TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — For the past 18 years, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology has been ranked the No. 1 engineering school for undergraduates in the country that doesn't offer doctorate degrees.
And the No. 1 graduating senior this spring will be 2013 Mahomet-Seymour alum Kristen Belyea.
The school of about 2,200 also presents an award to the top member of its American Society of Civil Engineering chapter. And that happens to be going to another member of M-S' Class of '13, Jace Kempen.
On a campus featuring some of the brightest young minds in the engineering world, former Mahomet-Seymour students are stealing the show.
"We had a lot of great teachers growing up and Mahomet is so big on math and science, it really prepared us to come here and do well," said Belyea, who spent the first three years of her time at Rose-Hulman playing for the women's basketball team on top of maintaining excellence in a demanding curriculum.
"I think we both would agree that our education at Mahomet-Seymour High School was outstanding," Kempen added. "It really allowed us the opportunity to come to a school like this and not kind of default and go to the University of Illinois. We kind of opened our eyes a little bit."
The duo's paths crossed frequently during their time in high school, but the fact that both ended up at the small school in Indiana was purely coincidental.
Kempen went to kindergarten in Terre Haute before his family relocated to Champaign County, and his parents presented Rose-Hulman as an option for him as he began looking into colleges.
"For me, part of it was getting away," Kempen said. "My brother went to the University of Illinois and I knew dozens of people who had gone there, and I wanted something at the same level, same caliber of education that wasn't too far away."
For Belyea, the combination of being able to play basketball while getting a top-notch engineering degree in a more intimate setting was the draw.
"There are such smaller classes here and you can really tell that when you're here," she said. "Some of my classes, I literally have four people in my class, and I like that compared to some of the lecture halls at UI where you're in class with another 400 people."
Two of a kind
They've each taken advantage of the education they're receiving at Rose-Hulman.
Kempen is a member of a handful of student organizations and societies. For his senior project, he was part of a team of students who designed a corporate traffic apron and aircraft hangar at Terre Haute International Airport.
He's also had internships in Virginia, North Carolina and Champaign while being on the dean's list in all 11 quarters he's completed to this point. Cramming all that in, he says, takes some serious time-management skills.
"Writing things down in a planner, something I didn't do for the longest time," said Kempen, who will start graduate school at Rose-Hulman this year. "You consciously make that decision to be involved in things outside the classroom, and if you make that decision, you'll find a way to make it work. It was difficult, but you just have to want it, want to be able to do it."
Belyea stepped away from basketball as a senior as she focused on completing her undergraduate work while simultaneously starting grad school at Rose-Hulman. She's on pace to earn her master's in civil engineering in the winter of 2018.
In addition to hoops, Belyea has interned in Kansas and Indiana. For her senior project, she was a part of a team that designed a greenway for Southport, Ind. Belyea was responsible for designing a mixed-use building that would sit on a lot along the greenway.
All this while being recognized as the top graduating senior in civil engineering.
"It's something everyone hopes to do, nobody hopes to do bad. It just worked out really well," she said of graduating at the top of her class. "Coming here, teamwork is something that's really important. I couldn't do it on my own. Working on group projects, working with groups on homework was definitely helpful to how I did so well in classes."
The folks back home in Mahomet are beaming with pride.
Eric Potter teaches math and science at Mahomet-Seymour and had both students for calculus and physics during their senior year. Their success doesn't come as a surprise to him at all.
"They were top-notch students back then as well. They were well-rounded individuals, they did a lot of activities, very sociable," Potter said. "Obviously, some of the brightest kids I've had. Even beyond good grades, just intelligent, sharp thinkers."
Once upon a time, Potter was an engineering student at the UI before deciding to go into education. He sometimes finds himself wondering "what if," but when he sees students like Belyea and Kempen making waves in engineering, he has no regrets.
"This is my way to feel like I'm producing in that field. I'm not going to go out and produce in the field of civil engineering, but if I had even a small part in sending two kids out there who are doing great things, then that's great," he said. "Their success doesn't have much to do with me; they're the kinds of kids who are going to be successful, no matter what. But all of us here can take some pride in their achievements."