Megan Rotondo chose Cornell because she wanted a solid engineering school. "Also, I really wanted a liberal arts school, so that if I decided that engineering wasn't for me, I could easily switch into any other major," says Rotondo in an e-mail from Santander, Spain where she is in the . "Cornell is really helpful with switching majors and the possibilities here are endless."
Hundreds of student project teams, clubs, and organizations complement the wide array of courses. "You can basically pursue anything you want at Cornell," Rotondo says. "Being in Spain has made me love this fact even more, because here, whatever your major is, there's a schedule already in place. You have no liberal studies, no options."
Rotondo is on the Formula SAE Racing Team. "We build an open cockpit racecar from the ground up. And when I say from the ground up I mean we pretty much machine, miter, lay up, and sand almost everything on the car," she says. "I worked on the carbon fiber intake manifold my past two years on the team. I think I learned more from being on FSAE than I did in all of my classes my freshman year."
FSAE team members return early in January to build the car. "We work all day, sometimes all night, long for a month to get the car running," Rotondo says. "I've learned that one of the best sounds in the world is when the engine starts up for the first time, usually late at night, surrounded by everyone on the team."
Rotondo has also done undergraduate research with Professor Alan Zehnder. "I worked on helping prepare the samples of carbon fiber sandwich panels that would be tested in compression," she says. "My job was to cut and grind the samples to precise dimensions and add strain gauges."
Life in Spain is very different from Cornell, says Rotondo. "I don't have FSAE here, nor the amount of schoolwork that is assigned at Cornell," she says. "Santander, the city in which I live, is also the capital of Cantabria so it's not like rural Ithaca. However, there are some beautiful places once you walk along the coast and out of the city. During September and October, after class, we just grabbed some lunch and our towels and headed down to Sardinero (the main beach here)."
In Spain, the emphasis is on exams, but at Cornell there is a steady diet of homework and problem sets. "It's a lot of work, there are a lot of late nights, and times when you seriously wonder if it's all worth it, but, at the end of the year, when you realize how much you've accomplished, how many people you've met, and really, how much you've learned, you will realize that it is," says Rontondo. "Cornell Engineering pushes you to your full potential, makes you realize how much you'll do when you really want something, and I don't think I could have done as much as I've done and had as much fun while doing it if I were somewhere else."