Sophie Bowe: A Day in the Life of a Penn Engineer

Sophie Bowe superimposed on an illustrated map that outlines a typical day.
A typical day takes Sophie Bowe all around Penn’s campus. See the the full-sized map in the most recent edition of Penn Engineering Magazine. (Illustration: Melissa Pappas)

It was an epiphany experienced while riding on Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest that granted Sophie Bowe her entrance into the world of engineering. A true believer (until then at least) in the pure magic of Disney theme park attractions, Bowe’s “Aha!” moment revealed to her the unseen technological and mechanical underpinnings of the ride. Like so many other engineers-to-be, the 10-year-old Bowe wondered, “Wait. How does this all actually work?” Her father, a mechanical engineer sitting beside her at the time, clearly remembers the moment, and was not at all surprised by the many questions that followed. Her journey of discovery had begun.

Flash-forward to Bowe’s arrival at Penn Engineering from the small Midwestern city of Alliance, Ohio. Culture shock? Yes, but in a good way. Bowe found the campus exciting, and the people she met to be kind and welcoming. She delighted in being able to get around Philadelphia on her own power rather than having to drive everywhere. Now, as a senior and a Resident Assistant at Lauder College House, Bowe organizes urban excursions designed to orient and amuse incoming Penn students.

When searching for the right academic fit for her interests and aspirations, Bowe jokes that she had changed her major even before declaring it. Always one to get her hands dirty and figure it out, she found her intellectual home in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM). Bowe’s love of making things found full expression in MEAM 101, Introduction to Mechanical Design, and her longtime dream of becoming an “Imagineer” came into even sharper focus.

Now a Teaching Assistant (TA) for that very course and a Machining Laboratory Assistant (MLA) in the Precision Machining Laboratory, Bowe is, quite literally, honing her own skills while helping others.

Senior Lecturer Dustyn Roberts, who teaches MEAM 101, describes Bowe as “a natural leader among her peers,” and expressed what might be the ultimate vote of confidence in her abilities: Roberts would “ride on anything she designs as an Imagineer, for sure!”

As a MEAM major with a Mathematics minor, Bowe might be stereotyped as “left-brain dominant.” But while her toolkit contains the skills necessary for analysis and methodology, her superpower is her openness to magical thinking. A passion for the theater and an appreciation for art both speak to her more creative energies. In her STEM-centered senior year in an accelerated master’s program, Bowe looks forward to a sculpture studio course to bring balance to her schedule.

However true, it is almost an understatement to sum up the semesters at Penn during COVID-19 as a “university experience like no other.” Bowe looks on the bright side: Having always preferred to study alone, she found that she enjoyed the company of others during Zoom homework sessions, making new friends and strengthening ties with old ones. Closeness with family was also sustaining. Sitting around a bonfire enjoying meals and conversation became a tradition that will undoubtedly remain in the Bowe Family collective memory. With her curiosity given full rein in a comparatively unstructured academic environment, Bowe watched YouTube videos about carpentry and other trade techniques. Perhaps reflecting the unpredictability of the times, Bowe boldly cut off her long hair, coloring it purple, just because.

Bowe is glad to be back on campus for her senior year. Her overarching career goal is “to make people happy” by providing them with magic, fantasy and fun through “Imagineering.” Who among us might someday experience the results of her dream?

See a full-sized version of the illustration of Sophie’s day in Penn Engineering Magazine