Elicia Turnbull '04

“Anything is possible”: Engineer thanks her supporters, gives back

Elicia Turnbull

By: Lisa Kohlndorfer

Published June 2016

“St. Joan Antida taught me that anything is possible, that I can do anything I want to do.” These words are emblematic of the life path so far of Elicia Turnbull, ’04.Turnbull could not have foreseen the winding road of her education and career. Consistent throughout her life, though, have been the support of her parents, teachers, and supervisors as she has found her way. Her long line of supporters has inspired her to act as role model for younger students, as one of the first organizers of the SJA Robotics team – RoboChix.

From an early age, Turnbull’s parents gave a lot of freedom to their children about their intellectual interests. Her parents were supportive no matter what the activity, so long as it was educational.

“My parents never told me no, they said ‘Let’s go!’” said Turnbull. “They taught me that anything-is-possible mentality.”

This freedom extended to the children’s choice in schools. Rather than forcing Turnbull to follow her older sister to a public high school, her parents let Turnbull take the placement test at SJA and decide that it was the place for her. For Turnbull, as with many students, the school felt right.

“I especially liked the small class sizes – you weren’t lost in a crowd,” she said. “Teachers know who you are.”

Another benefit of the small student body was the ability to explore lots of different classes and extracurricular activities. Turnbull could enjoy a well-rounded education by joining groups that were outside of her typical interests.

“At SJA, you’re not pigeon-holed into one path,” she said. “I was able to explore all kinds of interests that didn’t have to match my career.”

Although her favorite classes were math- and science-based, she also joined Forensics, Light Crew, and spent all four years working with the school newspaper.

“SJA let us explore all these different things, and no one would tell you that you couldn’t try,” she said.

The small school size also meant that teachers could give individualized attention to students who needed help. One particular teacher, Sister Janet, let students choose their own Art projects.

“You could come up to Sister Janet and say ‘I want to do this difficult thing that hasn’t been done before,’ and she would make it happen,” Turnbull remembered. “She’d help you with whatever you wanted to do, so long as you were willing to put in the work.”

When Turnbull decided she wanted work with photography, Sister Janet made a makeshift dark room so she could develop the film. That sort of support helped Turnbull take control of her own education, and reinforced that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.

Graduating from SJA with a foundation in her own self-confidence and the support of her teachers and family, Turnbull then applied to many different universities – still unsure of her own career path.

“I knew that I could always change my mind, and the people around me would still be supportive,” she said.

Eventually she decided to attend Milwaukee School of Engineering, mainly because she had made friends with some students there. However, she lacked complete confidence in her choice at first. She entered college without a strong idea of what engineering was like, and had to “play catch-up” with other students who had more experience.

“I’m proud that I graduated with an engineering degree,” Turnbull said. “I came close to quitting it entirely about four or five times. But there was always an encouraging word from someone at just the right moment.”

Turnbull’s most significant support was a scholarship she received from Rockwell Automation to cover her Junior- and Senior-year tuition costs. This monetary award helped Turnbull commit to her Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Engineering, which she earned in 2008.

Turnbull spent three and half years interning with Rockwell as part of her scholarship, gaining experience in many different departments. During her last semester, she found a group that she enjoyed working with and who hired her full-time. She appreciated most the atmosphere that encouraged creativity and cooperation.

“The manager is really supportive about trying new things,” Turnbull explained. “If you’ve finished your work, he won’t say no to working on a new project or learning something new.”

Since establishing herself at Rockwell as a Software Security Engineer, Turnbull has turned her free time towards improving the high school that helped her find her path.

“SJA now has the engineering classes that I didn’t have. That makes me happy, because I want to see my school get better and better each year,” she said.

One way that Turnbull has helped give back to SJA has been implementing the current Robotics program, RoboChix, with Mrs. McLinn. The program is a national competition where students build their own robots to outperform robots from other teams.

Turnbull has been a RoboChix mentor for the past several years. For her, it’s a chance to role-model what SJA students are capable of accomplishing.

“They can see that if someone like them could be an engineer, they can go do whatever it is they want to do,” she said.

In acting as a supportive mentor for students that were once in her shoes, Turnbull showcases the importance of encouraging young girls in whatever their dreams may be.