Sherri Johnson’s road to becoming an engineer began with some degree of misunderstanding and uncertainty and has had its share of turns, stops and forks in the road.
But the 34-year-old Porter native and single mother has persevered, which makes the degree in electrical engineering she looks forward to receiving Sunday (5/17) during Purdue University Calumet Commencement Exercises all the more meaningful.
Her pursuit down the engineering path started while she was a student at Chesterton High School.
“I had to write a paper about what career I wanted to go into,” she said. “I decided I wanted to become a nuclear engineer like my dad.”
However, she was mistaken; her dad was not a nuclear engineer, but, rather, a nuclear power plant operator. Then things really got complicated.
She attended Purdue Calumet for two and a half years before running out of money. She dropped out to work and replenish her financial resources so as to return to school later. She also got married, had a baby and went through a divorce.
After nine and half years of working at restaurants-“doing it all,” as she puts it-and with some prodding from her dad, she returned to Purdue Calumet in 2004 as an electrical engineering major.
She took advantage of loans-“I took out as many as I could,” she said-and scholarships. Juggling challenging course work and motherhood responsibilities for her now 11-year-old son, Jacob, life was tough, but she remained determined.
“That’s why it’s such a comforting feeling to know I completed something of this magnitude,” she said.
Along the way, she received encouragement and assistance from Purdue Calumet faculty members like Constantin Apostoaia, who, she said, “convinced me I could make it,” and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Harvey Abramowitz.
“Professor Abramowitz sent me an e-mail one day to apply for an internship at ArcelorMittal,” she said. “I did and got the internship that very day.”
The internship proved to be an experience-rich opportunity of full time employment the summer of 2006. It also led to two more internships with the northwest Indiana steel manufacturer.
Bill Baginski, who served as Johnson’s first academic advisor, has remained a friend and source of assistance throughout her Purdue Calumet academic career.
“I was impressed with Sherri since our first meeting, as she was very realistic and focused on her goal of becoming an engineer,” he said. “As time passed, I saw a person who would not let disappointments, obstacles or setbacks stop her; she would not quit just because things got tough. Sherri provides proof that persistence, dedication and a positive attitude can lead to accomplishing the goals you set for yourself.”
With degree soon to be in hand, engaged to marry fiancé Duane Huseman and looking forward to the arrival of her second child this summer, she sees the pieces of her life coming together. She also values her Purdue Calumet experience.
“It was an excellent school for me to attend,” she said. “The small classes were ideal, and most of the instructors were great.”