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Cara Stepp '04

Assistant Professor, Boston University

Cara Stepp

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Boston University Photography

I came to Smith in the fall of 2000. I chose the Picker program because I was excited to study engineering at a small liberal arts college and also I was excited to be part of the first class in the Smith program.

I went to a very small, rural high school where I had been able to get good grades without working or thinking too much. Some of my most important moments at Smith were in those first few semesters when I had to play catch-up on a lot of the basic math and science—and take my very first classes in engineering, which challenged me to think about problems in a completely new way. I remember thinking that I would be lucky to pass any courses at all! That struggle was difficult at the start, but it has paid off for me in so many ways.

One of our Smith professors liked to say that students will only do as well as you expect them to, which means you have to have high expectations. It's because of the high expectations that the Picker Engineering Program professors had for me—to be a clear thinker with the ability to learn new skills and to communicate my ideas—that I have been able to (continue to!) become that person. I'm currently an assistant professor at Boston University in the departments of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and Biomedical Engineering. I got hooked on the intersection of neuroscience and electrical engineering through my work with Professor Voss in my senior year at in the Picker program, which led me to graduate school at that intersection, which I now apply to speech production.

My lab at BU works to develop new rehabilitation technologies for people with voice and speech disorders. My time in the Picker program not only helped me to figure out how to design a career for myself in this specialized area, but gave me the fundamental skills I use daily. The focus on thinking and learning how to solve problems instead of memorizing facts has been essential for my interdisciplinary work, where I always need to learn something new and what is known about the facts is always evolving.