Class of 2022: Engineering student finds her community 1,000 miles from home
After Madalyn Killian switched majors late in her studies at Virginia Tech, it took only one IEEE@VT meeting to know she was in the right place.
For Madalyn Killian, Virginia Tech means community – even when more than 1,000 miles from home.
A Houston native, Killian applied to Virginia Tech because of its reputation for having one of the best engineering programs in the country. Now, after a great academic experience, she’s walking away with much more.
“After moving from Texas to Blacksburg, I spent the majority of my first few years as an undergraduate searching for a sense of community,” said Killian. “It sounds cliche, but the friends I made in my living learning community and the students who were in the clubs that I was involved in, like IEEE, gave me that sense of community and a sense of purpose.”
Making lasting impressions
During Killian’s first year in Blacksburg, she lived in Galipatia, a living-learning community for first-year female engineering students. Galipatia is known for its supportive environment and provides a space where “engineering disciplines can interact and learn together, fueling their imaginations to design, create, and invent the future.”
“The friends I made during my freshman year living in Galipatia are still some of my closest bonds,” said Killian. “And the conversations I had with the upperclass student mentors there have made a lasting impression on me.”
After finishing her year at Galipatia, Killian gravitated toward similar group settings for support. She was involved in several student organizations throughout her academic career, including the Student Engineers’ Council, Formula SAE, and the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity. But the organization that most defined her time at Virginia Tech is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers student organization at Virginia Tech (IEEE@VT).
Killian’s first academic pursuit was computer science, but she decided to switch to the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to major in computer engineering.
“I changed majors late in the game. I switched to computer engineering the year I was supposed to graduate. I didn’t know anyone. All of my friends were graduating, and I was basically starting over,” said Killian. “I knew I needed to make friends and find a network of people to help me with the transition to this new major.”
Electrical and computer engineering advisor Susan Broniak suggested that Killian get involved in IEEE@VT right away to make friends and to learn more about the discipline.
“As soon as I met Madalyn, I could tell she was an outgoing person. The more I got to know her, I realized that she was not only outgoing, but she was also driven and a very hard worker,” said Broniak. “I knew she would be a great addition to the IEEE team.”
Paying it forward
After attending her first IEEE information session, Killian felt instantly welcomed. The rest is history. She went on to become president of the organization and even landed her first internship with Lockheed Martin as a result of the networking opportunities IEEE@VT provided. The life-changing experience in Grand Prairie, Texas, inspired her to give back to other IEEE members.
“If it weren’t for the connections and the networking and the community that IEEE gave me, I would never have gotten that internship,” said Killian. “My goal was to give the same opportunities to other students in the organization.”
Killian accomplished that goal by hosting even more networking events for students and industry partners. She changed the narrative of the industry partnership dynamic by promoting more casual settings, like a meet-and-greet over coffee and donuts.
“Taking on a leadership role allowed me to make that change,” said Killian. “Before our first Coffee with Collins event, the group always had employers present at meetings and it was much more formal.”
Killian’s schedule of events allowed members to interact with professionals in a relaxed environment, while giving them an outlet to share resumes, discuss internships, and even snag post-graduation career opportunities.
“These industry partners want to hire people,” Killian said. “They need engineers that are involved and passionate about learning and growing.”
An exceptional leader
During her time as IEEE@VT president, Killian grew the organization to more than 450 members. She also hosted more than 30 events – both social and professional – during her term and increased the social media presence to an audience of more than 700 followers.
Killian also was nominated for the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader Award at Virginia Tech this past spring and was honored with an award for outstanding service from the electrical and computer engineering department. IEEE@VT was also nominated for Virginia Tech’s Student Organization Leadership Awards’ Outstanding Organization of the Year.
Killian’s leadership even earned her the IEEE Larry K. Wilson Award, a regional recognition for the student member most responsible for an extraordinary accomplishment associated with student activities. Virginia Tech is part of Region 3, which spans from Virginia to Florida and includes several other states.
Stephen Moyer, graduate instructor for the Department of Engineering Education, serves as the IEEE@VT student branch mentor. Moyer provides support and guidance on the team’s activities, acts as a liaison with IEEE regional leadership, and offers mentorship to the officers of the branch in support of their personal and professional development. After working firsthand with IEEE and Killian, he knew she was an ideal nominee for the IEEE Larry K. Wilson Award.
“Madalyn demonstrated exceptional leadership throughout the year,” said Moyer. “She invested her time and energy in her team and the community above and beyond what is typical of undergraduate student leaders, fostered a culture of inclusion, was a positive and encouraging voice representing her peers, and set a strong example for other students to follow.”
Leaving her legacy
Despite the many accolades, Killian remains humble and committed to helping others. To her, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) means giving without expecting anything in return.
“It’s important to be selfless, not selfish,” she said. “That’s the legacy I want to leave.”
Killian’s successor, Nolan Donovan, had nothing but positive things to say about her and her influence on the IEEE@VT student group.
“The best thing about working with Madalyn while she was president was how empathetic and relatable she was as a person,” said Donovan. “She treated all of us with an immense amount of respect and was a very effective leader. Her passion for helping others and implementing change has really inspired me to follow in her footsteps this year.”
After graduation, Killian will be heading to McLean, Virginia, to work as a software engineer at MITRE.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the education I received at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering has prepared me for what’s next,” said Killian. “I am excited to take everything that this experience has given me and create a new sense of community in McLean.”