Putting the “Colorado State” in CSU

My name is Zach Kugler and I am a senior engineering student at Colorado State and I am pursuing a double major in Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. As the term goes, I consider myself a true ‘native’ to Colorado where a large majority of my family was raised and currently resides. I grew up in Evergreen, a smaller town up in the lower mountains (about an hour west of downtown Denver) and later attended Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, a southwest suburb of metropolitan Denver. Growing up, I always loved learning more about the human body as well as technology, mechanical systems, and computers and electronics–I was fortunate enough to attend public schools with teachers that understood the importance of this and helped to foster my curiosity and learning in these areas. Besides CSU having an engineering program that would allow me to continue studying BOTH of my passions, the main reason I chose to be a CSU Ram is because it would allow me to stay at home in Colorado.

It would have been hard for me to not lose steam in my classes through 5 years of engineering school without taking time outside of classes to ski, hike, camp, and fish. However, at CSU I don’t have to choose between the things I love–I get to do all of them!

For most engineering students, classes are difficult, homework is consuming, and at times the load can be overwhelming–this was something that I knew would be difficult for me. Before and even through high school, I was a competitive swimmer and would often put up to five hours each day into the pool. This kept me busy and required a lot of self discipline to excel both in athletics and academics. I was wise enough to not pursue full-fledged competitive swimming during my college career, knowing that it would not allow me to do anything else besides practice and study. In my first semester, I found that I had more time than I knew what to do with and, being away from home, it would be important for me to productively fill that time.

Aside from joining student government, volunteer organizations, and later Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity, I was able to continue to do many of the activities that I grew up doing–they make Colorado home to me. One of my favorite things that I am able to do because I live in Fort Collins is to go up to camp in Pingree Park and swim in Siemens Reservoir. Of course this isn’t as local as Horsetooth Reservoir. Besides the quick hike up to Horsetooth Rock, the reservoir recreation options are a great way to get away from campus and just relax. My personal favorite is to bring my hammock up and take a nap above the reservoir; I am also the ENO rep at CSU so I hammock on campus a lot as well. I also enjoy fly fishing in some of the local rivers and big game and bird hunting in many other parts of the state.

Another big part ‘Colorado living’ is skiing and snowboarding. Over breaks from school and even on some weekends, I will head up to the mountains to shred the powder. Compared to other schools in Colorado, CSU is not necessarily as close to the major ski resorts, however the extra drive time is almost always worth it. I use skiing as an incentive to get ahead in my assignments so that I will not fall behind if I choose to go to the mountains for a weekend–my favorite resorts to go to are Winter Park/Mary Jane, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, and Telluride, just to name a few of the world-class resorts that the state is known for! While the traffic and masses sometimes test my patience, I would recommend to every fellow Ram to take some time to try out skiing or boarding (or both like me). It’s a lifetime sport if you take the time to learn it, and like many other people, it is my favorite thing to do in the winter and spring months in Colorado.

There were many different things about CSU that drew me to the school four years ago, including the world-class engineering programs, the opportunity for involvement, and the Fort Collins community. But one of the most important reasons behind my love for CSU is that I can have such a successful college experience (in and out of classes) while still enjoying all of what the state has to offer me. It would have been hard for me to not lose steam in my classes through 5 years of engineering school without taking time outside of classes to ski, hike, camp, and fish. However, at CSU I don’t have to choose between the things I love–I get to do all of them!

Zach Kugler at Colorado State University

men with pupsIf I am not sure which engineering major I want to study, what are my options and how difficult is it to change concentrations?

The open option engineering program is the best option for the scenario in which a student is confident in their desire to study engineering but are not completely sure which engineering major would be the best fit for them—they will take an ‘open-option’ engineering class their first semester at CSU so that they are able to learn more about the different types of engineering with the goal of informing the student to then be able to confidently decide on an engineering curriculum that they will be dedicated to succeeding in. Even if the student is not completely sure that they want to do engineering, I strongly recommend that they do the open-option engineering program as well—this is because it is much more difficult to transfer into the engineering school at CSU once you have begun undergraduate studies in a non-engineering program. It is possible to do, but much more difficult than deciding to drop engineering for another major after getting a ‘taste test’ for the engineering curriculum over the course of a semester.

What kind of preparation for a career do you receive besides your degree?

Firstly, from the very first engineering course, students will be enrolled in a corresponding lab section to their engineering course. This is differentiating factor between CSU’s college of engineering and many others across the nation–students get this experience early on as a part of their curriculum and it has a huge a huge impact on helping students to get hands on experience in order to better understand many of the difficult topics taught in lectures. Secondly, the Engineering Student Success Center provides many resources for engineering students such as resume tune-ups, mock interviews, PLI credits, as well as networking events for students such as the semesterly engineering career fair which helps students get internships/co-ops and full time engineering positions. I have had three summer engineering internships so far and I am only a junior. I can confidently say that by the time I graduate, it will be easy for me to find a full time job with or without the help of the College of Engineering because of many of the networking skills I have developed and the job experiences I have had thus far.

What kind of interactions do you have with your peers as well as faculty?

Very often do I hear ‘horror’ stories of students at other engineering schools feeling that their program instils a competition-fueled environment where students have to constantly do anything in their power to come out on top of their peers—in extreme cases this even includes students sabotaging each other’s work. While being able to set yourself apart from your peers is important, this type of environment does not provide you will many skills that are absolutely necessary to be an effective engineer in the work force. The engineering program at CSU, to me, is embodied by an atmosphere of collaboration, applicable both to faculty and their research as well as to the undergraduate and graduate students in their studies! To me, this is very important because you not only have more abundant resources for success, but it teaches one to be a better team-player within academics and this skill will carry over to a profession in engineering where it is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to be a effective teammate! On an equally important note, the professors and student teachers, especially within the college of engineering, are always more than happy to meet with students about anything. Whether it is to get help in their class or to discuss research or projects that you or they are working on, the faculty is truly passionate about the success of students in every aspect of their lives.

What are you involved with outside of your engineering curriculum?

One of the biggest considerations in my choice of schools was the activities that I would be able to be involved with OUTSIDE of engineering—for me personally, I need to be able to have plenty of other things to do when I need a break from studying. While I am a part of IEEE and BMES (Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Societies are both professional societies), I truly find a lot of purpose outside of the classroom in leadership and personal development, which I have found plentiful at CSU, particularly in student government (ASCSU) and Greek Life. Among all of the involvement opportunities on campus, being a part of a fraternity has been one of the most life changing decisions I have ever made—I am an active member of Phi Kappa Theta at CSU which strives to develop men who passionately serve society, fraternity, and God. Along with that, I have been a part of a few club teams (swimming & triathlon) and have played intramural sports. While each of these things ultimately compound into having less ‘free’ time throughout my week, I have found that involvement in other groups and activities has allowed me to be successful in many areas of my life including engineering!

What made you choose CSU over CU & Mines?

Knowing that I wanted to stay in-state, I had three great choices for engineering schools in Colorado. The largest factor in my decision came down to CSU having a dual engineering degree program where I could study both electronic systems and the human body, two things I have been very passionate in learning about since a very young age. Only one other university has a dual degree program like this (currently). As alluded to in the other questions, CSU is a very large university (around 30K students) which allows for so many different opportunities for involvement, which for me has greatly enhanced my ‘college experience’. At the same time though, the College of Engineering is much smaller (around 2.5K students) which allows for a much more personal experience within your engineering curriculum allowing for better access to resources, your peers, and faculty. Tuition at CSU and living expenses in Fort Collins are much more affordable than CU and the atmosphere is very different from Boulder and Golden as well. Ultimately though, when it came to my decision, with all of these factors and opportunities taken into account, I saw myself being able to enjoy my time as an undergraduate at CSU. This is really important, especially if you choose to study a topic as difficult as engineering, as it will greatly increase your ability to be successful if you can enjoy the time you spend both in and out of your studies.