Savannah Schisler ’22 sets the bar as a transfer student
February 17, 2022
Savannah Schisler receiving the University of Rochester Student Transfer Award.
Between the wildfires in California and the COVID-19 pandemic, Savannah Schisler ’22 has yet to experience anything like a normal year of college.
During her first year, while studying aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis, classes were temporarily suspended when a major wildfire near campus lowered the air quality to dangerous levels.
Then, after Schisler transferred to the University of Rochester, COVID-19 struck during her second semester, forcing the University to pivot to online learning and enforce strict social distancing and masking requirements.
Transfer students already have enough on their hands trying to acclimate to a new campus, says Kyle Orton, assistant dean of students.
Having to "lock down, stop socializing, go inside, go online, and find new ways to be successful while staying safe . . . is the exact opposite of what a transfer student needs to be successful,” he says.
“But most transfer students aren’t Savannah Schisler.”
The dual mechanical engineering and physics & astronomy major took COVID in stride. She focused on her classwork, research, and field hockey. Above all, Schisler was a role model. This earned her the University’s Transfer Student Award for 2020-21.
“Sav has the respect and admiration of her teammates in her resolve to make the world around her a better place,” says Wendi Andreatta, the women’s varsity field hockey coach.
Just as “it takes an engineer to understand all the rules of field hockey,” Orton says, “It takes a Savannah Schisler to understand the rules of transferring, and she has greatly paved the way for others to be successful just like her.”
For example, last semester Schisler founded a new club on campus, the Transfer Student Organization (TSO), and currently serves as its president. “The goal is to create a community for transfer students to ease their transition to their new campus and help them make friends, learn about other clubs and activities, and explore Rochester,” Schisler says.
The TSO will also connect students with resources to help them through the transfer process, including getting credits approved, arranging housing, and navigating the University’s unique cluster system. When Schisler sent a survey to transfer students, “almost every single one replied they didn’t know what their cluster is, or how clusters worked. So, I think that’s going to be a big topic.”
A passion for discovery
Schisler remembers “almost as if it was yesterday” the epiphany she experienced when she put on her first eyeglasses at age 9. Afterwards, while being driven to her grandparents, she could make out the leaves on trees for the first time; when she stepped out of the car, Schisler saw contrails overhead.
“I had lived nine years of my life without ever seeing that,” she recalls. It makes her wonder: “If bad human eyes cannot see what good human eyes can see, then what is out there that even good human eyes can’t perceive?”
The experience sparked Schisler’s interest in science and her “passion for discovering what we, as a society, do not already know,” particularly through the exploration of outer space.
Growing up on a farm at Littlestown, PA—a 15-minute drive from the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg—was a good preparation for engineering, she adds. The petting zoo her parents operate “is very hands-on,” she says. “Things are constantly being put back together or taken apart.”
In high school, Schisler excelled in the classroom and was also captain and Most Valuable Offensive Player with the field hockey team.
Unfortunately, the wildfire was not the only disruption after Schisler enrolled at UC Davis as a first-generation student studying aerospace science and engineering.
She had miscalculated the costs and had to take out a loan. Schisler’s loan was approved on her end, but the university’s processing of the loan was delayed. She was dropped from classes for her second quarter. “All of a sudden, I was falling behind, because engineering is pretty strict about the sequence of courses you need to take,” Schisler says. “If you don’t complete one class, you can’t take the next.”
She decided to transfer. Schisler looked for a private university that offered good financial aid, equivalent engineering majors, and “wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, but not in a big city like New York City either,” Schisler says. A women’s field hockey program would be icing on the cake.
Rochester fit the bill.
A dual major and plenty of research opportunities
“One thing that I love about Rochester, that a bigger school like UC Davis does not have, is the ability for undergraduates to do research and be teaching assistants,” Schisler says.
“All of my TA’s at Davis were graduate students, and there were very few undergraduate students who were able to work in a lab.
“So those are two things that Rochester does really well for its undergrads.”
The University’s curriculum is also flexible enough to allow her to pursue a dual major in mechanical engineering and physics. “That’s been a really good experience,” she says, “and definitely broadens my community on campus.”
That community also includes her varsity field hockey teammates. When Schisler expressed an interest in working in a lab, her teammates advised her to find a faculty member whose research looked interesting and send an email.
“So, that’s pretty much what I did,” Schisler says. After scanning all the mechanical engineering faculty profiles, and several in physics and biomedical engineering, she emailed Jessica Shang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Shang’s Hydrodynamics Lab studies a range of topics, including the dynamic properties of fluids and plasmas in extreme environments, and navigation in multiple media by autonomous vehicles.
“I honestly didn't think she was going to hire me,” Schisler says. “I had never taken a fluids class. I didn’t know anything about her research. But she said, ‘you seem serious, let’s give it a shot.’”
Schisler’s projects in the lab have included using 3D printing to make a device to study cavitation, and studying the porosity of different kinds of bread crumbs in oil. The bread crumb project “was very cool, especially because it was a real-world thing,” Schisler says. “The cool thing about science is that it doesn’t have to involve something ground-breaking, just genuine curiosity about why things happen, and hopefully being able to figure out why.”
Last summer, Schisler interned in Wichita, KS, with Spirit Aerosystems, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aerostructures for commercial and military aircraft. She used root cause corrective action analysis while working with a team studying the challenges involved in using composite materials to create the radome of a commercial airline model.
“It was a great experience,” she says.
Next step: Getting a PhD
So was one of her favorite classes, Heat Power Application, taught by Adam Sefkow, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a senior scientist at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. Schisler’s final project involved examining coal power and coal technologies to determine the typical thermodynamic cycle and components, the efficiency of those cycles, cost estimates, climate change and environmental issues, and the current and future usage of this power source.
Based on her experiences in that class, working at Spirit Aerosystems, and discussions with Shang and other professors, Schisler plans to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering, with a focus in thermal science, or energy and the environment.
“I want to keep learning, and doing research,” she says. “That’s been a personal goal for me as a first-generation student--being able to go all the way through to a PhD."
For now, she is undecided about what to do after that. “I could see myself going various ways,” Schisler says. “Working in a national lab, working in industry.”
She also doesn’t rule out staying in academia. “I love being a teaching assistant for some of my classes. So, I could also see myself potentially becoming a professor.”
ABOUT THE TRANSFER STUDENT ORGANIZATION
Students who have transferred to the University of Rochester can join find fellowship with other transfer students through the newly formed Transfer Student Organization (TSO). The club also provides resources for transfer students to learn more about the transfer process, connect with other campus activities and clubs, and discover Rochester.
Meetings are scheduled for 4 p.m. February 26, March 26, April 9 and 23 in Genesee 309.