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Graduate Student Profile: Steven Greene Helps Bring Graduate Students Together

Steven Greene

Why McCormick?
I went to the University of Florida and majored in civil engineering. I worked for about nine months as a structural engineer in Mobile, Alabama. That reaffirmed for me that grad school was right for me. I didn’t want to do the desk job thing quite yet.  I made the leap and applied to the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics program, which is one of the top in the world. I ended up coming here because the financial package was so good. The location was also a huge advantage. Chicago is great, and I live down in the city now.

Tell us a little about your research.
I’m one of the few graduate students in the TAM group here studying under professors Wing Kam Liu and Wei Chen. I’m studying computational mechanics and computational optimization in design under uncertainty. The work that I do involves solid mechanics, specifically looking at nonlinear material models and considering the effect that random microstructures have on the bulk material properties — connecting the microstructure to material properties and assessing structure performance from those connections.

You are now in your third year as a PhD student. What was it like adjusting to life as a graduate student?
It has been quite a journey. My background in Florida didn’t quite prepare me for everything I would experience academically here at Northwestern. I’ve been challenged more than I thought I would be, but that’s been the fun part. Also, I’ve adjusted by making sure I still make time for social outings and exercise.

Describe a typical day.
Most mornings I take the Purple Line Express train up from the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I leave between 6:30 and 7:30 (or 8:00 if I was up late the night before studying or doing something social) and I read a book or papers on the train. I’m a morning person, so it’s easier for me to bear down on my research early. I don’t have a general schedule that I abide by, but I prioritize my tasks: coursework, research assignments, and extracurricular activities. I will be at my desk working either writing and testing programs or just hand-manipulating equations until I have meetings or classes. Those usually end by 4 p.m., then I go back to my research. I usually head home by 7or 8 p.m., so my days range from 10 to 12 hours during the week.

You’re busy with coursework and research, but you still make time to co-direct the McCormick Graduate Leadership Council.
MGLC is a great organization. It represents all departments at McCormick and provides programming for graduate students. I got involved two years ago as a representative for the civil engineering department, then became co-director last year. We’ve put on future faculty seminars, where we bring in faculty to talk about what they do as faculty members, and we’ve also brought in professional development speakers from industry. Our most popular events are our social events — we try to get the graduate student body out of their shells and out of their labs to interact with each other across disciplines and gain skills that are important to making a complete engineer. We try to encourage both social leadership and technical leadership.

As co-director, I do planning for programming, from picking up food for events to marketing them to the student body. I’ve always thought leadership, social skills, and communication are crucial to being successful, and I decided to become co-director because this is the best leadership opportunity McCormick offers graduate students.

What do you hope to do when finished with your PhD?
I hope to have a job that gives me intellectual freedom. A faculty job is one of those – on the top of my list – but it’s not the only one. I wouldn’t be averse to starting my own company. I just hope to do something that combines the technical side of engineering with leadership — two of the things I love.