Bioengineering student Jacob Frank
Bioengineering student Jacob Frank

Jacob Frank didn’t participate in science fairs or join robotics clubs or take specialized STEM courses. But the seeds of engineering were planted early in his mind.

“Since I was very small, I’ve always been driven to learn,” said the Louisville native. “I’ve been analytical, curious, interested in not just why things are the way they are, but how they work.”

The bioengineering sophomore had several obstacles to overcome in life, including the loss of his mother as a young teen, along with mental health difficulties.

Frank, who was homeschooled through most of middle and high school, says “it was mostly just me on my own with the computer, figuring out what I was interested in. Engineering cropped up very early on as a potential choice, and it always appealed to me because it seemed to jive with my personality.”

After high school and a gap year, Frank attended Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) to explore his options, but he kept finding his way back to his dream of engineering. However, in entrance testing at the community college, he discovered he was at a ninth-grade level in math.

“I knew if I wanted to do engineering, I had to get real good at math real quick,” he said.

In those early days, there were times when Frank spent four hours a day on math in addition to everything else, but he eventually got to a point where the concepts just clicked.

Applying to J.B. Speed School of Engineering at University of Louisville was a relatively easy decision that felt like fate, said Frank. Coming from a nontraditional background prompted Frank to encourage other students like himself who might not think they had what it takes to become an engineer. He volunteered with the bioengineering department to give a presentation at Moore High School, near where he grew up.

“I felt like it was important to reach out and speak to them — I was homeschooled, I had behavioral problems, substance abuse issues, but here I am a sophomore and I’m doing advanced calculus now for fun,” he said. “It is not impossible, it is absolutely doable, and they need to hear the message that there is always a way to rise above.”

Frank’s star continues to rise. He discovered his niche working at FirstBuild, an innovation hub sponsored by GE Appliances on the Belknap campus, created as a space for engineers and product developers to dream up new products.

“FirstBuild has been a blessing and an absolutely transformative experience for me,” said Frank.

Early on, he was given the responsibility for designing an assembly line in the manufacturing process for a new product. Within six months, he was promoted to Assembly Lead, and now co-manages and mentors 20 to 30 students.

“Jacob is naturally gifted at being able to solve problems and help people,” said Brenden Hoover, manufacturing engineer at FirstBuild and Frank’s supervisor. “He makes every employee we have a better employee. Engineering school is hard, and I think his story speaks loudly to those students who are struggling.”

Read more of Jacob’s story on the J.B. Speed School of Engineering website.