Kara Fortunato, a junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering, firmly believes that if younger girls just gave the sciences a try, they would see they're "really just for everyone."
How did you get interested in electrical and computer engineering (ECE)?
Going into high school in Victor, my mother encouraged me to do technology. She was always encouraging math and science. In high school, I got involved in Project Lead the Way -- five engineering courses over four years. My favorite class in senior year was computer science. Another class was in digital electronics, which helped get me where I am today. I loved it.
Why did you choose SUNY Oswego?
I picked SUNY Oswego mainly because I wanted the college experience, by going away to college, but I didn't want to be too far from home. It's one of the only SUNY schools that has the kind of programs I wanted. I looked at the ECE program and I really liked it. Oswego had enough similar programs that if ECE wasn't my thing, I could change into some other engineering program or science. So it was pretty easy for me -- Oswego had everything I wanted.
Can you tell us a bit about your favorite class to date?
I've never had a class that was boring to me, so it's hard for me to pick a favorite. I took a class called ECE 271, "Digital Systems," that was really similar to the one I took in high school that got me going. I really liked that one because it was a challenge, but it was interesting to me and I understood everything, so it was never boring. I'm taking a course right now, ECE 375, which is "Microprocessor Applications," and that's where we're building our robots. That's really interesting to me, too. In my junior and senior years of high school, we got VEX Robotics equipment, so I had a little bit of background coming into college. I can't remember a single class I 've been to at Oswego and haven't learned something. I don't think there are too many things you can do where you're ALWAYS learning something.
What do you think of your professors at SUNY Oswego?
My professors are so helpful. One of my fears going into college was that I would meet teachers and professors who didn't want to help or weren't around to help, and I have yet to encounter an Oswego professor like that. I have a friend at another college who just had a terrible, terrible time with professors kind of shoving off their questions, but all of my professors are so open and so willing to help.
What do you think of your classmates and other peers at Oswego?
I think Oswego is one of the most diverse places I've ever been, which may be true of a lot of colleges, but especially Oswego. There are so many different majors and so many different types of people. I've also noticed that everyone is friendly. People have come up to me in the dining hall and wanted to eat lunch with me. They've come up to me in classes and asked to sit next to me and hang out, and we've become friends from there.
Have you ever encountered any challenges being one of the few females in ECE classes?
I have personally never felt like I haven't been accepted or that my ideas have been any less important than any other's. I guess I kind of expected it to be like that, but I haven't (experienced that) at all. Two of my professors are women (Mariann Hromalik and Hui Zhang). They're two of the smartest women I've ever met and they're working in this field. … I've heard there are quite a few women (ECE majors) coming in as freshmen, so I think it's expanding.
What would you say to high school girls about getting into STEM fields?
I think that a lot of girls, especially younger girls, are kind of scared to dabble in the sciences, because it's generally such a male field. But I think once they try it, it's just so fun. I loved science in high school, obviously, so I think you've just got to try it! Once you get past the thought -- really it's just the thought that this is a male thing and that only men can do it -- you'll see that's it's really just for everyone.
Have you started thinking about what comes after SUNY Oswego?
I think there's a lot of opportunities. I've had some suggestions from professors. We recently had the opportunity to visit Dynegy power plant in Oswego County and they talked to us specifically about working in that plant and other ones like that. So I think that would be really cool. My uncle works in nuclear engineering, but started off with something similar to what I'm doing now, so I think that would be something that would be fun to get into. I'm looking for potentially an internship for next summer (2018) so I can further look into (what I want to do). This summer, I have to work.
Where do you work?
Two places: One is a retail right by my high school called Country Max, and then the job I've been doing longer and will continue to do is a horseback riding barn. I teach lessons during the year and a camp each summer. … The barn I work at is a therapeutic barn, so it's teaching anyone of any age all the beginning stuff, including handicapped people who come in. I'm able to ride during lessons and on my own time -- I enjoy just pleasure riding with my friends.
Can you tell us a bit about your family?
I have three sisters and a stepsister. I'm really close with my older sister and both of my nephews. Everyone's really close-knit. My mom is an accounting professor for SUNY Empire State College. She earned a computer science degree at SUNY Oswego. My dad is a social worker. My stepsister goes to Georgia Tech -- technology runs in the family!
What do you do in your free time?
I spend time playing video games. One of the games I play is called BioShock, based on a society of people who decide they're going to live underwater. Recently, it's been so nice out, I've had the chance to go out for walks by the lake. That's been so nice -- I've been missing that. I used to read a lot. I want to take some sort of class next semester where I can get back into that.
Is there anything about you that only those close to you know?
I earned my black belt in karate. I used to work at a karate school in my hometown. I started teaching classes there after I earned my black belt. I loved it. I must have been 12 (when I started) and I got my black belt in my junior year of high school. I've been going back every once in a while to take jiu-jitsu classes and just general fitness classes as well.