She Kills and Digs and Accumulates As: Meet Katrina Hornstein, Class of 2010

Katrina Hornstein, a standout volleyball player and mechanical engineering major, pictured spotting a ball on NJITs sand court.

Katrina Hornstein (2010) excels in kills.   It's her job as an outside hitter on the women's volleyball team to accumulate kills, which are spikes that result in points.  She's even better at digs -- a defensive move that stops a spike.  So far this season she has 135 digs.

She's also a killer student who digs accumulating A's.  Though she has a rigorous major, mechanical engineering, and a demanding minor, math, she maintains a 3.9 GPA.  She's a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College who has a total of seven NJIT scholarships.   In 2007, she was named to the NCAA Division I All Academic Volleyball Team. In brief, she's a definitive scholar-athlete.

And like many Honors College students, she has interests that go far beyond her major.  She is, for example, editor-in-chief of Nucleus, the school year book.  In high school, she placed first in a national test in German, a language that she studied for six years.  She plays violin, too, and has performed with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Honors Orchestra. 

She grew up in far-away Duluth and chose to attend NJIT because it’s a top-ranked engineering school with a Division I volleyball team.  She’s now in the last semester of her senior year.  In the fall, she’ll attend Stanford University, where she’ll work on a master’s in Aeronautics and Astronautics.

In this interview, Katrina, talks about engineering, volleyball and NJIT, as well as her plans for Stanford and beyond.

Why did you choose to major in mechanical engineering (ME)?  Most ME majors are men?
I decided on mechanical engineering because it's such a broad engineering field.  I can work on tiny nano-bots or rocket ships, bicycles or super-complex engines.  A lot of things in ME interest me, so it's a good major for me.  In general, I took an interest in engineering because I love science and math.  And yes, there are a lot more guys in the field. But that just inspires me to work harder.

Many people still perceive of mechanical engineering as a bunch of men tinkering with car engines.  What is mechanical engineering really like? Does the reality of how the field is taught fit or defy the stereotype? 

Actually, we end up doing most of our tinkering on paper and especially on the computer.  Plus mechanical engineering is a broad field that applies to so much more than just cars and engines.  Many people wrongly associate the field with auto mechanics.  As students of mechanical engineering, we learn how to design, develop and manufacture an array of energy conversion and machine systems. Those systems include aerospace, automotive, marine, manufacturing, biomechanics, power generation, heating ventilation, air conditioning and robotics. We also study nanotechnology and particle technology.  We can also study how to develop alternative fuel sources such as geothermal, wind, tide, solar and hydroelectric energy. There are a lot of exciting things going on in ME. 

And what would you say to a high school girl who was considering studying mechanical engineering. Would you recommend it? Should she not worry about the stereotype?  

I would recommend studying mechanical engineering to anyone. Although girls or women are definitely a minority, they shouldn't worry about the stereotypes.  As noted above, you can do so many different things with mechanical engineering, -- your career is what you make of it.

How do you balance playing Division I volleyball with studying mechanical engineering, one of NJIT's most demanding majors? 

Volleyball definitely makes me more competitive as a student.  I've always been competitive about grades; I went to a rigorous high school where your marks meant a lot.  The extra competitiveness I get from being an athlete just pushes me harder.  Finding time to complete all my schoolwork (and get sleep) between practices and games is a balancing act, but I never let athletics be an excuse for poor grades.  Managing both means a lot of sacrifices; it's hard to see my friends and hang out while I'm locked in my room working for an A. 

Who got you interested in volleyball?

My parents both played in an outdoor league, and they always brought me along, starting when I was really little.  My dad brought me to my first club team practice when I was ten and I've been addicted ever since.

How is your team doing this year?

The team is doing great this year, which is exciting. We started with an 8 game winning streak, and we now have an 11-5 overall record and a 2-0 record in conference.  Winning the conference is a very realistic goal for us.  We would have to play at our very best to do that, but it is within our grasp.

You grew up in Minnesota? Why did you come to NJIT?

I came here from Minnesota because NJIT is a top-ranked engineering school with a Division I volleyball team and because I received generous scholarships.   I spoke with the volleyball coach a little before coming to NJIT, but I'm technically a walk-on.  All of my financial aid is based on academic merit, not athletics.    

What is your academic minor?

I minor in applied math. I've always been good at math, but I really didn't like it until high school.  I was lucky to have had some amazing math teachers in high school -- teachers who really pushed me.  I'm so grateful to them for introducing me to the rigors of high mathematics. The math minor also combines nicely with my major, mechanical engineering, which requires a lot of math. So I only needed to take two extra math classes to fulfill the requirements for the math minor. 

How has being in the Honors College enhanced your education?

The main benefit is the financial aid that the Honors College has given me.  That means I don't have to work and can focus on my studies.  The honors classes are also excellent and are taught by some of the best professors.  We Honors College students also do a lot of community service, which I enjoy.  The college also has a strong alumni network, some of whom come to NJIT to talk to us about their careers and help us with ours. And I know that leaving NJIT with an Honors College degree will make me stand out when I look for a job. 

You seem happy at NJIT. Why is that? 

I am very happy at NJIT. And that is mostly because of all of the great people I have met here.  I've had a great volleyball experience and I'm studying two fields -- engineering and math -- that I really enjoy. But it is really my friends and teammates who have made my time here pretty great.

What you do for fun at NJIT?

I visit NYC with friends, usually twice a month. And here in Newark, with my friends and teammates I go to the Ironbound section, a great ethnic neighborhood filled with good inexpensive restaurants.  We love a Brazilian restaurant called Brasilia's. And also Ferry Street Barbeque, a good Brazilian barbeque place.  We also sometimes just hang out in the dorms.

You're also active on campus, right?

On campus I'm mostly involved with the yearbook (Nucleus).  I started my freshman year and am now in my second year as Editor-in-Chief.  I served as an Honors Peer Mentor for a semester and I have helped out with the fall and spring career fairs every year since I've been here.

Talk a bit about aerospace engineering what specifically you’ll study at Stanford.

My main interests in aerospace engineering are in propulsion, structures, and sustainable aviation.  An aerospace engineer does modeling and design of systems that fly on the earth and in space.  This involves a lot of aerodynamics/fluids, systems design, robotics and controls, work with fuels and propulsion methods and basically everything that goes into a successful flight.  I want to focus on small aircraft such as private aircraft, jets or helicopters.  I am also thinking about working on systems that will fly in space and figuring out how get them where they need to go (just our upper atmosphere or Mars).  My focus is broad right now, but after my first quarter at Stanford I'm sure I will have a solid idea of the specific area I want to work in. 

What do you plan to do after you graduate?
I see a future for myself working at NASA, at a private small aircraft designer, or as a civilian engineer for the military. I’m not precisely sure about my future. But thanks to the great education I received at NJIT, I’m confident that after my master’s I’ll find a great engineering job.

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)