Learn by the Sword

By Andrew Wyder
Megan Burrill (MSE/M.S. 2nd Year)
Megan Burrill (MSE/M.S. 2nd Year) displays her bladesmithing prowess as she applies hammer to anvil in a Mies Campus workshop.
Photo: David Ettinger

In a perfect world, Megan Burrill (MSE/M.S. 2nd Year) wouldn't mind if her life were a little less busy.

Captain of the Illinois Tech women’s swimming and diving team, Burrill leads the Material Advantage and blacksmithing clubs, is involved in research on campus, and is minoring in computer science, among other activities. A clarinet and saxophone player, she would also like to return to playing at VanderCook College of Music—if only she could find the time.

“Long term, I would like to pass off my leadership roles to other people so that I can be involved but not have quite as much commitment, because it is a lot,” she admits, and goes on to add, “Since I have really high goals for myself, there's a lot that I want to do.”

Megan Burrill (MSE/M.S. 2nd Year)

The California native, who broke Illinois Tech’s record in the 200 butterfly her first season—and three times since—and broke the 100 butterfly record her second season, took to college quickly. She became treasurer of the Material Advantage club as a first-year student and assumed the presidency at the start of her fourth semester.

“She leads by example. People fall in line,” says Professor of Materials Engineering Sammy Tin, Burrill’s academic adviser. “She's very modest, very humble. But looking at her achievements, they've been pretty spectacular.”

That includes in the classroom. 

“She's incredibly intelligent,” Tin continues. “She's definitely one of a kind. You don't see many students who you explain things to once. She just gets it."

That could be attributed to much of what Burrill has done at Illinois Tech.

Take, for example, how she took to bladesmithing when she got to campus, despite knowing nothing about it before a sword on a table at a Welcome Week event caught her attention. Bladesmithing is the art of making blades and swords using heat, a hammer, and an anvil.

“I find it really fascinating because some stuff I never really thought about—when you hit metal and it's really hot, it's a different sound than when you hit it and it's cold,” she says.

As a way to expand her continued quest for knowledge, Burrill, a Camras Scholar who is among the less than 1 percent of Illinois Tech students qualifying for this honor, says that pursuing an accelerated master's degree while earning her bachelor’s degree was a no-brainer.

“There's not much flexibility [in the bachelor’s engineering program], whereas with the [accelerated master's] program you have to take 10 courses from an entire list, so you're able to say, 'I'm really interested in diffusion, so I'm going to take a class specifically on that,'” she says. “… I'm excited to get a little more in-depth and variety of knowledge than I would get from just an undergraduate degree.”