Stephanie Richartz BSIE 2015
Stephanie Richartz gets a lot of the same types of reactions when she tells people she’s an athlete as well as an Industrial Engineering major.
“Usually people’s first reaction is, ‘oh my gosh, that’s hard,’” Richartz, a senior, said. “And it is hard.”
But with the surprised responses she gets, she said she enjoys the feeling of automatic credibility, especially as a female in engineering.
“People admire how much work you have to put into school and how talented you are to be here in the first place, so that’s really neat,” she said.
The talent is no question — during her athletic career, she has won four Big Ten titles, and she recently won first place at the 2015 Indoor Big Ten Championship Meet.
From Island Lake, Ill., Richartz was a gymnast for most of her childhood. Her father, a runner, encouraged her to run track in high school. When her coaches learned of her gymnast background, they suggested pole-vaulting.
“I said, ‘sure, I’ll give it a try,’” Richartz said.
Continuing her pole-vaulting career into college wasn’t even on Richartz’s radar until her high school coach suggested that she ask the track coaches of whatever college she decided to attend if she could walk on the team.
“I’ve kind of wanted to go to Illinois since I was very young,” Richartz, a third-generation Illini, said.
Richartz said that her mother, Cindy, an active alumna with a degree in Industrial Engineering, helped her choose the same major, based off her strong interests in both business and science.
From there, she contacted the track team’s coaches and they agreed to let her walk on the team. Richartz was then set to have a busy college career, one that she said has shaped her as a person and changed her life.
Richartz doesn’t deny that balancing academics and being a successful pole-vaulter is no easy task. During her freshman and sophomore years, it took a few hectic semesters for her to find what kind of courseload was a good fit.
In addition, she has also been involved with the University's chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers for the past three years, serving on its executive board for one semester.
Spending at least 15 hours a week practicing can make her athletic duties feel like a part-time job. “Any time I’m not eating, sleeping or practicing is spent on school work,” she said.
But the hard work has definitely paid off. Richartz has won four consecutive Big Ten titles and hopes to win her fifth this season.
This season has been especially exciting for her. She recently won the 2015 Indoor Big Ten Championship Meet, setting a school record of 4.45 meters. She also took third at the NCAA National Meet, an improvement from past seasons.
“It’s intimidating to come back as a defending champion every time,” Richartz said of the Big Ten meet. “People’s expectations are for you to accomplish at that same level. It’s really exciting to be able to uphold those expectations.”
As she transitions to the outdoor season, Richartz has big goals for herself.
“I would like to win the Big Ten Outdoors meet as well,” Richartz said. “That will give me five overall titles. I would love to come in the top three again at nationals … it’s definitely possible, but a lot of things have to fall into place in order for it to happen.”
To prepare, she said practice time and regular improvement is key.
“It’s all about a steady progression, improving a little bit every weekend and working out the kinks so you can go into the championships with a good head on your shoulders,” she said.
At a recent home meet, Richartz set a personal best and school record.
Aside from her academic and athletic pursuits, Richartz has developed her career through three summer internships, one with John Deere and two with Kraft Foods, where she worked on duties such as project management.
Looking forward, Richartz can’t pinpoint exactly her goals for her career, but she knows she wants to be helping people.
“In short, I want to do something that contributes to the growth of the world and the betterment of people’s lives,” she said. “From that perspective, I would love to be able to use my technical knowledge and expertise to contribute to something like that.”
She will begin helping others in her analyst position with Accenture, a management consulting services company, which will begin after graduation.
Richartz said she is most excited for the challenge as well as the communications aspect that the position has to offer.
“While I enjoyed my experiences in my internships, the diverse range of projects I’ll be working on and teams I’ll be working with is a lot different than working in a plant with the same team of people,” she said. “It also has a more personable, communications side of it too, which I’m excited about. As much as I love the data and nitty-gritty of engineering, I also like working with people, so I think it’s a good balance.”
Her unique college experience that was spent balancing athletics and engineering is one that will prepare her for her upcoming career.
“It sounds dramatic, but being an athlete here has literally changed my whole life,” Richartz said. “I’ve never understood the magnitude that athletics has in the world … it’s hard to understand until you have exposure to it.”
With track being a very diverse sport, the opportunity to meet people from all backgrounds is something that she values highly.
“The people that I’ve met and the diversity that I’ve been exposed to has played a huge role in my personal growth,” she said, “I’m really thankful for it.”
On graduation weekend, Richartz capped her athletic and academic career with her third Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships pole vault title. Richartz set a new Big Ten Outdoor meet record and broke her own school record, clearing 4.37m (14' 4") en route to the win. Stephanie claimed third place at the NCAA Outdoor Championships which puts her at 12th in the U.S. with a height of 14’ 7.25”. She subsequently received the Dike Eddleman Award for Illinois' top female athlete of the year.
She also leaves the university with an ISE Engineering Service Award. And her BSIE. Onward and upward!