Sonder is the idea that everyone around you, even the stranger you pass on the street, has a life just as complex as yours. It was also part of the answer Blaise Schroeder ’23 gave when interviewing for a position as a peer advisor at WPI’s Career Development Center (CDC).
“I was asked to give a five-minute presentation on anything that interested me, and I talked about why I like meeting new people,” they recall, adding that the concept of sonder fascinates them and contributed greatly to their answer. “It’s really cool to think about how every single person has a completely different experience in life. It’s helped me to do lots of different things and contribute to campus in different ways, allowing me to look at things from many different angles and perspectives. Basically, it’s a good reminder that everyone has a story.”
“Everyone” certainly includes Schroeder, and their story is one that they hope will leave an impact at WPI for years to come.
When Schroeder arrived at WPI in 2019 as a first-year robotics engineering student, they were prepared to jump headfirst into life at WPI. The pandemic had other plans. “I was starting to get involved in things around campus,” they say. “My friends and I were going to play in the intramural volleyball league when we got back in the spring, but then the pandemic started.”
They and the rest of the WPI community were sent home in March 2020, and by the time Schroeder returned to Boynton Hill, they had a new responsibility as an RA (resident advisor). “It was really weird,” Schroeder admits of trying to lead fellow students in the midst of a pandemic while they were still trying to navigate it themselves. “We were focused on enforcing masks [and other precautions]. There was lots of cracking down.”
Such a dramatic world change and increase in responsibilities had Schroeder struggling with not just their own mental health, but with seeing peers grappling with those same challenges. That desire to help and continue to get involved propelled them through to their junior year, when they traveled to Nantucket for their IQP—and when WPI’s mental health crisis grew.
“I felt so disconnected, but also so motivated to do something,” Schroeder says of being so close to, yet so far from, their friends and the rest of the struggling WPI community during their IQP. “It really lit a fire in me … I knew I wanted to do something to help.”
Upon returning to campus, Schroeder was focused on making up for lost time: after having attended a virtual town hall for students during IQP, they joined the Mental Health Implementation Team, sharing opinions and ideas from the student perspective as the university came together to address the crisis.
“I really enjoyed being that bridge between the administration and the students,” they say. “It felt good to be able to contribute to these efforts, to share with my peers that they were working, and to see them put in place around campus.”
Schroeder also used the tools and skills gleaned from their work at the CDC to secure an internship at Bowery Farming, an indoor vertical farming company that grows produce year-round—without the use of pesticides—that is then delivered and distributed regionally, thereby reducing food miles, and ensuring peak freshness.
It’s not the first internship you’d think of as a robotics engineering major, but for Schroeder, that was exactly why they were interested in joining the relatively new farming venture.
“It was a unique opportunity, for sure,” Schroeder says, going on to explain that their internship involved lots of coding, Solidworks design, behind-the-scenes work, and systems installations on the company’s Maryland farm that allowed them to get their hands dirty. “My general interest since high school has been building exoskeletons for the mobility impaired, but I loved the sustainability aspect of this internship.”
One added benefit was regularly taking home greens from the farm. “It’s also just so cool to take home something you had a hand in making,” they say. “To contribute to something that helps sustain human life—what’s better than that?”
As their senior year begins to wind down, Schroeder doesn’t have many solid plans except to land a job that they enjoy in a space that’s safe, comfortable, and welcoming for LGBTQIAP+ folks—one that they don’t have to build themselves.
“I just want to be a part of it,” they explain. “I’ve done so much leading already; I want to be able to go into a space where it’s already a priority and I don’t have to make it one.”
From mental health awareness and campus improvements for marginalized students to creating positive change in general, their innumerable leadership roles and work on campus have proven invaluable, and for Schroeder it’s that impact they hope carries on.
“I think that a lot of people are focused on having their name on something,” they say. “And that’s cool, but I think that having that long-lasting impact by seeing changes you advocated for is even better. I want to come back and see that more buildings were made accessible, that there are even more gender-neutral bathrooms around campus. It’s all about progress. It doesn’t have to be my name that’s remembered, just my work.”