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“No one can work in civil engineering alone”

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“No one can work in civil engineering alone”

Growing up in Colorado Springs, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Mikayla Britsch was encouraged to care deeply about the area’s natural resources and the people who lived there. She followed the news from a young age, as did her parents, who were vocal about current events and worked in “people-centric” positions that served members of the public.

Britsch knew that she, too, wanted her work to be socially driven. Living in an extremely car-oriented city, she became interested in public transportation. At MIT, she decided to follow the path of her grandfather, a civil engineer, and majored in civil and environmental engineering, with a minor in Spanish.

“Being a civil engineer is a career but also a vocation, a calling to use math and science to solve societal problems and help or improve communities,” Britsch says. “It calls on you to be in constant dialogue with others. No one can work in civil engineering alone; you work with colleagues, transportation planners, architects, clients, and the public for even the most basic project.”

At MIT, Britsch has studied ways to improve transportation systems and engage with the public, through several research and extracurricular opportunities. She has worked in the Department of Urban Studies for two Undergraduate Research Opportunities, or UROPs, which involved researching different public transit agencies to study their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her capstone project looks at how to deliver packages more efficiently, something Britsch says will make structural systems better for individuals, our environment, and our society.

This research, along with tutoring jobs, teaching and researching abroad, and participating in the mock trial team, has given Britsch a sense of the work she hopes to do in the future. “It would be nice to work in a combination of transportation engineering and public policy, using what I’ve learned at MIT and from the people I’ve met to improve transportation,” she says.

After graduation, Britsch plans to work as a transportation engineer in Colorado before going to graduate school.

Thriving on social interaction

Britsch has an affinity for communication, and considers “talking a lot,” to be one of the most integral aspects of her identity.

Her interest in the Spanish language began in high school, and carried into college, “I fell in love with Spanish. It really clicked in my mind in a way, and I got invested in learning about it,” she says. Britsch is fluent in the language and continues to immerse her studies in the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries.

She values communication in her on-campus jobs as well. She works as a tutor and a tour guide and delights in engaging with new groups of people weekly. Britsch also enjoys socializing with the members of her living community, McCormick Hall, MIT’s all-female dormitory, “It’s very homey. There’s also a lot of safety and community in this space,” she says.

Britsch cites her communities on campus — her close-knit civil engineering major, the mock trial team, and the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry — as other important social outlets. She says she has gained some of her closest friends from these groups, “When you spend so much time in practices and competitions, it becomes a community.”

Following her final mock trial competition last month, Britsch and her team came together for a movie night to celebrate their hard work. Britsch has an ongoing list of her favorite childhood movies she believes “are important for other people to watch,” that she is currently working through with her friends.

Travel, and motivating others

One of Britsch’s goals before starting MIT was to implement her language education abroad in South America, which she did through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI). Her first MISTI experience was in the summer of 2022 when she traveled to Santiago, Chile, where she worked at the University of Chile researching optimal placements for public electric-vehicle charging stations in the city.

Although she had to overcome the challenges of a different culture, climate, and language dialect, Britsch says the experience was rewarding: “I learned a lot about Chile in my Spanish classes, and it’s a really interesting country.”

Britsch also lived in Mexico in January 2023 and Spain in January 2024 for MIT’s Global Teaching Labs program. She taught statistics, calculus, and algebra to students ranging from preschool to 12th grade. Working in multiple schools and grade levels was a “cool” way to learn about how education varies in other countries, as well as a nostalgic reminder of her time as a grade-school student, she says.

Britsch reflects on her MISTI experiences fondly and claims, “If I could have, I would’ve done it every year.” She hopes to continue visiting Spanish-speaking countries after college and is considering pursuing temporary teaching abroad opportunities in the future.

In her work as a tutor on campus, Britsch finds joy in motivating others in their academic pursuits. She has tutored friends and her dorm members and is employed through the Talented Scholars Resource Room. She is a teaching assistant for an aerospace computer science course as well.

About mentoring, Britsch reflects, “I always relied on myself to do things but when I came to MIT, I realized it’s impossible to rely on just yourself. You can’t be successful without help from other people. A lot of the reason that I like tutoring is because I want to show people that asking for help isn’t a bad thing.”