Kristen Steenhoven’s first experience at Kalamazoo Valley as a 13-year-old helped set her on the path to becoming an engineer. Next month, the 18-year-old will begin a paid internship at the Chicago-based Hendrickson Company, a truck parts manufacturer. In July, she will transfer from Kalamazoo Valley to Kettering University, one of the nation’s top engineering schools.
It all began when she enrolled, “Steel My Summer,” in a week-long summer camp at Kalamazoo Valley for middle school students who were interested in manufacturing careers. “It was really cool,” Steenhoven said. “We made a remote control car and I got to see everything from designs on a computer to building the actual car. I still have mine and I have fun with it every so often.” The experience also included a field trip to see engineers at work at the Stryker Corporation. “From then on, I knew that was really it,” Steenhoven said. “I know I can work in mechanical engineering for the rest of my life and I know I’ll be happy.
She began taking classes at Kalamazoo Valley right before she turned 16. “I was really looking for a challenge,” the Portage resident said. “I came here and they kind of welcomed me with open arms. It sounds crazy to go from high school to community college at 16, but my instructors were really encouraging. They knew I was here to learn."
Steenhoven loves math and has enjoyed taking many courses including Differential Equation, Auto CAD, welding and machine tool classes. “The hands-on classes are always fun for me to take, but there’s probably not a bad class here,” she said. In addition to the challenging classes, Steenhoven said she loves the atmosphere at Kalamazoo Valley. “I get to be in this really great environment and I get to soak up all the knowledge that I need,” she said.
Kalamazoo Valley Drafting and Design instructor Rick Garthe has been impressed by Steenhoven’s aptitude. He suggested that she apply to Kettering University. “When I interviewed, they were impressed that I took Auto CAD and that I had taken so many hands-on classes,” said Steenhoven. Steenhoven received and considered two other offers before settling on Kettering and the Hendrickson internship.
Garthe said he’s not surprised. “She’s pretty sharp and she has good social skills, too,” he said. “She’s always been the youngest in my classes and sometimes the only woman. That didn’t intimidate her at all. She’s a good teammate and very approachable. She knows how to think.”
Garthe steered Steenhoven to Kettering because it’s the number two rated engineering school in the nation. The fact that education is coupled with an internship was a bonus. “I knew that gaining some work experience as she moves on would be really good,” Garthe said. “Kristen is not afraid of hard work. She’s been able to figure out what she’s got to do to make herself successful. She’s able to focus and figure out what she wants. She’s able to live by it.”
Steenhoven said Garthe, math instructor Tim Kane, and many other instructors at Kalamazoo Valley have been encouraging. “They really supported me,” she said. “At Kalamazoo Valley I was really challenged. It prepared me to go to the number two mechanical engineering school in the country. I was actually challenged to learn.”
Garthe said he’s confident that Steenhoven will go far. “I think she’s going to be very successful,” he said. “I think she’s going to have a remarkable career.”