Earning a college degree is a life-changing experience, but Megan Pence’s time at the University of Central Florida has impacted more than just her own life.

The mechanical engineering major was part of a team of students whose capstone project promises to bring new freedom to quadriplegics who use wheelchairs. The six-member team of students is part of Limbitless Solutions, which spent a year developing an inexpensive device that allows the user to control a wheelchair using only small movements of facial muscles – a boon to those paralyzed below the neck.

“We were doing this so that we could help a person, not just so that we could get a good grade, but so that someone’s life can be changed,” Pence said. “It was an amazing experience.”

Pence, 22, is one of more than 5,000 UCF students who will graduate at commencement ceremonies this week. Next month, she’ll start a new job in Dubuque, Iowa, as an engineer with Deere & Co. The Fortune 500 company is better known by its brand name John Deere, the manufacturer of agricultural, construction and forestry machinery, and lawn care equipment.

She’s thrilled to have landed a job with the company where she interned the last two summers.

“As you go along in your career you find what you really love, and my thing that I found I gravitated toward was large equipment,” Pence said. “I would think, ‘How in the world does that work? I don’t know, but I want to know, and then I want to fix it.’”

In her new job, Pence will work four-month rotations in three John Deere departments: design, testing and troubleshooting in the field. After that first year, she’ll get the chance to choose in which division she’ll work.

“As I kid I was always tinkering with stuff, LEGOs and K’NEX,” she said. “My grandfather – this was around middle school – said, ‘You should consider going into engineering.’”

At Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, she attended a specialized engineering school where she was usually the only female student. When it came time to pick a university, she loved UCF’s size, the beauty of its campus and its College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I enjoy the fact that it’s big – it gives you options. I think it’s important when you’re in engineering to be well-balanced. I wanted a well-rounded experience,” said Pence.

UCF provided her the opportunity to pursue other interests, including choir and Spanish classes. Pence said she found like-minded students and practical advice by joining the UCF chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

As an engineering student, she was forced to work with her fellow students.

“The more minds you have working together, the better the teamwork is. And in engineering, it’s all teamwork,” Pence said. “You’re forced to solve problems with your peers, and that’s how the real world is.”