Profile: Skyline grad Julia Kerst is both kinds of bright – smart and full of life


Julia Kerst is going to be some kind of engineer – we will get to what kind in a bit. But the stereotype for an engineer is an anti-social stubborn introvert who works at a desk with a pocket protector in their shirt and a sack lunch on the desk. And, of course, very, very smart.

Kerst is very, very smart. She has the numbers to prove it – we will get to that in a bit.

But that’s where the stereotype ends because if Kerst wasn’t going to be an engineer she could land a job as a cruise director on a ship. She likes to laugh. She likes to engage people, help those less fortunate and reach out to those in need or whomever is close by.

She isn’t the desk in the room – she’s the lightbulb. And people are drawn to her personality and friendliness first and foremost. Then they learn the brilliant side. She’s both kinds of bright.

Kerst, a 2014 graduate of Skyline High School, is a seven-semester James B. Angell Scholar at the University of Michigan. According to the program from the Honors Convocation Ceremony, “students who achieve an “A” record (all grades of A+, A, or A-) for two or more consecutive terms are recognized as James B. Angell Scholars. The student must have taken a minimum of 14 credit hours each term, including at least 12 credits elected on a graded (A-E) basis.”

Kerst, 21, admits she hasn’t found her calling, but … “I found an area,” she says with a laugh.

She did an internship last summer with National Instruments in Austin, Texas and has another internship set up this summer in Dallas as she tries to figure out her long-term plans once she leaves Ann Arbor next year with a Master’s Degree in her back pocket.

And while she hasn’t totally mapped out her future, Kerst is getting clear “signals” for what she wants to be doing as a profession.

“When you pick a major you have to choose a specific area,” she says. “My focus in electric engineering is signal processing and machine learning. My senior design project was working with signals. And my internship this summer is with the company Innovative Signal Analysis. They do digital signal processing. It’s something I’m very interested in and it’s a growing field as people put more and more sensors on things as ways to collect more data.”

As she says, “it’s an area” of interest.

Kerst, now a senior at Michigan, will graduate next month with a BSE in Electrical Engineering but will stay at U-M for at least another year. Her plans are to attend graduate school at UM under the SUGS (sequential undergraduate graduate studies) Program.  She will graduate with a MSE in Electrical Engineering in Spring 2019.

While she considered several universities, including Cornell, Kerst saw Michigan as the obvious and best choice.

“I liked that it offered the best program, was a great atmosphere and that it was really collaborative and less competitive,” she said of U-M. “It ended up being a great choice.”

Part of the reason it was a great choice was because Kerst took advantage of the many opportunities to get involved with her school and her field of interest. She has been an active member of the University of Michigan Society of Women’s Engineers.

“It’s a really good organization,” she says. “It’s great when you get to a giant place like the University of Michigan to find something where you can make friends and get involved in things you and other people are interested in.”

As a sophomore, Kerst was the group’s Girl Scouts Outreach Officer.

“I was in charge of working with local Girl Scout troops and we had a couple even come to campus to earn a badge,” she said. “In the summer we have a summer camp where about 40 high school kids come to campus and actually live in the dorms for a week and I was on the committee for the camp. And that was a blast. I was in charge of logistics so I was responsible for transportation and basically a runner doing whatever was needed at the moment.”

As a junior, she moved up to a director’s position with the organization working with the outreach department. She also went on the organization’s Alternative Spring Break trip.

“We went to a school on the south side of Chicago and went into the classrooms and helped them with their homework and talked to them about what it’s like to be a college student. Many of them had never met anyone who had gone to college which really was shocking. It was a lot of fun and rewarding.”

Another great choice in her life was joining the Girl Scouts, an organization she is a lifetime member of and describes as a very rewarding experience.

“I joined when I was really young but I just stayed with it,” she said. “In high school I would just to go the meetings and events I was interested in or could get to because you don’t have a lot of time when you are in high school. And when you graduate from high school as an active member you can pay a flat rate and become a lifetime member. Girl Scouts gave me my first leadership experience.”

Kerst also has worked in Engineering Education research with Dr. Cynthia Finelli, and even had one of her research papers published. She presented that paper at the American Society for Engineering Education’s 2017 annual conference in June in Columbus, Ohio.

She’s obviously enjoyed incredible success at Michigan and has a very bright – she’s the lightbulb in the room, remember – ahead of her. What have been the keys to her early success in life?

“I’ve taken advantage of getting involved in things that allowed me a chance to talk to and learn from upper-classman,” she says. “I would ask them about their experiences and classes they took that helped them or professors they liked. But I also didn’t overcommit myself. I got involved but I didn’t do too much. The key is to figure out how you study best and it’s hard to do but it’s what you have to do.”

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