Silver Medal winner Sarah Verderame: “Engineering is a team sport”

Sarah Verderame poses for a portrait on the CSU Oval
Sarah Verderame, recipient of the 2022 CEC Silver Medal

Sarah Verderame, a graduate of CSU’s biomedical and mechanical engineering program, is the university’s 2022 recipient of the Silver Medal from the Colorado Engineering Council. Her selection recognizes an impressive portfolio of internships, research experience, and student leadership positions. But Verderame is also quick to point out that soft skills like networking, teamwork, and self-knowledge were crucial to her success.

The CEC Silver Medal is awarded annually to a single student at each of Colorado’s engineering colleges. Selection is based on research skills, academic performance, and service, and begins with nominations from departments within the college and subsequent interviews with candidates. The caliber of the nominees is always impressive – this year’s finalists also included Ram Robotics president Carissa Voss in mechanical engineering, and Astronaut Scholarship recipient Kori Elias in electrical engineering.

A look through Verderame’s resume reveals a mix of academic and industry success, advocacy and leadership activities, and mentoring and outreach work that dovetails nicely with the CEC selection criteria. During her time at CSU, she has been a student ambassador for the College, interned with Caterpillar, Solar Turbines and Boston Scientific, and worked as a research assistant with the university’s Advanced Manufacturing and Materials Laboratory. She’s also taken on leadership and service roles in governance and equity organizations including the Engineering College Council and Society of Women Engineers. And throughout all of this, she has maintained academic performance worthy of a CSU Presidential Scholarship and a 3.92 GPA in a very demanding field of study.

Making connections, finding a home

She knew early on that she was interested in engineering. Tackling school projects and hands-on hobbies convinced her that she had a knack for solving problems, and she began to eye a career in mechanical engineering.

Then a personal connection gave her a chance for a real-world glimpse into the field. “A family friend who worked for a biomedical device company connected me to an engineer there,” she said. “I was able to job-shadow for a day, and see what a design engineer in the human health space did. I fell in love with biomedical engineering.”

She’s recommended this tactic to prospective students in her role as a student ambassador for the College. “Someone you know, knows someone, who knows someone…” she laughed. “There is an engineer out there who would love to show you their work. All you have to do is ask.”

When it came time for Verderame to choose a university, Colorado State stood out because of the unique biomedical/mechanical engineering program. “That was an easy choice for me,” she said. “It was the perfect opportunity to get a full biomedical engineering degree, and a full mechanical engineering degree. I didn’t have to choose.”

“Plus, the mechanical engineering program here at CSU is very hands-on, and I value that.”

It turned out to be a great fit.

“Everyone here is so eager to help,” she explained. “Whether you look lost on the plaza or are struggling to get your part within tolerance in the machine shop, someone will stop and spend the time to help. We are all in it together, and people care.”

“You can’t do it alone, and that’s ok!”

Brett Beal, Verderame’s academic advisor at the School of Biomedical Engineering, spoke glowingly of her talent. The School, while based in the engineering college, comprises faculty and students from the Colleges of Health and Human Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“Many students have done a few of the things exemplified on Sarah’s resume,” Beal said. “Few have accomplished the amount and the quality of contributions she has.”

That doesn’t mean Verderame’s had it easy. When asked if she ever struggled to handle such a varied and demanding workload, she responded with enthusiasm.

“I love answering this question! Let’s de-stigmatize some things,” she said. “Yes, there have been many times I felt like I couldn’t be an engineer.”

“My advice to fellow students is to find a support network who will have your back when you fall. In this College, we like to say ‘engineering is a team sport.’ You can’t do it alone, and that’s ok!”

She was candid about the toll the academic pressure can take.

“Put yourself first, and be honest with yourself,” she advised. “The best thing I ever did was finally accept that I was fighting some mental health issues and that I needed help.”

Counseling was an investment in herself. She now views the emotional intelligence she gained from that experience as a powerful asset.

“I’ve been able to manage everything so much better,” she said. “It put things in perspective for me. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. If anything, it’s what allowed me to thrive.”

Paving a new path

One thread that runs unbroken through Verderame’s story from childhood, her time at CSU, and into the future is a passion for access and representation in engineering and the sciences.

“Even with my medieval LEGO set, I switched the knight’s male head with the princess’s female head so I could play as the hero,” she remembered.

At CSU, she became involved with the campus section of the Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, eventually serving as section president. During her tenure, CSU SWE focused on creating a more inclusive environment within the section, and building better working relationships with other engineering diversity organizations to advocate together for equity efforts in the College.

She credited her time with SWE for much of her growth at CSU. “Being a part of SWE is the reason I was successful in my internships and career search, it’s the reason I’ve met so many incredible friends and mentors, and it’s the reason I am the leader I am today.”

Verderame takes this passion for inclusion into her new role as a Mechanical Design Engineer at medical device manufacturer Medtronic.

“My larger plans involve breaking barriers that historically excluded groups face in college and the engineering field, advocating for those whose voices aren’t being heard, and making a difference for those who come after me,” she said. “I want to do everything I can to make an impact and support others in their dreams.”