Erin Martin came to Ferris State with a love of art and math that led her to enroll in the university's Architecture and Sustainability Program.
"I have an analytical mind, yet an artistic side as well, and I didn't want to give up either," said Erin, a Cadillac, Mich. Native. "The architecture program at Ferris allowed me to combine both of my passions into a career."
She choose architecture despite it being male-dominated field.
"In our program at Ferris, there were six women out of 17 total students in my graduating class," she said. "We still have a minority, but you definitely don't feel that dynamic in the classroom. It's a really welcoming environment to learn."
Erin says that she found a place where she fit in and grew as a person.
"I would never have made it without my architecture family," referring to students she graduated with in May. "When you are working on a project and you run out of foam core or glue in the middle of the night, you have somebody to go to."
Erin also benefited from the hands-on style of Ferris' architecture program.
"At Ferris, you can start out right away in architecture classes, so you're drafting and designing at some level," she said. "It's the difference between learning by doing versus sitting in a class room listening to a lecture about how to do something. I learn ten times better if I can build something with my hands, than solely listening to a lecture or reading a textbook."
One of her favorite class projects involved welding.
"The project was to weld something out of metal," she said, noting that she worked with grinders, torches and welders to build a sculpture. "It was cool to learn a new skill, work with a new material and to create something artistic at the same time."
In addition to her course work, Erin was in Ferris' Honors program and on the Dean's List all four years.
Her advisor, Diane Nagelkirk, a professor and program coordinator of the Architecture program in the College of Engineering Technology's School of Built Environment, credits Erin's success to her diligence and work ethic.
"She is one of the best and brightest students I have had over the past 27 years," Nagelkirk said.
Erin was also a member of the American Institute of Architecture Students and Women in Technology. Through participation in AIAS she went to conferences, on firm tours and volunteered in community service. WIT brought together women in the College of Engineering Technology to focus on the issues they face in traditionally male-dominated professions.
Through WIT, Erin got an up-close-and-personal look at Ferris' new David L. Eisler Center.
"We went out there three different times: during the demolition, construction and when it was finished," she said. "We followed the progress of the building throughout the year."
She also toured the construction site of a hotel being built in Grand Rapids.
"It was -25 degrees that day, freezing cold, and we were seven floors up," she said. Nevertheless, she toughed it out and called it "a good experience."
When Erin was not in the classroom, studying or volunteering, she worked as a student assistant in the Architecture and Facility Management department, as a project management intern in Ferris' Facilities Management and as an assistant to Ferris' resident artist, Robert Barnum. She worked up to 26 hours per week, while taking as many as 17 credit hours.
"With the exception of my freshmen year, I've always had a job, if not two, overlapping, so I could put myself through school." she said.
Erin also used that same combination of creativity and analysis in applying for scholarships. In addition to receiving the university's Honors Residential Life Scholarship and President's Scholarship, she also researched other scholarships and applied for any she thought she might be eligible for. As a result, she was awarded five other competitive scholarships, including one from the American Institute of Architects.
Her willingness to take risks and face rejection led her to apply for, and receive, a scholarship from the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation to study at the American University in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
"It was an amazing opportunity that I probably would not have had if I didn't get the scholarship," she said. "A lot of people didn't think I would get it, and I didn't think I would get it, because it is so prestigious. They choose only 10 students from the whole United States."
She says her study-abroad experience was "eye-opening culturally."
"I'm from a small town that is not very diverse, and Dubai is extremely diverse," she said, noting how much she enjoyed the city's architecture and visit to the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.
Erin's hard work and focus enabled her to graduate from Ferris with only $2,000 in student loans.
"When I realized that I needed a Master's degree in order to become a licensed architect, my goal then became to get out of undergrad with the least amount of debt as possible, so I could borrow what I would need to go to grad school," she said.
Erin was accepted into the Master of Architecture program at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, but deferred entry to gain more experience in the field and to research what she needs to do to be successful in graduate school.
"In a year, I hope to be going to grad school," she said. "I am going to take a year to work and figure out what direction I want to go."