Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
Christian Polo’s journey to discover his affinity for STEM has been a process full of surprising insights and revelations. The San Jose, California, native was not always certain about what his educational path would entail.
“When applying to colleges, I alternated between mechanical engineering and electrical engineering as my major. Arizona State University ended up being one where I applied for the electrical engineering program. I went into my first year uncertain about electrical engineering, but by the end of the year I was very confident that I wanted to pursue the field,” he said.
Once he fully immersed himself, the payoff was exponential. Polo attended the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Barrett, The Honors College and graduated May 2022 with bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, with a minor in engineering management. He gained invaluable experience with internships at Micron Technology and onsemi.
Along the way, Polo met situations that encouraged him to think outside the box when it came to his personality, interests and abilities. In high school, he recalled feeling uncertain about whether he could contribute to the world in an innovative way. He often felt hindered or uninspired when it came to imagining what he could develop and what it would turn out to be.
With the help of mentors and professors at ASU, in addition to internship opportunities, the confidence he needed finally came to the forefront.
“I’m not sure exactly how to word it, but one of the craziest things that surprised me was that I’m able to create things. For the longest time, I considered myself creative but never felt I was good at creating new things. I never had any good business or product ideas, but in my college experience, I have been able to create experiences and things that have an impact,” he said.
This spring, Polo will graduate with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, in addition to a diploma notation and Master's Distinguished Medallion for graduating with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. Polo is looking forward to the next chapter of his life — which involves relocating to the East Coast and further exploring his passion for STEM and related fields.
Polo reflects on his academic journey below.
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Answer: I was a community assistant for first-year and upper-division students and was there to help guide their student experience and provide opportunities for them. With my time in student organizations, I was able to put together events to bring people together and lead projects that helped develop student's engineering skills. With my research, I gave an oral presentation at a large solar energy conference — and in these moments, I felt my actions, work and effort had an impact; I don’t know that I experienced that before my time at ASU.
When I started having these moments, it was surprising to think that I could actually do these things successfully. Now, it no longer comes as a surprise; it’s just something I do without overthinking it. I really second-guessed myself a lot more when I was younger, but now I’ve just built up confidence through these experiences and that was a key part of the change. Even if I was unsure or uncomfortable, the "let’s give it a whirl" mentality helped a lot.
Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: I don’t remember the moment because it was gradual. In high school, I took a physics class, and the last project was to create a small house and build the circuitry to turn lights on in different rooms, and I had a blast with that project. I think that’s when I thought, "This might be something I could do." Mind you, I knew nothing about the field at the time. I wanted to study psychology in high school, but I was too good at math and science, so I was convinced to do something in engineering.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Initially, I did not want to come to ASU. ... I received an invitation in the mail from Barrett saying that they would cover half the cost of the trip to visit the campus, so I went to visit. In that visit, it was a very wowing experience, and I remember seeing just all the opportunities offered, and it just reeled me in. Also, the campus was very pretty, so I was like, "OK, I can see myself here." Also, ASU covering my tuition helped a lot, too.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I initially thought of my research professor because I have known him for more than four years and we have done a lot of work together, but the professor who taught me the most important lesson was Robert Mack from my Barrett Human Event class. The lesson was regarding argumentative essay writing; it had a major influence on how I structured any academic (or personal) arguments. In high school, we were taught to make our essays “flow,” and throughout high school, I never really understood what that meant.
I still got good grades on my essays in high school, but the idea never really clicked for me, and I felt like I used the thesis with three examples/sub-arguments for the majority of my essays. However, when Professor Mack explained what it meant to make an essay flow, it clicked. I can’t remember if it was an immediate click or if I had to work on it a little before fully understanding, but by the end of that class, I felt that I had an understanding of how a flowing essay structure has every new point built from the previous one until you achieve a conclusion. I never really thought about it before, but this is how I structured my Barrett thesis, oral presentation and many other talks and assignments that I’ve done throughout college. My research professor has brought up on multiple occasions that he really likes my written style and how well I can explain concepts in a text, and I think I have Professor Mack to thank for that.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?
A: That’s a difficult question because I feel like everyone is at a different place, but I think for those who are still starting and getting to know themselves, I would say don’t second-guess yourself or at least ignore it when you second-guess or doubt yourself. A big part of growing is trying new things and putting yourself in new situations; starting small and building the courage and confidence to put yourself out there can eventually lead to amazing and unique experiences. ASU is a place full of opportunities, so I’m sure everyone can find something new to try.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: There’s the amphitheater-style area by the ASU Art Museum that I would go to during my freshman year when I wanted alone time. I was in a shared room — shared with awesome roommates, but sometimes you need your alone time. I walked by it a few days ago, and I was like, "Wow, the memories! That’s crazy how long ago that was." It was cool because although the campus seemed so full of people during the day, at night this area was nice, quiet and peaceful. Other than that, I had a love-hate relationship with Noble Library, where I would spend a few too many long nights studying or writing essays my first year. It was so bad that I avoided that library for most of my sophomore and junior year, but during my senior year, I visited the library a few times and it’s not too bad a place. I still have good memories of being there with my friends.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will be moving to the East Coast for something completely new after living in the West all my life. There are a few things I want to do professionally, but I think one of the most important goals I have is to continue creating an impact. It’s a broad goal, but I feel like that is something that I don’t want to leave in "just my college days." One thing that is very important to me is promoting Hispanics and diversity in general in STEM. When it comes to my occupation, I will work toward areas where I feel that I have had a significant impact, but also a diverse set of career experiences. I want to be able to switch it up from time to time.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Help the children! I think I would try to invest in global educational and food programs that will help empower children across the world so that the next generation can have a step up. I think it is important that we do not leave anyone behind and work to give everyone an opportunity in this world. This is something I feel closely connected to with my own family’s experiences, so I think that is what I would try to do with all that money but even now I try to give or help however I can.
Random tangent, but in high school one of the big perspective changes I had was in one of my classes, where we were split into three groups — upper, middle and lower class — and told to create a budget for our assigned family class. I was in the lower-class group, and it was very difficult to put it all together and make it work, and by the time we all presented the budgets, the teacher noted how our group was really struggling but the other two groups had nothing in their budgets that involved donations, just that the spending was getting more lavish as you went up the ladder. That lesson really stuck with me, and it’s become a subconscious reminder to always look out for the little guy.
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