Finding her home away from home

For Madalyn Killian, joining a student organization wasn’t just about building her resume; it helped her build a sense of community while more than 1,000 miles from home. 

Killian first joined the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) student organization at Virginia Tech when she made the switch from computer science (CS) to computer engineering (CPE). For many students, switching majors can feel intimidating and overwhelming. For Killian, the initial thought of not knowing anyone in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) was definitely a concern, but that concern didn’t last long.

Susan Broniak, an advisor in the ECE department suggested that Killian get involved in IEEE@VT as a way to make friends and to also learn more about the discipline.

"As soon as I met Madalyn, I could tell she was an outgoing person. The more I got to know her, I realized that she was not only outgoing, but she was also driven and a very hard worker,” said Broniak. “I knew she would be a great addition to the IEEE team.”

“I changed majors late in the game. I switched to computer engineering (CPE) the year I was supposed to graduate. I didn’t know anyone. All of my friends were graduating and I was basically starting over,” said Killian. “I knew I needed to make friends and find a network of people to help me with the transition to this new major.”

Killian went to her very first IEEE information session and was instantly welcomed. 

“I met a few of my soon-to-be best friends (Jake, Avery, Will and Afia) as soon as I walked through the door of that meeting room. They all said, ‘Hey! Come hang out with us.’ I had never experienced anything like that before. I didn’t feel like an outsider and they didn’t make me feel different because I was new to ECE,” Killian said.

Killian left that first meeting at ease and excited about her switch to ECE. She was even more excited about the opportunities that IEEE could provide during her time remaining at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

“When I joined IEEE I went from having no internships to having conversations with industry partners and large companies almost every week,” she said. “It’s because of IEEE that I got my first internship. This organization helped give me my first chance.”

The CPE senior didn’t just land any internship, she snagged her first internship opportunity with one of the largest Aerospace companies in the country – Lockheed Martin.

“After that summer internship with Lockheed in Grand Prairie, Texas, I felt indebted to this organization,” said Killian. “I didn’t even feel like I deserved it. If it weren’t for the connections and the networking and the community that IEEE gave me, I would never have gotten that internship.”

It was at that exact moment when the lightbulb clicked for the Houston native. She knew she needed to take on a leadership role that would allow her to make a difference for all IEEE members–present and future. 

Leading with purpose

Killian started out as an officer and eventually became President. It was when she took on that position that she really began to shine. 

In her new role leading the IEEE team, Killian grew the organization to more than 450 members. She also hosted more than 30 events–both social and professional–during her term and increased the social media presence to an audience of more than 700 followers.

One of the most successful events was the IEEE Trivia Night which took place at the University Club of Virginia Tech. More than 200 faculty, staff, IEEE members and other ECE students attended the event to celebrate the end of the semester and participate in a little friendly competition.

“I had several goals for myself and for the chapter when I became President,” said Killian. “I wanted to have as many events as possible and get the word out there about this organization and our mission to help students be successful. These industry partners want to hire people. They need engineers that are involved and passionate about learning and growing.”

Another event Killian and the IEEE team hosted was called “Coffee with Collins.”  This networking event with Collins Aerospace allowed ECE students to interact with professionals from the Charlotte-based aviation company in a casual setting, while giving them an outlet to share resumes, discuss internships, and even snag post-graduation career opportunities.

Coffee with Collins Event
Collins Aerospace employees interact with ECE students on the 3rd floor balcony of Whittemore Hall.

And the award goes to...

The success of Madalyn Killian's events and new social media presence did not go unnoticed.  

At the end of her term as President of IEEE in spring 2022, the computer engineering senior was awarded the IEEE Larry K Wilson Award for all of Region 3.

​The purpose of the Larry K Wilson Award is to recognize, annually, in each Region of the IEEE, the student member most responsible for an extraordinary accomplishment associated with student activities. 

Map of IEEE Region 3
Map of IEEE Region 3 Territory

Stephen Moyer is a graduate instructor for the Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education and serves as the IEEE@VT Student Branch Mentor. Moyer provides support and guidance on the team’s activities, acts as a liaison with IEEE regional leadership, and offers mentorship to the officers of the branch in support of their personal and professional development. 

After working firsthand with IEEE and Madalyn during her time as president, he knew she was an ideal candidate to nominate for the IEEE Larry K Wilson Award.

“Madalyn demonstrated exceptional leadership throughout the year,” said Moyer. “She invested her time and energy in her team and the community above and beyond what is typical of undergraduate student leaders, fostered a culture of inclusion, was a positive and encouraging voice representing her peers, and set a strong example for other students to follow.”

Killian was also nominated for the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader Award at Virginia Tech and was honored with an award for outstanding service from the ECE department in Spring 2022. IEEE@VT was also nominated for Virginia Tech’s Student Organization Leadership Awards’ Outstanding Organization of the Year.

Her fellow IEEE members and in particular the new President, Nolan Donovan, had nothing but positive things to say about Killian and her influence on the student group.

“The best thing about working with Madalyn while she was President was how empathetic and relatable she was as a person,” said Donovan. “She treated all of us with an immense amount of respect and was a very effective leader. Her passion for the role and IEEE really inspired me to follow in her footsteps this year.”

Nolan Donovan and Madalyn Killian pose for a photo at the IEEE happy hour social event
Nolan Donovan (left) and Madalyn Killian (right) host IEEE@VT Happy Hour Trivia Night event at the University Club of Virginia Tech.

A sense of community and leaving a legacy

Killian applied to Virginia Tech because of its reputation for having one of the best engineering programs in the country. While she earned a great education, she’s also walking away with so much more. 

“After moving from Texas to Blacksburg, I spent the majority of my first few years as an undergraduate searching for a sense of community,” said Killian. “It sounds cliche but the students that were in IEEE at the time gave me that sense of community and a sense of purpose.”

Her advice to future IEEE presidents and officers is to not lose sight of the mission and goals of the organization. 

“The goal is to give the same opportunities to other students in the organization,” she said. “It’s important to be selfless, not selfish, and if future presidents forget that, then I didn’t do my job. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”

IEEE@VT Officers pose for group shot on Virginia Tech's Campus. Killian seen in front row, third from left.
IEEE@VT Officers pose for group shot on Virginia Tech's Campus. Killian seen in front row, third from left.