but once she applied she became excited about the goals of the group.

“‘Guide State Forward,’ that was Homecoming’s motto for the year,” she said. “That simple ‘Guide State Forward’ really stood out to me. I wanted to be that person. I wanted to be someone who I felt made a difference at Penn State, even if it was a small one, and who could be an inspiration.”

Rockwell said that homecoming was one of her favorite activities while at Penn State because the opportunity allowed her to hear from a wide variety of people who have had diverse and remarkable experiences, which was extremely humbling for her.

“I looked up to them, and I thought that someone picking me to be with these incredible people was really awesome,” Rockwell said.

Not only has Rockwell focused on involving herself in different clubs and organizations at Penn State, but she has worked hard to obtain two different internships, one that resulted in a full-time job offer.

She was an imagineer project control specialist intern at Walt Disney World during her junior year. In this position, Rockwell worked in estimating and change orders and worked side-by-side with the general contractor to estimate projects. Rockwell said the internship taught her to speak up and contribute her opinions in meetings, along with conceptual estimating.

Rockwell standing with a hard hat on

Olivia Rockwell on-site with Mascaro Construction.

IMAGE: Provided

Her second internship was with Mascaro Construction. With this company, Rockwell held two different positions. The summer following her sophomore year, she was an estimator in the office of the heavy construction department. At first, Rockwell said she was upset she was placed in heavy construction, but by the end of the internship, she said it was the best thing that could have happened to her. Then, the summer following her junior year, she was a project engineer on a water treatment plant for the Pennsylvania American Water Company.

“I loved it, now I can’t imagine working on buildings,” she said. “It’s so weird because, at first, I was so destroyed and distressed at the thought of having to do the dirty work of civil engineering, and then I ended up absolutely loving it.”

Upon graduation this May, Rockwell will continue her work with Mascaro Construction in the heavy industrial department.

Rockwell describes her biggest takeaway from these opportunities as learning to be a sponge. Internships allow for extraordinary opportunities for learning, she said, and it’s vital to take advantage of every second of it.

“As an intern, you just have to soak it all in,” she said.

Last Updated April 29, 2019