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Dual Degree. Singular Focus.

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: January 5, 2017

Like most engineering students, Katrina Gonzales will tell you that engineering is learning how to problem solve. A solid foundation of coursework in math and science is important, but the key is to dedicate time to really understanding the concepts introduced through those classes while also developing real-world experiences to hone those problem-solving skills so that they shine on a resume. It means stepping out of your comfort zone to explore a broad range of subjects and finding the right fit for your passions and goals. According to Gonzales, that sometimes translates to a semester that features an interesting variety of classes, such as databases, Spanish literature, and the philosophy of technology.

A native of Austin, Texas, Gonzales says, “I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an engineer.” Yet she also enjoyed other fields. A member of her high school’s speech and debate teams, she had interests in political science and economics. Because economics related to math and computer science well, she decided to pursue a dual degree (a B.S. from the College of Engineering and a B.A. from the College of Arts and Letters through the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values). “It gives me a broader perspective, especially as I am planning on going into software development immediately after graduation, and maybe later going on to graduate school, possibly pivoting toward economics.”

While that might sound like two separate paths, Gonzales points out that there are always new technologies popping up, and her dual degree positions her well for the rapidly evolving digital world. Also serving her well will be what she considers the most important thing she has learned at Notre Dame — the skill of learning how to learn. “It doesn’t apply just to the tech industry but in taking new classes, stepping outside of your comfort zone, even accepting leadership positions. The ability to approach something new and understand how to tackle it one step at a time is one of the most valuable lessons I now carry with me.”

There certainly were new experiences in which Gonzales engaged at Notre Dame. She participated in two summer internships developing software: one with Amazon Robotics and one with Microsoft. She worked as a student researcher in the University’s mobile computing lab and competed in a series of hackathons. She has also served as president of the Notre Dame section of the Society of Women Engineers and has been active with interhall soccer and the women’s boxing team, where she participated in the annual Baraka Bouts.

Gonzales says it’s all about fit. “Notre Dame is full of interesting, curious, and passionate people. In the end the people you surround yourself with help shape the person you become. So find the people that you click with and that challenge you — whether it’s to spend long nights studying or a few hours ice skating [or whatever you enjoy doing]. Remember that there’s more to college [and life] than problem sets and essays. Explore your passion. Find your balance. And find the people with whom you can interact and grow. Get the most you can out of your college experience."