Manasi Mehta pursues a surprising range of interests at Virginia Tech
Engineering and the Corps of Cadets are both programs Virginia Tech receives recognition for across the country. Manasi Mehta of Manassas Park, Va., a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering, was persuaded to apply to the university because of each, but she has found plenty of ways to distinguish herself through other academic and personal pursuits.
When she first researched colleges, Mehta thought she would go somewhere across the country. Then a few key decisions lined up to bring her to Blacksburg.
“My dad, who is an electrical engineer, had always said he couldn’t really see me as an engineer. He thought something like architecture, management, or business would be a better fit,” explained Mehta. “When one of my high school teachers told me about the industrial and systems engineering major here at Virginia Tech – that it was a little bit of engineering, a little bit of business, a little bit of everything – it was a perfect fit for me.”
One morning her senior year of high school, Mehta said she woke up inspired to attend a military institute. “When I was little, I always remembered my grandfather talking to me about the air force and that he wanted me to be a fighter pilot. He could see me leading people – and for some reason, that just stuck with me.” She decided to join the corps, sealing the deal to come to Virginia Tech.
While the first few weeks were tough, Mehta is thankful she became a cadet. “One of the main reasons I signed up is because in order to understand leadership, you really have to do it hands on. You can’t just learn it sitting in class and taking notes.” Mehta has gone on to serve in leadership and mentorship roles within the corps. “I really learned how to motivate people – how when you commit to something, not to give up. I had a freshman lose about 40 pounds because that was a goal of his. I learned to gain inspiration from it.”
She encourages others to join the corps, both for their success in school and beyond. “Leadership in the corps wants to make you a good citizen, not just of the United States, but of the world. The commandants want you to be a good person mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
Mehta has also gained valuable experience doing undergraduate research. This past summer, she assisted a doctoral student measure the movements and fatigue of construction workers. Last year, she worked in a robotics lab, where she had to program a robotic hand to draw a straight line. It took days of frustrating work to complete. “I could have just drawn the line myself,” Mehta said. “I figured out that it was not really about drawing the straight line. It was getting the concept down so I could build off of it.”
Undergraduate research has given Mehta a new perspective on her education. “Research is more about the journey, not the destination. You make mistakes and it’s okay. Failing is not a bad thing when you do research.”
Along with engineering, Mehta is pursuing minors in industrial design, green engineering, business, and leadership. Each broadens her research interests and career options, including a new role as project manager for the Office of Energy and Sustainability’s greenhouse gas inventory assessment project on campus.
She expects to utilize her academic studies and the leadership skills she’s gained through the corps in the position. “When you are in the corps and tell a freshman to be somewhere at a certain time, they have to be there. Now I am transitioning to my peers. I am going to be learning a lot about how to lead your peers or even those above you or who know more than you.”
Beyond academics and the corps, Mehta – an Indian citizen – serves as a global ambassador through the Cranwell International Center, mentoring international students. “Sometimes I will stop by just to see if any students speak Hindi and want to talk to someone else who speaks the language. It helps them feel at home.”
Mehta also loves to share her culture through dance. She is a well-trained classical Indian dancer, an art she has practiced since she was a little girl. “I got my love of dance from my mom. When I was little and would get upset, she would dance for me. It stuck with me.”
Mehta had the opportunity to share her gift with a performance at the Kennedy Center in high school and in the Governor’s School for Dance. She hopes to perform on campus during her senior year.
As a way to combine all of her scholarly and personal interests, Mehta wants to join the Peace Corps, after she gains U.S. citizenship. But she is not burdening herself too much with the future. “God is really big in my life. I let him handle my future decisions. I know whatever happens is going to be best for me.”