Students from different departments within CAST (and one student involved in Gamma Phi Circus) were selected as Robert G. Bone Scholars for the 2020-2021 academic year. The recognition is the highest campus honor given to undergraduate students. Recipients receive a monetary award and are included in a Bone Student Center display. Students are chosen based on academic achievements, community involvement, and demonstrated leadership within the University and surrounding communities. This year’s recipients answered questions about their work, inspiration, and the honor of being named a Bone Scholar.

Brittany Weber is a senior in the Department of Technology, studying sustainable and renewable energy (SRE).  

What originally made you choose to study sustainable and renewable energy at Illinois State?  

I drove past one too many anti-windmill development signs. I didn’t know why people were so against them and didn’t have the information to change their minds, so I decided to go out there and get all the information I needed. I chose ISU for my major, it’s very hands- on and covers every aspect of renewable energy; from economics to the science behind how they operate to the technology and finances.

Do you have any mentors or people who have helped guide your academic path so far?

Absolutely! Dr. Aldeman and Dr. Jo, my SRE professors, have helped me and guided me to find my own path within this major. They are always there whenever I have questions or need help with anything. They both put a lot of effort and time into the courses they teach and their passion for teaching shows, making it easier to let my passion for renewable energy shine. I would also say Ashley Berg is a huge inspiration to me; she was the one who told me to get involved if I can, I wouldn’t have tried to put myself out there if it wasn’t for her. Elizabeth Reed has been excellent as the head of the Office of Sustainability; her passion to change ISU to more green university is contagious and encouraged me to get Renewable Energy Society (RES) more involved in campus sustainability efforts. Also, the first time I met Sara Keene, an ISU SRE grad, was a huge inspiration to me. She was also a mom and participating in every extracurricular activity she could and made all these awesome projects. She showed me it was possible to have a balance between school and family. Thanks to all these wonderful people, and of course my own family supporting me and sacrificing so much for me to be in school, I am where I am today.

Tell us about a favorite course or project you have worked on. What did you enjoy the most about it?

My favorite thing I have done at ISU is building the solar grill. I got to work with all my favorite people here, spending so much time designing, creating, and testing this awesome piece of technology. We worked so hard on it and I’m so happy with how it turned out.

How have you adapted to this learning environment we are currently in (with a majority of courses online)?

Being online has been really tough. My husband and daughter are also home so I have limited time to get everything done, but as always, they are doing everything they can to get me through this last year. I took this year mostly off from extra activities so I don’t have too many commitments so I can focus on school and specifically my capstone project.

Have you faced any challenges or obstacles throughout your academic career so far? How did you overcome them?

This is my second time in college. The first time I quit going and failed out of NIU. I wasn’t happy with what I was studying and couldn’t see a future for myself there. I would have graduated in 2013 if I stayed with it. It’s always been something I was very insecure about. I didn’t get great grades, I wasn’t in a great place mentally, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought for the longest time I was just bad at school, but looking back at it, I never went to class, didn’t pay attention, and wasn’t passionate about my first major. Coming back to college was the biggest hurdle, and when I got my first A in a politics night class I was taking in the spring of 2018, I never wanted to stop. I still have a 4.0, and I’m trying my best to keep it that way. Renewable Energy means so much more to me than my other major ever did. I know where my future is going, and I couldn’t be happier this time around.

What kinds of engagements do you have outside of campus?

Last year I participated in Partners in Technology with Normal Public Library, where I was paired up with a middle school student who was interested in technology. Most of my volunteer opportunities were presented to me through ISU. I’ve grown quite passionate about plants, and have 31 plants at home that I care for; they are so fun, it’s my new quarantine hobby for sure.

What are you involved with on campus?

I was the president of the Renewable Energy Society last year and this year I am just a member. As president I was the head of the solar grill project, where my friend and I submitted a peer-reviewed paper to a conference. I participated in a material testing project where we tested a sustainable material made from recycled plastic by a local company. Through RES I had many volunteer opportunities, including Habitat for Humanity, State Farm’s Tech Yes Café, and a recycling program through the Office of Sustainability. I am also a student ambassador for the Department of Technology where I get to try to recruit people into my major. We are pretty small so being able to share what I love about it and bring a light to how awesome it is can be really fun.

What does it mean to you, to be the first female in the Department of Technology and SRE student to receive this honor?

It’s awesome. I know a lot of amazing women in the program, and I’m honored to be the first. I hope there are many more after me. I wouldn’t have thought about a career in technology if it wasn’t for Simone Giertz; she is my role model. I hope this award encourages more women to apply for this scholarship. It was a hard application, but I learned a lot about myself and my path writing it.

Do you have any advice for students when it comes to academic success?

Go to class, every single one. I also highly recommend always having a clear path to your career. If you can’t envision yourself working in your field, try something new. It could be as small as joining a new organization, or as large as changing your major. This time here in college is supposed to work for you. You pay so much money to go here, please take advantage of everything the campus has to offer. If you are overwhelmed or unhappy, take advantage of the resources such as the career center or ISU’s student mental health therapy sessions. If you are having trouble in class find a tutor or take a course through the Visor Academic Center. They are free. I have used all these resources and had amazing success with each one. Be specific about what you want to do and start tailoring your education to that, and if you don’t know then try a new club or take a wild elective. I guarantee if you leave college without a directive, jumping from job to job isn’t going to help.

Tell us about your future goals—what is coming up for you after you leave ISU?

I want to help utility scale solar make the most out of the land space it uses. I’ve been looking into agrivoltaics since my first project in the SRE department, and I fell in love with the vision of plants and life thriving alongside solar modules. I’m taking a horticulture class right now with Dr. David Kopsell, and I am now also very interested in horticulture. I’m hoping I can pair my two passions together in my future and introduce plant life to solar installations.

Anything else you would like to add?

I just hope all the first-time college students out there struggling reading this know that you’re not alone. I hope you find what makes you happy here. ISU has so much to offer that I encourage you to take advantage of as much of it as you can.

To learn more about the sustainable and renewable energy major, check out the Department of Technology’s website.