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Voices of ACES Blog

From Japan House to Dublin, ABE student embraces the present moment

Erica smiles over her shoulder in front of the Irish Sea
Erica smiles over her shoulder in front of the Irish Sea

“I am a big believer that you are always where you are meant to be.” As an Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) sophomore at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Erica Stehlik lives out this belief daily, whether studying abroad in Dublin or working at Japan House in Urbana.

Erica has a unique interest in both ABE and aerospace engineering: “I want to bridge agriculture and space technology, whether using solar data and satellites to farmers’ advantage or researching how to grow space plants.” 

With good grades in high school and a strong application, Erica was accepted into many of the top universities for fields of interest. Narrowing down the selection to just two, she visited each a handful of times to talk with advisors and get a feel for the two campuses. 

After conversations with both universities, one doubted her ability to combine her two passions, while the U. of I. supported her and assured her they would provide help along the way. 

That helped Erica make her final decision to attend the U. of I. “At the end of the day, I wanted a school that pushed the limits of knowledge and innovation in their students and professors.” 

In the fall of 2022, Erica arrived at the U. of I. campus feeling excited and assured that she was exactly where she was supposed to be. 

Since then, Erica has immersed herself in campus life, joining various clubs to find what most aligned with her interests, including serving as a committee chair for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), an Engineering Student Admissions Representative (ESTAR) Lead —giving her the opportunity to be a brand ambassador for The Grainger College of Engineering, a chemistry teaching lab assistant, and a once-a-week milker at the dairy farm. Erica has also been involved in a social planning committee at her residence hall, Newman Hall, and will serve as a resident assistant next year. 

Now in her second year, Erica is an active member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and Illini Service Dogs

In the middle of Erica’s chaos and busy schedule, she has found peace and grounding in the lessons she learned during her internship with Japan House

She recalls her first experience at the tea ceremony that led to her applying for the internship. Due to the popularity of this ceremony, first-year students rarely have the opportunity to attend. Somehow securing a spot, Erica knew this was where she was meant to be. 

“The bold silence and the encouraged mu (emptiness) are frankly weird. Weird in a breathtaking way,” she said. “It was like I became aware of the oneness of the world, understanding my stance in the galaxy while viewing the breadth of the universe.” 

Working at the Japan House has entirely changed how Erica views her life and the world around her. “It reminds me that every day is not guaranteed, so instead of looking 5, 10, 20 years into the future as murky as a lake bottom, we have to live in gratitude and grace for the present.”  

This semester, Erica has embarked on a completely new experience. In January, she flew almost 4,000 miles across the world to Ireland, where she will spend the next four months at the University College Dublin (UCD)

International travel, specifically to Dublin, has been Erica’s dream. She made it one of her top priorities to choose a university with numerous study-abroad opportunities that allowed flexibility when she was ready. 

Erica looks forward to gaining a global perspective on agriculture, traveling around Ireland to towns like Galway, Kinsale, and Belfast, and learning more about Ireland’s rich history. She is excited to be surrounded by Irish culture, visit breathtaking natural wonders, and even learn a bit of the traditional Irish language in her Intro to Irish class. 

From the south quad to the streets of Dublin, adventure awaits for Erica. No matter where her journey takes her, she knows she will be exactly where she is meant to be.