Feature Stories 2023: Gabriella Monico '24: Rewriting the rules

Feature Stories 2023: Gabriella Monico '24: Rewriting the rules
Gabriella Monico '24: Rewriting the rules

Mechanical engineering major carves out a career path combining her talents and interests.

Gabriella Monico '24 is a volleyball captain, Honors student, and mechanical engineer. Reflecting on the pressure many students feel to choose a singular path, Monico says UMassD allowed her to pursue varied interests and develop a diverse set of skills: "I learned that I don't have to limit myself. I can bridge the gap between different specialties and bring something unique to the table."  

With the help of her advisor, Monico landed an internship at defense contractor Raytheon. For her Honors APEX project, Monico uses engineering principles to reevaluate the women's volleyball rulebook. 

Why did you choose UMassD? 

"I decided that choosing a college a comfortable distance away from home would help me develop my independence.  

"I looked at all of the UMass campuses and narrowed it down to Amherst or Dartmouth. I loved the location of the UMassD campus, and I loved that I would have the opportunity to play volleyball while studying mechanical engineering. Attending events like Admitted Students Day and Open House, where I got to see the campus and meet people from the mechanical engineering department, really tipped the scales for me." 

What do you think makes UMassD special? 

"The community here is special. It really is a public school with a private school feel, in the sense that the campus forms a close-knit community. I can walk around and see familiar faces, whether they're professors, classmates, or teammates. It makes me feel like I'm a part of something." 

Gabriella Monico at an alumni networking event

How did you become interested in mechanical engineering? What do you like most about it? 

"From a young age, I was interested in taking things apart, putting them back together, and figuring out how they work. I always had a problem-solving mind, and I knew I wanted to do something in STEM. I like that mechanical engineering can branch into so many different fields. It has allowed me to pursue different talents and interests."  

How did you obtain your internship at Raytheon? 

"I went to my advisor Dr. Alex Fowler during my sophomore year because I was thinking ahead about how to get more 'real-world' experience. We talked about my interests and goals, and he gave me a list of contacts to reach out to, Raytheon being one of them. I obtained a meeting with someone there and received an offer soon after. I'm so grateful for this opportunity, and for the help of my advisor who helped me make that process so smooth. The professors here have great connections and make it easy for students to access these kinds of opportunities." 

What did you do there? 

"I completed a 10-week internship over the summer in their missiles and defense unit. This internship is exactly what I hope to do post-graduation. For security reasons, I can't disclose exactly what I worked on, but I got to work in close collaboration with other engineers doing design work. As part of the internship program, the interns were also assigned their own project, which allowed us to work together and learn under the supervision of Raytheon engineers." 

Gabriella Monico in her volleyball uniform

Tell us about your APEX project that combines volleyball and engineering 

"Combining volleyball and engineering perfectly reflects my time here at the university. The title of my project is, 'A mathematical analysis of the rotation of a spherical body supporting the NCAA Women's Volleyball Rulebook.' In volleyball, it is illegal for a player to hit the ball twice consecutively. This is what's called a 'double contact' or 'double hit.' Using what I've learned about dynamics and mathematical analysis, I want to better understand the science behind a double hit and how it affects game play. As a result of my analysis, I will either be able to prove or disprove the rule's validity." 

How has your involvement in athletics affected your UMassD experience and your outlook on leadership? 

"The athletic director and coaches have prioritized strengthening leadership skills in team captains. We've attended workshops to develop those skills and recognize them in others; leadership isn't just about the captain, it's about the whole team. I'm grateful to be able to watch our coaches lead by example and display different types of leadership in different settings."  

How do you juggle being a student and an athlete? 

"It can be difficult, but I'm fortunate to have had practice managing my time and priorities and maintaining my mental health. Being an athlete challenges me to be a better student and vice versa. The skills I use as athlete are different from a student skill set, but both help strengthen each other." 

Gabriella Monico receiving her scholarship award
Professor Wenzhen Huang, Gabriella Monico, and College of Engineering Dean Jean VanderGheynst

What are your goals for your future? 

"I'd love to go into the defense industry. My dream job is to be a rocket scientist for NASA; UMassD has made that a realistic goal for me." 

"After graduating, I plan to get an MBA because I want to strengthen my leadership skills and I think it will be valuable to bring a different perspective to my field. I don't want to pigeonhole myself into a single category." 

What advice would you share with future Corsairs?  

"Don't put too much pressure on yourself to figure out your path early. You don't have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life as soon as you graduate from high school. When you get to college, you'll learn so much about yourself and the world, and that will help you clarify your path. To get the most out of your college experience, you have to remove some of that pressure and be open to new possibilities."   


Class: Statics (freshman year) and Dynamics (sophomore year). "These classes helped form the foundation of my interest in mechanical engineering. They were especially fun because all engineering students take these classes, so I got to work with students outside of my major." 

Professor: Afsoon Amirzadeh Goghari.  "She always makes herself available to students outside of class time, which has been very valuable. She has made all the difference for me."  

Memory: "During the spring semester of my freshman year, the pandemic was still forcing social distancing. It made it harder to feel connected to my teammates, who had come to UMassD from all over the U.S. Then one morning we saw the first snow of the year; my teammate from California was especially excited. We all ran outside and made snow angels and threw snowballs. It was a great moment of everyone coming together. It didn't feel significant at the time, but that moment stands out so clearly in my memory."