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Special visit helps build upon young girl’s love of engineering

The Shahs and Loboa pose in a conference room.

Isabella Shah, center, and her parents, Audrey and Tariq, talked engineering with Dean Elizabeth Loboa during Isabella’s special visit recently. Photos by Amy Parris.

It’s not unexpected around Lafferre Hall to hear engineering students discussing mathematical theories, various inventions and great scientific and mathematical minds such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Leonhard Euler.

But it’s not every day you hear those conversations coming from a 9 year old guest.

Isabella Shah is that kind of 9 year old, the type of kid who can name the digits of Pi further than most people three times her age. The Ridgeway Elementary School student has had a passion for math and science for as long as she can remember, and that passion has led to an early interest in engineering.

Gilkey, Shah in a lab coat, and Baker pose in front of technical equipment and pipes.

Isabella Shah donned a lab coat and received a tour of the MU Engineering facilities from Student Ambassadors Jack Gilkey and Katherine Baker.

“I was a little bit sad that nobody ever connected logic, math and science together — until I was 5 or 7 or somewhere in that area,” she explained. “Until I realized there was engineering, which combines all of them together. The more I learned about engineering, the more I wanted to learn more and more.

“Thomas Edison created some of the best inventions; Albert Einstein solved some of the best equations; Euler created some of the most amazing mathematical theorems. And I was wondering, ‘What can I add to that?’”

Isabella, naturally, wanted to see how engineering students and faculty engineers work to come up with cutting-edge, world-improving research results. She and her parents, Audrey and Tariq Shah, were given a special tour of the MU College of Engineering to introduce her to what Mizzou Engineering has to offer and give the precocious Isabella a sneak peek at life as an engineering student.

Isabella’s first stop on the tour was a visit was with a woman who also had engineering dreams at a young age — Mizzou Engineering Dean Elizabeth Loboa. Loboa encouraged Isabella to stay curious and follow her lofty dreams. Isabella, in turn, regaled the dean with her knowledge of topology — the study of geometric properties and spatial relations irrespective of the shape or size of the figures involved — and showed off her beyond-her-years logic skills with a mathematical and geometric game called Brussels Sprouts.

She also discussed her passion for the environment and how engineering can help — specifically, her idea for replacing fossil fuels in cars by propelling the pistons in the engine with electromagnets.

“One of (my interests) is environmental engineering. I feel our environment is at a very poor state. We’re having a lot of pollution, a lot of global warming; we’re having to dig up the earth for oil,” Isabella explained.

From there, it was off on a tour of Lafferre and Naka Halls with a pair of members of MU Engineering’s Student Ambassadors. The potential future Tiger had plenty of questions as she went through chemical engineering labs, the 3D Printing and Rapid Prototype Lab and several others.

“I’m looking forward to being around people who enjoy engineering as much as me,” she said before the tour. “Being able to look and discover and see engineering just around me. To see it. To breathe it.”

But perhaps the portion of the tour she enjoyed most was getting a close-up view of the dynamo one of her heroes, Edison, donated to the University. As her eyes traced the plaque above it, they got wider and wider until she began to giggle uncontrollably at her proximity to something Edison himself had built.

Shortly after, she and her family strode into Naka Hall Auditorium, and Isabella confidently strode to the stage at the front of the room, looking right at home. Perhaps, in about a decade, it will be.