Inspiring Grad: Haley Dahl

Student sits with their legs crossed
Haley Dahl graduates May 4 with a bachelor’s degree in civil, materials and environmental engineering. (Photos: Martin Hernandez/University of Illinois Chicago)

Haley Dahl’s love of nature blossomed throughout her childhood, especially during summers spent with her grandparents in northern Wisconsin, where she could explore the enchanting forests around their home. 

“They lived on a lake in the middle of a forest,” Dahl said. “I was exposed to nature from a very young age, and that fostered a deep appreciation for the environment.  

“My grandpa always told me that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Dahl said. “And the thing I’m truly passionate about, on the deepest level, is nature.” 

As Dahl explored potential career paths, she found her perfect fit in UIC’s civil, materials and environmental engineering program. Another plus: she could elevate her successful high school athletic career by joining UIC’s Division I track and field team.   

“UIC ended up checking all my boxes,” said Dahl, who graduates May 4 from the College of Engineering. “I liked the idea of being a civil engineer, giving back to the world and blurring those lines between the natural and built environment.” 

As a Flames athlete, Dahl learned the importance of creating healthy habits to fuel her success in and out of the classroom. 

“As a student-athlete, you need to get serious when you want to see your full potential actualize,” she said. “So, making sure to get those eight hours of sleep, to make a good meal, to have time to study — all of that.

“It truly taught me discipline, how to be a hard worker and determination, which are things I can bring to the engineering space,” she added.

Dahl also has developed long-lasting friendships rooted in the team’s camaraderie and skills to support her future career.

“It’s been a super rewarding experience,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about myself and how to learn from each experience and take criticism with the confidence that you can do better in the future. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve taken from my experience at UIC.”

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Paul Zavala, UIC’s head track and field coach, said Dahl’s commitment to athletics and academics always has been evident during her time on the team.

“Throughout my years of coaching, very few have shown the desire to succeed at every aspect of being a student-athlete,” Zavala said. “Whether being innovative in her academic pursuits or simply giving her best effort in each race, Haley has always been determined to distinguish herself among the very best at UIC.”

Although she’s driven as an athlete, her academic work ties back to her early love of nature.

Dahl, who also is a member of the Honors College, focused her honors coursework on creating a podcast called “Green Exploration: Rockford” to raise awareness about issues related to sustainability and environmental justice. The 16-episode series, which Dahl produced from 2020-23, consisted of interviews with environmental and municipal leaders in the Rockford area.

Using this work as a foundation, she partnered with the Region 1 Planning Council to present Resilient Rockford Region, a series of live Zoom chats and expert discussions.

Student with a black blazer headhsot
“I liked the idea of being civil engineer, giving back to the world and kind of blurring those lines between the natural and built environment,” Dahl says.

“I wanted to give back to the community by providing digestible resources to learn about sustainability and environmental justice and talk about current environmental concerns,” she said. “It was a great experience, and I learned so much through the interviews.”

Since 2021, Dahl has interned with Stantec, a civil engineering firm in Chicago, where she is currently positioning herself to work on stream-restoration projects. The experience helped bring to life what Dahl was learning in the classroom.

“When I was learning something new in class, I was like, ‘Oh, I remember doing this at work,’” she said. “I really loved that.”

This fall, Dahl will continue part-time work at Stantec as she returns to UIC to pursue her master’s degree in civil engineering and complete her last year of athletic eligibility.

“The fact that I had a sixth year of eligibility was tugging at my heartstrings,” she said. “I get to give my all on the track and wrap up that experience to the fullest extent while also getting my graduate degree.”

Read about UIC’s other 2024 inspiring graduates.

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