From Motorcycles to 3-D Printers: this MIT student is a leader and risk-taker

Illina Yang is a thrill seeker — the self-proclaimed “adrenaline-junkie” wants to own her own motorcycle and loves to take risks. Yang is also a very dedicated mechanical engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Yang’s unique personality contributes to her success. Yang is passionate about creative problem-solving, and embraces every challenge that comes her way.

“I love a challenge [and] I really enjoy risk-taking: being able to step up to the plate, think outside the box,” Yang said. “I really enjoy solving the puzzle, trying to think of different solutions for the same problem, and then seeing which solution works best.”

During her time at MIT, Yang has used this knack for problem-solving to become a leader on campus. She helped build student club MIT Maker Lodge from scratch, simultaneously explored her interests in engineering and consulting, and was selected to give a presentation to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Let’s take a closer look at her story.

Yang has always liked working with her hands; building something from scratch and seeing what it can do is exciting for her. The choice to become an engineer was easy. She chose mechanical engineering specifically because the classes are very hands-on.

“With most [MIT mechanical engineering] classes, starting sophomore year you come out with a robot or some functional product, and some of them even launch into startups. That is something I knew I would want to be a part of,” Yang said. “I like to see the application and see it come to life.”

But when Yang started her classes at MIT, she had no prior experience with engineering shop tools and was forced to learn during her already stressful courses. This inspired Yang to join MIT Maker Lodge, a new student organization started in 2016 that provides freshmen with machine shop tools and training so they can get a jump start on learning before their classes begin.

Yang feels dedicated to the mission of MIT Maker Lodge because she values learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Both of Yang’s parents are immigrants who emigrated from China to the U.S. to pursue higher education. Knowing that her parents sacrificed a lot for her to pursue her education helped Yang realize the value that college provides in gaining life skills and experience.

“My dad has always said it doesn’t matter what grades you’re getting in school as long as you’re learning,” Yang said. He’s always emphasized the importance of learning … and my mom has emphasized the experience, so I think that combination has taught me not just to look in the classroom setting, but applying for and joining clubs and activities to really reinforce what I learn.”

Yang joined the MIT Maker Lodge because she feels passionate about its mission, but said executing it was challenging. New on campus, the organization’s members had lofty goals and little resources; last year they found it difficult to run all the trainings originally planned.

But Yang and the group’s other student leaders worked together to make them happen.

“Being able to see a group of us come together and really hold down the fort [was inspiring] — to make sure that the trainings were still being run even if it was us putting in more hours than it takes for a class,” Yang said. “The dedication of our community really showed how important making is to this school.”

MIT administration recognized the important work MIT Maker Lodge did as well. Because of her dedication to the club, Yang was invited to give a presentation for the school’s commencement speaker: Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“Being able to present for our commencement speaker showed how big of an impact our club has had on this community, and not just the undergraduate community,” Yang said. “We also have the graduate students who come in to help us teach the younger, freshman class just how important this learning process is for everyone.”

This summer Yang is working for 3-D printing startup New Valence Robotics Corporation as part of an entrepreneurship program at MIT. The internship is allowing her to simultaneously gain experience in engineering and business development, preparing her for both mechanical engineering and consulting jobs.

Yang values the innovative culture at New Valence. When she thinks about her career after college, that type of creative problem-solving is very important to her.

Yang wants to work for a company that is willing to take risks.

“I think a lot of people have problems taking the first step when they see a challenge, and I want to be a part of the group that is willing to take that step, take that risk,” Yang said. “Whether it ends in success or failure, I think experiences will always bring a lot of knowledge I think it will help bring something to solve a future problem, but also it can bring together a group of people that may come up with something else, and I think the possibility of that and the potential in the creativity is really cool.

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