Engineering scholarship opens doors for architectural engineering student


By Tessa Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kelli Johnson, a fourth-year student in architectural engineering at Penn State, has been interested in art, science and math for as long as she can remember. When she discovered architectural engineering, she knew it was the perfect fit.

“When trying to pick a major I thought architectural engineering would capture all of my interests,” Johnson said. “I realized I didn’t know anyone who was an architectural engineer, especially anyone who looked like me.”

Johnson said her family — specifically her parents who are both medical professionals — has played a major role in helping her through her collegiate journey and encouraging her to pursue engineering.

Over the summer, Johnson had the opportunity to intern in the Detroit office of SmithGroup, an international design firm, as part of the 2021 SmithGroup Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship, an experience that provided hands-on experience in the engineering field and opened many doors for her future career.

“For me, being a Black girl, it’s not often that I meet engineers or architects who look like me,” Johnson said. “I hope that I can be someone who inspires someone else to pick this major and pursue a career in the field.”

Awarded to five undergraduate students across the country studying architecture, interior design, planning, landscape architecture or engineering, the SmithGroup scholarship program aims to support and provide mentorship opportunities for students underrepresented in these fields. Each recipient receives $6,000 toward their tuition costs, as well as a paid summer internship with one of the SmithGroup’s United States offices.

“The equity, diversity and inclusion scholarship opened a door for me to gain hands-on experience in my field of study, structural engineering,” Johnson said. “And for this lasting opportunity, I feel included, and I am truly thankful.”

Johnson interned with the structural engineering department in SmithGroup’s largest office, where she attended group meetings and worked on projects focused on structural drawing interpretation and structural modeling.

“Throughout the internship, I received mentorship and guidance from the different structural engineers and architects in the office,” Johnson said. “If I had questions, there were many people to direct them towards.”

Johnson, who is a student in the five-year integrated bachelor and master of architectural engineering program, said the architectural program at Penn State provided her with the skills to succeed in her internship.

“Penn State’s architectural engineering program is among the best and has definitely equipped me with a well-endowed curriculum that prepared me for a lot of my internship’s tasks, especially structural modeling,” Johnson said.

Johnson credited Sez Atamturktur Russcher, head of architectural engineering, and Lauren Griggs, director of the Multicultural Engineering Program, with encouraging her to apply for the scholarship opportunity. 

“Penn State prepared me for this opportunity with its dedicated faculty and staff who directed me towards this award,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, Atamturktur Russcher and Griggs notified her about the scholarship opportunity and thought she would be a good fit.

“Kelli has such a bright future ahead of her,” Atamturktur Russcher said. “Her determination and drive helped her obtain this scholarship, and I’m confident she will succeed in her career. I can’t wait to see what she achieves.”

After interning at SmithGroup. Johnson realized she wants to pursue a career at an integrative engineering firm, where she can work in an interdisciplinary environment that allows her to collaborate with different types of engineers to achieve a common goal.

“SmithGroup, through the award, did a service for me,” Johnson said. “One day, when I am settled in my career, I hope to give back the same service to a student just like me.”


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College of Engineering Media Relations

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Kelli Johnson, fourth-year student in architectural engineering at Penn State, has been named a recipient of the 2021 SmithGroup Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship. Image provided by Kelli Johnson.