When Laura Rosado was headed to MIT four years ago, she was undecided about choosing a major. Asked what she wanted to study, she would answer with a bit of a dodge, saying, “Well, right now my favorite class is math.”
Then, in the spring semester of her first year, she signed up for Class 2.00a (Fundamentals of Engineering Design). That semester, the focus of the class – taught by Professor Daniel Frey – was aircraft, and the requirements of the final project were wide open: Design something that flies and is radio controlled. Rosado and her lab partner decided on a project that was “ridiculously” ambitious for first-year students: a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-style flying car.
“The professor really just let us go crazy,” she says, adding that toward the end of the class, Frey made extra time for the students, letting them out of clean-up labs and telling them to “keep building and enjoy yourselves.”
“The creative freedom that I was given in that class was eye-opening,” says Rosado, who will graduate in May. “Being allowed to explore and learn without hard constraints completely sold me. I thought this just makes me very excited to be a mechanical engineer.”
There have, of course, been other important formative experiences in the aspiring mechanical engineer’s life, which reinforced each other and brought Rosado to where she is today, including Thomas the Tank Engine.
Around age 2, Rosado embarked on a lifelong romance with trains, and she says a current research interest in transportation infrastructure can be connected to those early days of carefully assembling her collection of tracks.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Rosado says. “I just like the idea of railroads. It’s a very nostalgic, romantic idea, especially in the U.S. It hearkens back to going out West, the adventure.”
Over the years, as the young Rosado developed a concern for society and the health of the planet, her fondness for railroad transportation only grew.
“The transportation sector is responsible for the largest chunk of total carbon emissions in the United States, and the majority of it is from personal cars, not even tractor-trailers,” Rosado says. “Well, this just reinforced my love of trains. I wish they were more extensive in the United States. Improving transportation infrastructure is a great public good. I’ve always thought that if I got a chance to work in that sector, I’d be pretty happy.”
Other influences on Rosado’s direction in life worked their magic along the way. Her father shared his limitless curiosity, and her mother encouraged her to think critically and love reading – she is pursuing a double major, in mechanical engineering and creative writing. The swim coach she had from about age 11 to 16 taught her to push herself really hard, to “be honest with myself and always aim higher.”
Rosado tells the story of when she clocked her best time yet at a swim meet.
“I was over the moon. You look at the board and you see a time that you’ve never gotten before,” Rosado says. “I remember going up to my coach in the stands, and he was like, ‘Well, you could have been stronger in the second half of that race,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll work on it next time.’
“There’s always something to improve on.”
Around the same time that Rosado was avoiding the question of what she would major in at college, the New Haven native had already earned herself the title of 2017 Southern Connecticut Conference Swimmer of the Year. Wanting to continue swimming competitively, she sought a Division III school, where she could achieve a balance with academics. She jokingly says she chose MIT because it had the “best pool in the Northeast,” and speaks very highly of her experience of swimming all four years.
“I’d say swimming is the reason I stayed sane,” she says. “It’s like having a space to push myself that’s not academic. It’s kind of meditative to be in the water during practice.”
She has applied to graduate school at MIT and has worked on projects through MIT’s Human Systems Lab and Little Devices Lab. Her 2019 Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) project analyzed and modeled the driving strategies of freight train engineers in order to develop automation that will aid them to drive safely in all kinds of scenarios.
“I got to drive a simulated locomotive,” Rosado says, “and talk to people who actually drive for a living.”
Rosado’s mechanical engineering concentration is in robotics. A summer UROP project she worked on last year involved improving the mechanical and sensor systems of a five-robot swarm system used in health care, which employs the robots to work collaboratively, both to help with diagnostic processing associated with Covid-19 and to provide automated systems for struggling labs around the world.
Her interest in robotics enters into yet another area of Rosado’s busy life – her writing. As her senior thesis for her creative writing major, she is working on a novel. The novel is a coming-of-age story without any science fiction elements, but Rosado also likes to write speculative fiction, such as stories that examine the ramifications of a worst-case dystopian scenario of robots taking over the world, which of course invites ethical examination of how technology progresses.
As a person with a fascination with transportation, a desire to be creative, and the grit to get done whatever she plans, 21-year-old Rosado is proceeding smoothly on the course toward her future, while never forgetting her social concern.
“How can we think about this,” Rosado says about the power-of-technology issues raised in her speculative fiction, “and then take that ethical pondering to be more thoughtful engineers?”