What began as quality time between father and daughter transformed into a girl’s passion for creating, problem solving and innovating. “Emily buys in and works hard at everything she does,” said Emily’s father, Dennis Wiebe. “We ran into some challenges, but those are good lessons too.”
At one point or another growing up, we all had dreams of becoming who we idolized. For some people it was an astronaut, for others a popstar, or even for the very adventurous types, a super spy. These dreams never seemed too far out of reach growing up, most likely due to the unfaltering support of those around us, who did not hesitate to back such wild endeavors.
One little girl named Emily Wiebe, from Mequon, Wisconsin, was always destined for engineering the future. Her passion for creating and inventing at such a young age started her on the path she walks today. “I don’t even think I knew the name for it at first, but it has really always been my passion,” said Emily.
Emily Wiebe, a civil engineering student and division one soccer player, is a junior at the University of Evansville. Emily grew up helping her father Dennis with hands-on jobs around the house. “Ever since I can remember, my dad and I were always doing little projects, like building bird houses in the back yard or a floating desk for my bedroom,” Emily said. “Being hands on and having him teach me how to do all that stuff, I think led me to continue in the engineering field.”
With her father’s background in engineering and international company management, Emily often turns to him for guidance. “I looked up to him in a lot of ways,” she said. “Seeing how well he organized everything and the big role he did have in the companies inspired me to keep learning about engineering and take hands on classes.”
Dennis Wiebe recalls building a floating desk alongside his daughter, and said, “That was super cool from my side.” As her father and mentor, “It’s cool to see her research what different kinds of desks looked like and how we could make it fold and stay up.” They worked together trading ideas back and forth, sorting out which materials they would need, and ultimately put together a piece they were proud of. “It was just a fun project to do, and a pretty cool idea to design something that didn’t really take up a ton of space,” he said.
From then on, Emily continued to pursue her intellectual and athletic interests. She played soccer as often as she could and continued to feed her creative urges. Dennis Wiebe remembers the moment his daughter told him she wanted to play college soccer. He said, “This was something she wanted to do and she would just figure out what it took to get there.”
She signed up for introductory STEM classes at Lakeshore Middle School, “taking the basics, and learning the ropes” in preparation for her high school endeavors, she said. “There are a lot of things along the way that can discourage you or make you feel like you don’t belong,” Emily said. “Once you work hard and prove yourself, you just have to keep with it.”
While attending Homestead High School, she applied her engineering mindset to several classes. However, it was not just her grades that set her apart from the crowd. “I taught her basically every year,” said Jeff Patterson, a former teacher of Emily Wiebe. “She was a student you could tell the other teachers ‘Oh you have Emily? You’re going to love her!’”
During her time at HHS, Emily learned under Patterson’s wing, familiarizing herself with different facets of engineering. “When I first met her, she made it clear that she really wanted to go into civil engineering. I knew Emily would be a really great leader for her peers,” he said. “She always wants to have a full grasp on whatever it is we’re doing and that’s a trait I don’t see often enough in students.” Patterson said that even in roles that “aren’t quite her forte,” Emily keeps a growth mentality and “never give up attitude.”
To Emily, these classes provided insight to just how much goes on behind the scenes of engineering. She did not realize the magnitude of engineering initially, but in taking these classes she said, “I’m making more of a difference than I thought I would have, but you have to make sure you are impacting the way you want to.”
Over the four years Emily Wiebe attended HHS, she and Patterson grew to understand how the other learned, taught, and approached topics. “It was almost like talking to a colleague of mine, or a friend, having a beyond professional relationship where you kind of have a back-and-forth camaraderie,” said Jeff Patterson. “She was one of those students you can lean on throughout the day, for sure.”
Emily possesses a determination that translates to the soccer field and the field of engineering alike. “The more self-motivated a student is to take charge of their learning, their passion, their responsibility, the more success I see in them,” Patterson said. “She found her passion, and just continued to blossom as a leader. It was awesome to see her grow into that.”
Their relationship has helped shape Emily Wiebe into the student and young woman she is today. “He was a great teacher and motivator for her,” said her father. “All those different design projects helped spark her interest and keep her on that path.” He even said, “It’s cool to see their relationship now, they even still catch up over coffee sometimes.”
Emily’s intrinsic motivation has earned her honors both academically and athletically. She currently maintains a 4.0 GPA, which has placed her on the Dean’s list each of her 4 semesters as UE so far.
“It takes an overwhelming amount of work, dedication and being determined,” said Dennis Wiebe. “I think I’m smart, but she doubled it up with a crazy work ethic on top of that.”
Coupled with her academic achievement, Emily plays on the UE women’s soccer team. She occupies the center midfield for the Purple Aces, wearing number 18.
During her sophomore season, she was a two-time “Student Athlete of the Week” recipient for the Missouri Valley Conference and was recognized in the “Elite 17 Program” for high academic standing.
She participated in community service activities that incorporated hands on experiences, including building structures for Habitats for Humanity.
Pictured, Emily Wiebe (third from right) and her teammates volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, building yard barns that will later go to the new homes in the area.
Photo property of University Evansville 2021 [Accessed 2022]
“The rigor and workload of it all is constantly a challenge and there are always moving parts to the projects we do,” she said. In bringing these challenges to light, Emily pushes other young women to pursue their goals. “Being in a male dominated field has its challenges,” she said. “I feel like everyone’s first thought is that I’m not going to be smart enough or that I don’t belong, but I gained respect in the field when others saw how hard I worked.”
Emily is no stranger to this type of stigma in other areas of work as well. In reference to her summer internship, she said, “I could very easily tell the difference in the way my crew talked to me, compared to other workers on the site that were men. I was always being tested in ways they were not.”
Similar to her STEM classes, the solution for Emily was to let her work speak for itself. “I am knowledgeable and smart enough to be there,” she said, “Once I got out on my own projects and proved that I belonged there, I started to gain their respect.”
Emily and other women alike are a minority in STEM, with a male to female ratio of one to fifteen. She said a big challenge for her is “having to work harder to gain the respect that other students have from the start.” She has always challenged this feat, however; as a high school student, “She carried herself so professionally,” teacher Jeff Patterson said. “Everything she presented, whether it was making a sales pitch, or submitting a report to someone above her, was professional work.”
Emily said, “I approach classes in such a serious manner because I know that I’m going to have to work harder, not just for the grades, but for the recognition too. The dedication I put into my work ensures I have the same opportunities as the rest of my peers.” Emily applied this mindset moving forward into her early college years as well, transitioning towards her future in civil engineering.
STEM programs across the country involve hands-on learning and experiences. The University of Evansville is no exception, encouraging students to immerse themselves in their field of study and, in doing so, develop a greater understanding.
“I had my internship in the construction field, shadowing people and making reports,” said Emily. During her time at raSmith Construction, she developed first-hand knowledge in job communication, problem solving and adaptability. “I don’t see myself doing construction, but it gave me the opportunity to try something new and learn skills that apply to things I do like.”
She advises other students on a similar path as her to try internships like these. “They help you realize what you like and dislike, because they are all interconnected.”
Engineering is a driving force of advancement, creating and challenging what is known to better understand what is not. “With civil engineering, I can make an impact on everyone else’s life and really make a difference,” said Emily. “Civil is a good way to start getting into environmental engineering because they go hand in hand to solve the problems of today.”
A big motivation for Emily is her desire to innovate and make a statement environmentally. “Everyone is going through different things in different places,” she said. “I want to get my master’s and travel while I’m still young, so I can see how different issues are affecting environments all over.” She sees herself potentially heading to Colorado to earn her master’s degree, as this is a state with more environmental potential.
“I can see myself going into something hybrid, partly in the office and partly in the field, so I can figure out more of where I fit best.”
These engineering developments are strategically woven into the fabric of our daily lives by the efforts of those who desire change – those like Emily Wiebe. At 20 years old, the work ethic and leadership that she demonstrates in her field, not only inspires young women today, but begins her journey towards engineering a better tomorrow.