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Ireland trip serves as launching pad for graduate’s global studies

A woman stands with her hands on her hips in front of a building, Jesse Hall.

Lily Ellebracht, a graduating mechanical engineering student, will continue her studies in the fall in Barcelona, Spain. “It’s time to get out,” Ellebracht said.

Graduating mechanical engineering senior Lily Ellebracht isn’t fluent in Spanish, but that didn’t stop her from immediately answering “Yes!” when she found she’d been accepted into graduate school at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

“There was never that questions of, ‘would I go if I got in?’” she said. “It was just, ‘will I get in?’”

Until this semester, Ellebracht struggled to decide what to do after graduation. She had met successful people who had pursued graduate degrees, and she’d met others who hadn’t. At every opportunity, she began questioning those in industry, asking what difference a graduate degree had made for them.

“Even when I was interviewing for internships, at the end, the interviewer would ask me if I had any more questions, and I’d say, ‘yeah, did you get a master’s degree?’” she said.

What tipped the scales in favor of graduate school was Ellebracht’s work at Caterpillar, Inc., in Peoria, Ill., last summer. There, she said, all but one person on the research team she worked with had a graduate degree.

“I knew I wanted to do research in robotics, control, automation or some combination of those three, so I began looking into and applying to schools that had a strong focus in that subject,” she said.

She was open to new experiences — she had traveled on one of MU Engineering’s study abroad trips to Ireland the previous year where she had the chance to see how university courses are taught abroad. Through JR Swanegan, MU Engineering’s director of study abroad, international and diversity outreach, she was introduced to another school that specialized in her focus.

“I was walking through the halls and stopped to talked to JR,” said Ellebracht, who’d gotten to know Swanegan through the Ireland trip. “He asked about my post-graduation plans, and I told him I was applying to graduate schools.

“We talked more about what I wanted to study in graduate school, and JR said he had a contact with a person who was in charge of that area of research at Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya.”

Ellebracht said she got in touch with the university, sent her application materials, and after hearing she was accepted, jumped at the chance.

Immediately after graduating from MU, she will work a summer internship with Bastian Robotics in St. Louis and head to Spain in the fall. The courses are taught in English, Ellebracht said, but that isn’t stopping her from a Spanish-language crash course through Rosetta Stone.

“I feel like if I don’t go now — because I have the support of my family — I’ll regret that I didn’t go,” she said. “Besides, I’ve convinced them to come and visit me.”