Stella Di Cocco ’21 is on the right path to engineering a bright career.
In her time at Stony Brook, the New Windsor, NY, native and engineering major has enjoyed top-notch internships; tutored her fellow students; served as an academic advisor and program coordinator for Theta Phi Alpha, a national women’s social fraternity; and organized Bystander Intervention Training, informative study drug lectures and résumé workshops.
But when it came to joining clubs, Di Cocco learned all the right moves on the dance floor as a member — and eventually president (2016-2018) — of the Stony Brook Ballroom Dance Team.
Di Cocco’s Stony Brook story began when she received her acceptance letter to the University and confirmation that she had been selected into the Women and Science and Engineering (WISE Honors) program, along with a scholarship.
“That heightened the University’s appeal to me,” she said.
Her love for engineering runs deep, beginning when she was in the 7th grade. Originally, she chose that field because of her math skills. Her father was an engineer, and he would frequently take her and her sisters to Home Depot to do father/daughter activities.
“I thought it was so cool that my father could hammer a nail into a cylindrical piece of wood without the nail bending, twisting or popping out the side and damaging the wood like the results of my hammering,” she said.
In high school, as Di Cocco continued to excel in math and science classes, she noticed that there were few women in her AP physics class and that the men seemed to have a sense of superiority. That is when she decided that she had to become an engineer, “not only to learn how to properly hammer a nail, but also to show all the boys that even though I am a girl, I could be more successful than they are one day!”
Di Cocco’s aspirations further solidified when she joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) during her freshman year with guidance from her older sister, who was in SWE at her own university.
“SWE works with nearby schools and invites girls to campus for a day of engineering in which we show them what engineering is and talk to them about reaching for their goals,” said Di Cocco.
Every fall, the SWE holds a national conference, and it was at one of these conferences that Di Cocco received offers for two internships, did some community outreach and networked with some of her favorite companies.
One of those companies was Northrop Grumman.
“I received this offer during the SWE conference and knew I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with such an amazing company,” said Di Cocco. “During that internship, I spoke with many young professionals about their experience with Northrop Grumman and defense companies, and their answers were very inspiring. I knew I wanted to stay in aerospace defense, but I was unsure what I wanted to do specifically.”
It was at Di Cocco’s next internship with the military sector of jet engines at Pratt and Whitney that she became sure.
When she was attending an intern poster fair, a project focusing on thermal sciences and fluid mechanics caught her eye. “These topics fascinated me. I knew then exactly what type of work I wanted to do with mechanical engineering,” she said.
Di Cocco’s love of math serves her well in her field of study. “Math is simply a supplemental skill to all the work we do as engineers. An engineer must first recognize the problem at hand and then perform mathematical analyses to support or refute those claims,” she said. “For example, if an engineer is designing a bridge, he/she can’t assume the structure will be supportive based on its material properties alone without applying actual calculations. Changing the design of the bridge also affects the supportability and requires unique calculations.”
To be sure, she attributes her affinity for learning intricate dance patterns to her mathematical aptitude — something essential for all engineering students.
“Whenever people ask me how I do well in my engineering classes without spending hours reading my textbooks, I tell them that once I understand the material, I can apply it to any problem. It’s the same idea for ballroom dancing,” she said.
“Once technique is understood and practiced on one figure, many times the same technique can be applied to a different figure with slight adjustments,” she added. “Sometimes my coach explains topics with geometric shapes and mathematical terms, something that is unprecedented. His odd descriptions always stick in my mind!”
Di Cocco has also helped her fellow students as a calculus peer tutor and Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) leader.
“I think the resources provided by the tutoring center are amazing because students receive help from their peers,” she said. “It can be intimidating to attend a professor’s office hours, but attending tutoring sessions provides an intimate environment for each student to focus on exactly what he or she needs. Some students sign up for weekly appointments, my personal favorite, and I am able to watch them grow throughout the semester.”
PAL emphasizes collaboration in learning. “As a leader, I facilitate learning and allow students to help one another throughout the session,” Di Cocco said.
For Di Cocco though, it all circles back to her involvement in the WISE Honors program.
“The WISE program supports females in engineering by providing them with a community of like-minded girls. We were provided with upperclassmen mentors to help us acclimate to the school and give us friends to study with. We all also lived in the same building,” she said.
She said that WISE offered other perks that enhanced her Stony Brook experience, including priority in housing and class registration, internships and on-campus jobs, as well as opportunities to attend presentations by professional women.
Best of all? “All the professors from my major were very helpful and kind, and I was able to make a strong connection with some of them, even though the mechanical engineering department is rather large,” she said. “I felt as though the advisors and professors really cared about me as a student, and that helped me excel.”
— Glenn Jochum