Elinoa de la Zerda

Q&A with U-M IOE Undergrad Elinoa de la Zerda

Elinoa discusses the numerous activities she participates in on campus, and why she chose IOE as a major with a computer science minor.


Elinoa de la Zerda is an undergraduate in the U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) department. She currently works as an Engineering Advising Center (EAC) Peer Advisor and an ENGR 110 Departmental Ambassador, and participates in numerous organizations on campus such as Phi Sigma Rho and the Elementary Engineering Partnership.

Elinoa de la Zerda

Favorite IOE class: IOE 310 with Amy Cohn and IOE 316 with Mariel Lavieri

Favorite place to study on campus: IOE Commons or Sweetwaters in the U-M Union 

Favorite place to get food near campus: Ahmo’s on North Campus

What made you choose Industrial and Operations Engineering as your major?

I came into the University of Michigan knowing next to nothing about engineering, so I took exploratory classes like ENGR 110 and chose an ENGR 100 section that seemed enjoyable. The ENGR 100 section was one of the Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) ones. I actually ended up really loving my ENGR 100 section and used ENGR 110 to really explore if that’s what I wanted to do. I attended student panels, alumni talks, and I even meet with a faculty member. After taking the first few intro classes, I realized this is what interested me the most. Besides the fact that the subject material is interesting to me, I always loved the broadness and applicability of IOE. It can really be used in any field.

You’re also pursuing a computer science minor, why is that?

As someone who had absolutely no experience in coding before college, I was very intimidated when entering the U-M College of Engineering with people who seemed like they had decades of experience despite being the same age. After taking and really enjoying ENGR 101, I realized that I wanted to continue coding in some capacity. IOE gives us a chance to explore different fields with non-IOE technical electives, so I took EECS 280. I knew that for a career I didn’t want to just do coding, but I knew that it was a skill I wanted to develop. So a minor in computer science made a lot of sense to me!

That makes sense! Switching topics – I know you’re very active in a lot of groups on campus, tell me more about that.

I am a part of Phi Sigma Rho, the engineering sorority on campus. I have really enjoyed my time with that group. I also do the Elementary Engineering Partnership, where I go to a local elementary school and lead engineering-related activities. I think it’s important to introduce kids to STEM fields at a young age. I’m actually the vice president of recruitment for that group, so I’m in charge of finding and training new members, and helping the rest of the E-Board come up with activities for the children. I also work on campus as an Engineering Advising Center (EAC) Peer Advisor and an ENGR 110 Departmental Ambassador (DA).

Tell me more about Phi Sigma Rho!

It’s absolutely my favorite thing I’ve joined. I’ve met some of my closest friends through it and gained an amazing support network of people who have had similar experiences that I have had at U-M as a woman in STEM. I’ve also had amazing leadership opportunities within the organization. I am currently the Vice President of Communications and the New Member Educator. As VP of Comms I’m responsible for keeping members in the loop on events, requirements, etc, and as MemEd, I deal with the incoming class, teaching them about our history, traditions and expectations to prepare them for becoming fully active members.

Tell me more about the engineering jobs you have on campus!

I think our school does a great job of providing lots of paid opportunities for students, especially in positions related to our majors. As an EAC peer advisor, I work with first and second-year undeclared engineering students, helping them with scheduling, conflicts or any questions they may have. We also have an outreach project going on where we were all assigned a little over 200 freshmen to reach out to and ask about their first semester and if there is any way I or the EAC team can support them right now. Outside of the drop-in advising queue, it’s mostly doing little things here and there to support the EAC staff in their various endeavors to help students through their first few semesters.

As an ENGR 110 DA, I facilitate two weekly discussions with about 40 first-year engineers, introducing them to the different disciplines of engineering and what it means to be an engineer, as well as discussing how ethics, equity and communication are integral to any career in engineering. I also help them develop a final personal action plan for their remaining time in college and into the start of their careers.

If money and time were no object, what do you think your dream job would be?

Hmm. I would probably be an elementary school teacher. I really enjoy mentoring people and working with kids. That’s why I love the Elementary Engineering Partnership. However, I think public school teachers are unfortunately underappreciated and overworked, especially in light of the pandemic, so I don’t know if that would ever be a doable job for me. I definitely teach and mentor in other capacities – such as through EAC and being an ENGR 110 ambassador. Perhaps down the road teaching and mentorship will stay a big part of my career as well.

What have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of college for you so far?

Most rewarding has definitely been my extracurriculars. I’ve learned so much and met so many incredible people through them, and my entire college experience would have been completely different without them. 

Most challenging part was definitely my first year with a combination of the pandemic at its height (fall 2020) and difficult engineering intro classes. The first semester, I didn’t really leave my dorm since vaccines were not available yet and felt a little lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet and couldn’t see how the classes I was struggling through could be applied to some far off career. 

The second semester was still tough, but definitely better. I was rushing Phi Sigma Rho so I got to meet some incredible people who supported me and cheered me on. I was at home, in Miami, that semester, so it was a little bit better, but still hard being so far from everyone I was talking to. Classes were still somewhat difficult, but, since I knew a little more about what I wanted to go into, I was starting to see where I could use them in the future. Overall, even though it was tough, my first year taught me a lot about myself and how different college was from high school, which I was able to take with me into my first semi-normal semester as a sophomore.

What do you see yourself doing post-graduation?

I honestly don’t really know. I am enjoying learning all the different things you can do with IOE and I can’t really see myself staying in one place for too long. Right now, I’d like to do some sort of application of data analytics in a way that’s more than just creating more profits for a CEO. Applying IOE to healthcare or something similar interests me the most at the current moment. Like I said though, I’d like to try a few different things, learning a lot along the way.