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Allison Van Beveren
Chemical engineering student Allison Van Beveren | Image: Allison Van Beveren

Chemical engineering student Allison Van Beveren joined the Zachry Leadership Program her sophomore year of college. The challenges she faced during her high school career taught her persistence, determination and compassion: all the qualities of a strong leader.

Q: Can you tell me about your high school experience? You graduated as the valedictorian, but it wasn’t an easy path. What was that like?

A: In the middle of my high school career, my family moved across the country from Ohio to Texas, and I had to start over as the new girl in town. Our home in Texas was still being built when we moved, so we had to stay with a family friend until our house was finished. I slept on the floor of a spare bedroom while my two taller siblings took the bed. For about five months, we lived entirely out of moving boxes. 

To make the situation worse, I had been experiencing some abdominal pain, which I assumed was just from the stress of moving. But when I spiked a 105-degree fever, we thought it was my appendix and went to the hospital. After a CT scan, the doctor’s diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease.  I ended up staying in the hospital for three weeks, during which they gave me a long-lasting nutrition line via IV. I was fed with only IV nutrition for three months because my body couldn’t handle solid food. After multiple hospital visits, I finally had to have surgery to remove about a foot of my intestines.

When I applied to the Zachry Leadership Program (ZLP), they asked me what my biggest accomplishment was. I said that it was graduating as valedictorian despite the many challenges I faced. It was a humbling experience, but I’m quite proud of myself.

Really, I just want to serve people. I want to impact the world. That's what I love.

Allison Van Beveren

Q: Is that why you’re studying chemical engineering? To find a cure for Crohn’s disease?

A: Not necessarily, but it’s in the back of my mind. I’m still learning about everything that I can do with my degree. Really, I just want to serve people. I want to impact the world. That’s the thing about chemical engineering – no matter what you do or what aspect of the field you study, you’re still solving real-world problems and making a difference. That’s what I love.

Q: What is the Zachry Leadership Program (ZLP)? How do you expect it to influence your future career?

A: The ZLP is a partnership between the College of Engineering and the Zachry Group. Basically, it helps you become a better leader in the engineering world and it gives you tools for your toolbox that aren’t strictly academic. The first class we have to take is about becoming a self-aware leader, which is what the ZLP is all about. It’s about refining our leadership skills so that when we graduate, we can play active roles in our careers.  

Allison Van Beveren standing in front of mountains.
In her free time, Beveren loves hiking and exploring nature. | Image: Allison Van Beveren

I think having leaders and mentors like the ones running the program will help me grow as an individual and become the woman I need to be in the engineering field. I’m excited about all of the students I’ll get to work with. Everybody is different and unique. I learn something from everyone I meet because we all have different strengths.

Q: What advice would you give to incoming engineering students?

A: It’s not about the money. It’s about what you love to do. If you’re only in it for the money, you’re not going to last, because engineering is hard. My advice would be to not give up. Everybody in the major is so smart and talented, and it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong. You have to remember that you’re just as smart and capable too. Instead of being overwhelmed and intimidated, dive right in and embrace the challenge with grit and determination.