Alumni Spotlight on Victoria Messerschmidt '12: Engineering a Bright Future

Kristina M. Jenkins

Though she always excelled in her mathematics and science courses, recent Shipley graduate Victoria Messerschmidt ’12 wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to study when the time came to apply for college.

“My favorite subjects were always math and science. I just thought they were really interesting,” says Messerschmidt, who is now a sophomore at Purdue University in Indiana.

As a Shipley student from Kindergarten all the way through 12th grade, Messerschmidt’s aptitude was nurtured. She both benefitted from the low student-to-teacher ratio—most Upper School math classes are capped at no more than 12 students—and thrived from challenges from her instructors, particularly Upper School calculus teacher Josh Berberian.

“I knew that I had to keep trying, and not give up,” says Messerschmidt of the difficult coursework Mr. Berberian set before her. “I didn’t always like him, because of how hard the tests were, but now I really appreciate how he pushed me and the other students,” she says.

Although engineering might seem like the clear path for a student who excels in both math and science, Messerschmidt initially didn’t gravitate towards that branch of science when deciding what to pursue after Shipley. “I didn’t want to go through all the weed-out classes,” she says of the common engineering school practice of challenging freshman to extremely demanding courses primarily to test determination, rather than instill knowledge.

But, after a bit of research and some insightful assistance from her college counselor Janet Kobosky, Messerschmidt came to understand that she could study engineering and avoid archaic practices. “When I was applying for college in junior year I did research on what engineers really do and the schools that don’t necessarily do weed-out classes,” she says.

By her junior year at Shipley, Messerschmidt knew what she wanted to study, but the question remained about just where those studies would take place. Thankfully, she did not have to make that decision unadvised.

In 2011, Purdue University’s College of Engineering ranked among the top 10 programs in the nation, but Messerschmidt might never have applied had it not been suggested by college counselor Janet Kobosky.

“I didn’t even know it was a good school,” says Messerschmidt, “and she explained to me what an amazing school it is. I visited after I was accepted and really, really liked it. Without [Ms. Kobosky], I wouldn’t have applied at all.”

But more than merely suggest a school, Kobosky supported Messerschmidt throughout the college application process. “She was really open to all the different types of things that I wanted to do,” says Messerschmidt.

From meeting during junior year a couple of times a month to discuss different schools, to coaching through college essays over the summer, and meeting once a week during senior year, Kobosky offered Messerschmidt comprehensive and expert guidance. “She wouldn’t sugarcoat anything,” says Messerschmidt, “she would tell me if it was good or if I should improve on an area, which was really helpful.”

Ultimately, Kobosky’s suggestion and support resulted in Messerschmidt’s current, highly successful college experience at Purdue. This October, Messerschmidt was inducted into the National Honors Society Phi Sigma Theta and has also become a member of the National Collegiate Scholars program.

From the very start at Purdue, Messerschmidt has taken full advantage of the wide-ranging engineering studies available. The college includes more than 20 engineering majors, but it was biomedical engineering that piqued Messerschmidt’s interest from the start. “Purdue had biomedical engineering, which is a relatively new major, only about 10 years old, and that really interested me,” she says.

Underscoring the strength of the College of Engineering, U.S. News and World Report recently profiled the Purdue engineering program as an example of progressive higher education methods—one without Messerschmidt’s dreaded “weed-out classes.” As one of its top students, Messerschmidt was quoted in the article, relaying just why she values the experience-focused course of study at Purdue. (Read the article here.)

That emphasis on experiencing the field allowed Messerschmidt to delve right into what she plans to be her specialty, biomedical engineering—or more specifically, tissue engineering. Over the course of a freshman semester, students are introduced to various engineering specialties through an introductory course. “Every week, I met a new professor or professional,” says Messerschmidt.

After meeting Purdue professor Julie C. Liu, a chemical engineering professor and researcher developing protein-based biomaterials for use in regenerative medicine, Messerschmidt sought out Dr. Liu and is currently working to assist one of Dr. Liu’s Ph.D. students with the protein research.

Helping to advance medical technology has long been an aspiration for Messerschmidt, due to an early experience, but now it is a reality. “I had heart surgery when I was four days old, I’ve been in a lot of hospitals in my life,” she says. “At first I thought I wanted to be a doctor or nurse and help others, but then I realized I could use my math skills in a positive way to help people in the medical field. And that’s what really inspired me.”

And though working towards her academic and professional aspirations are intensely engrossing, Messerschmidt does manage to find time to balance her studies with extracurricular activities like volleyball and attending sports games to cheer on Purdue’s notable basketball and football teams.

“I do have a life!” says Messerschmidt, who feels the balance she’s able to achieve is thanks to Shipley, too. “The exams were so hard at Shipley,” she says, “that it made me more prepared for college level courses. A lot of the [Purdue] students aren’t used to the amount of work and studying that's required, whereas I am.”

Truly, Messerschmidt credits Shipley’s faculty and staff with not only preparing her academically to excel at Purdue, but also initiating her very presence at the campus where she is now thriving. “Mr. Berberian pushed me and inspired me, even if he didn’t know it,” she says of her experience in the Shipley mathematics department. Moreover, Messerschmidt says, “Without Ms. Kobosky I wouldn’t be here. I really love Purdue and, because she suggested it, I went here and I love it.”

Ultimately, it was the sum total of Messerschmidt's Shipley experience that prepared her for success beyond grade and high school. “Without Shipley, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.