Rocky Diegmiller

Major(s): Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Math
Research: Rachleff Scholars Program
Hometown: Wheeling, West Virginia
Activities: Community service chair for Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity; president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers chapter; treasurer for the Rachleff Scholars Society; last year was educational manager for Harrison College House Eco-Reps
Interests: Sports, especially basketball and soccer
Goal: A PhD and a career in pharmaceutical research and drug development

Why Penn Engineering?

I came to the conclusion that Penn was best academically and best for me. If I had it to do over, I’d pick Penn again without reservation.

At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a major. I had been thinking about molecular biology, but decided to apply to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The word “engineering” was scary at first because I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I’d give it a shot to see if I liked it. I took a few intro courses in chemical engineering and absolutely loved it.

How have you changed since coming to Penn Engineering?

I want to get into cancer research and develop drugs to help people. I took the Introduction to Biotechnology course with Professor Dan Hammer. We explored difference processes to look at DNA, growing and culturing cells – it was an entirely new world for me. I came in with my doubts and found my calling. That class, his teaching style, the way it ties together math, chemistry, engineering, problem solving – it really opened my eyes.

I used to hear about research, with all the buzzwords, but now I can actually see the science behind the stories. Maybe I’ve run that test or I know what the results mean. I can now draw some conclusions by reading research papers.

How is life different for you at Penn?

Two and a half years ago, I was a kid from a small town in West Virginia coming to a big school, and I was concerned with how things would go. Since then, the ideas I’ve been exposed to, all these new experiences and tools, the way I’ve grown intellectually – everything confirms I made the right choice of major and college. I realize how lucky I am.

I had been anxious about moving to Philadelphia, coming from a town of about 25,000 on a good day. I remember being at the PennGreen pre-orientation program and sitting on the field. I looked around and didn’t see any mountains. The Appalachians that had always been in view back home were gone, and I felt a chill down my spine. I had felt safe within sight of those mountains. I thought: This is me outside my comfort zone. Actually, I haven’t felt in my comfort zone at all while in college – and that’s one of the highlights.

Without a sense of comfort, I’m always pushing myself and throwing myself out there to learn new things. If I ever do get to feel comfortable, it will mean I’m not working hard enough. Every day, I’m surrounded by students who are absolutely incredible at what they do; they will be leaders in their field someday. So maybe I don’t hit the snooze button three times; maybe I roll out of bed and grab every opportunity while I’m here. My drive is to make sure I get everything out of my Penn education.

What advice would you give those about to enter college?

Try new experiences. Pick three clubs: one that you have a lot of interest in; one that you’re not sure about but would like to try; and one completely off the wall, like bee keeping. That’s what college is all about – pursuing your interests and trying things you never would have in high school.

Coming out of college, if 18-year-old me looks at 22-year-old me and says, “I have no idea who you are anymore,” I’ll think I did well.