Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2016

I have been taking a break from the blog while I focus on a few other things but I was excited to be contacted by another organization who shares my passion for encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM subjects and so I decided to post today to share the work they are doing!

“Girls in grades K-12 are excelling in math and science, but more than half say they don’t consider careers in engineering or STEM. Teza Technologies CEO, Misha Malyshev, works with nonprofits to reverse this trend, and organize programs that teach students, especially young women,  hands-on applications of science, technology, engineering and math. Girl Day takes place on February 25th and is a chance for girls to learn about engineering careers, and to celebrate the important contributions engineers make to our world.”

Engineers Week_Girl Day

I am really happy to see leaders and companies like Teza Technologies taking action to help encourage girls to pursue STEM careers – let’s all continue to inspire the young STEMists we know out there!

One Girl’s Guide to Engineering School à la française

You are in for a real treat today – my colleague and dear friend, Tamara, is here to write about her engineering study abroad experience in France. She’s a smart and extremely talented woman and I am sure you will enjoy her story as much as I did…

When I took my first French classes in 7th grade, the term “engineer” conjured an image of a suspenders-wearing man who helped drive trains. There are other types of engineers (though driving trains is quite impressive and important, that is not the type of engineering I’d like to tell you about today)…

1_engineer_stereotype

Fortunately, thanks to the Penn State Women in Engineering Program’s outreach to high school students, I later learned that engineering is a very broad profession with many disciplines. Engineers can work in many different industries (medicine, food & beverage, energy) across many different geographic areas – including France.

I think I’ll always remember listening to a Penn State engineering student talk about her internship in France. At the time, I was still a high school student trying to decide what major to put on my college applications.  Yes, I liked science and math. Yes, I had fun building robots. However, hearing this student describe living and working in France was different from the typical “sales pitch” to potential engineering students. You could combine an interest in a foreign language with engineering.  Incroyable!

I had loved studying French (as well as math and science, bien sûr) all through middle school and high school. When I heard the engineering student talk about her French internship, the message I came away with was music to my ears. You don’t have to trade your French/English dictionary for a graphing calculator….you can use both.

I think you can compare engineering to a little black dress – great by itself, but even more fun when you can accessorize to your liking with business, law, or even a foreign language.

I accessorized my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering with French classes, an energy industry internship, a pharmaceutical industry internship, and a semester abroad at an engineering school in Nancy, France.

As I had continued to study both French and engineering, I decided that I wanted to apply my foreign language interest and technical skills together. Through online research, I found out about the Global Engineering Education Exchange, and selected three French Engineering schools, including l’Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine (INPL, or National Polytechnic University of Lorraine), located in Nancy, a small city in Eastern France that I knew essentially nothing about beforehand except that 1) It was in France 2) It had an engineering school.

Although I was woefully under-informed about the city I would come to call home for a semester, I would soon also learn 3) Nancy was a gorgeous city full of lovely parks and promenades, architectural treasures, cobblestone roads, and open air cafés in the warmer months. 4) Nancy was also home to many other international students, though far fewer Americans than larger French cities like Paris.

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

 Now a note on cultural differences and culture shock:

As a foreign exchange student, you may be welcomed by the host country, but you won’t fit in. In my opinion, that’s kind of the point – you step outside of your comfort zone both culturally and linguistically. You struggle to understand and be understood, gaining a new empathy and respect for the international students who face this challenge for their entire academic careers back in the U.S. In facing these often-frustrating challenges, you learn not just about your host country, but about your home country too. The experience will force you to think critically about your own definitions of “normal.” I think that’s a wonderful and powerful personal lesson.

So anyway, engineering school in France. Off to Nancy I went and learned how to perform chemistry lab experiments in French:

3_travaux_pratique

Chemistry lab in French seemed to me fairly similar to lab coursework I had done in the U.S., although there was a pesky difference where they sometimes use commas for decimal points (example: 20.8 is written as 20,8).  Oh, and of course, the rest of the world uses the metric system, so I became accustomed to thinking about temperatures in Celsius and lengths in centimeters and meters.

One of my fondest chemistry-lab related memories actually occurred during spring break. I took a train to the Alps to take a ski lesson (en français, of course) and work on my organic chemistry lab report from my bed & breakfast in the evenings :

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

Yes, engineering classes are demanding and require even more time and energy when they’re in French. However, as in U.S. university studies, I think it is important to make time for the unique extracurricular activities and events available. Enjoy the people, places, and celebrations for their unique character, even if (or perhaps specifically because) you are sans doute an outsider. I was some combination of lucky and open-minded, and had fun participating in French student life.

The school within INPL that I studied at was called l’École Européenne d’Ingénieurs en Génie des Matériaux (EEIGM), which translates roughly to “European School of Materials Science and  Engineering.” One of the events EEIGM hosted was le Tournoi des 4 Raquettes or “The Tournament of 4 Rackets.” TD4R was part team costume competition and part tennis/squash/badminton/ping-pong tournament.

5_TD4R

Studying in Europe is not all cathedrals and alpine skiing – both European and American college students enjoy any reason to wear ridiculous costumes. One of the funniest memories of my semester abroad turned out to be taking French public transportation from my apartment to the TD4R tournament dressed as a zebra.

That being said – the cathedrals were incredible:

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Taking technical coursework in French was challenging, and my semester abroad threw me off-sequence in my undergraduate curriculum, delaying my graduation. It was a time-consuming and expensive accessory to my education. I pursued the experience because it was a very important goal of mine on a personal level, and that made it worthwhile to me.

I emphasize the personal aspect of this time and fiscal resource-consuming pursuit because my message to a student reading this is not “Please take my experience and hit ‘Ctrl+C’.” My intended message is that you can and should seek out opportunities that are meaningful to you on a personal level based on your own values and interests. After all, it’s your little black dress!

Helping People through Epidemiology (Batsi – Biochemistry)

I am very excited to have Batsi on the blog today – she is a scientist who majored in biochemistry in college and is now working in the epidemiology field. She was my RA (Resident Advisor) in college and was such a wonderful role model for me – she was smart, ambitious, and encouraging to others to pursue their interests. I always found her so impressive and I am sure that you will agree! I’ll let Batsi take it from here…
 
Hi! I’m Batsi and I went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) from 2003 – 2007 where I studied Biochemistry, with a minor in International studies. Then moved to Pittsburgh and went to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health from 2007 – 2008 and got a Masters of Public Health  (MPH) in Epidemiology.  I am currently on maternity leave but worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in the respiratory epidemiology department. I live in London, United Kingdom (UK) with my husband Taku, and two daughters Maya and Ana.

Batsi - Cambridge

Why did you become a scientist? 

I wanted to find a way to combine what I enjoyed, with helping people. In middle school and high school, I discovered I had quite an aptitude for math and sciences. I did what I needed to do to fulfill my humanities requirements, but found myself always in the chemistry lab or helping run the science fairs in high school because that was where I was most challenged and excelled. When it came time for picking universities, WPI was the prefect size, had the science and math rigor I wanted and I really liked all the people I had met from there. I intended to go to medical school after WPI and decided to go for a Biochemistry Bachelor of Science and fulfill the pre-med requirements in-tandem with the bachelors degree requirements. To make myself a more well rounded medical school candidate, I went and did the MPH and started working as an Epidemiologist in New York after that.
Batsi - Singapore

What projects have you done while studying or working as a scientist?

While studying at WPI, I was in a team that managed to go to Thailand and worked with a cancer hospice there assessing their home care  services for cancer patients as well as looking at quantifying patient quality of life with the cancer diagnosis. This project essentially led to my decision to pursue a public health Masters, with a cancer epidemiology focus. 
 
Having the epidemiology focus enabled me to join the respiratory epidemiology team at GSK many years later, where I was fortunate enough to help with some of the epidemiology data gathering for their new chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) medication, which was recently approved for use in the US and the EU.
Batsi - Thailand

Have you had the chance to travel anywhere? If so, where and why? 

I have been fortunate enough to live in over five countries as well as travel to many others. My mother was a diplomat and so I grew up in a number of countries. I am originally from Zimbabwe, and moved to Brussels, Belgium when I was ten. We then moved to Geneva, Switzerland and I completed high school there, and moved to the USA for university. After getting married, I moved to the UK. 
 
I have lived for short periods of time in Thailand and the UK  for WPI projects, as well as Botswana a little after my first daughter was born to stay with some family there.
 
As for other travel, I have been fortunate enough to visit about eight other countries either for school trips, or holiday.
Batsi - Stonehenge

What is a fun/interesting opportunity you have had through your career as a scientist? 

One of the most interesting things I have assisted with is the epidemiology data gathering for drug approval whilst working at GSK. The amount of work, the number of people and number of years it takes to get a single medication on the market is astronomical, but is incredibly rewarding knowing you were a tiny part of the process for a medication that can drastically improve the quality of life for people suffering with a chronic illness. 
 

What have you enjoyed most about being a scientist? 

I think the most interesting thing for me is how the training you get as a scientist prepares you and is applicable in many different fields, not just your specifically chosen one. The critical thinking skills, as well as rigor prepare you and make you somewhat comfortable with buckling down when things in work get tough, but also processing problems without panicking too much.

Any advice to aspiring women interested in science/technology/engineering/math (STEM)? 

My advice to any aspiring STEM ladies is to stick with it, find other women with aspirations as high as yours to keep each other motivated, and remember to enjoy the entire journey, and not just focus on the final destination or the hard parts. And explore the STEM fields, you never know what you may discover you love doing or can do, using math and sciences.
Victoria Falls 2010

Singapore Sights

Beyond visiting the Botanic Gardens in Singapore, we also spent a few days visiting the sights of the impressive, city (well, it’s really a country)! Though it may seem a small country to visit, there is a lot to do and there is always a fun and exciting buzz around the city – it also doesn’t hurt that it almost always boasts the perfect weather to lay by the pool!

_DSC0081

Our first stop was the Merlion which is the symbol of Singapore as it combines the the body of a fish with the head of a lion – it signifies its old roots as a fishing village and its original name which meant “lion city”.

IMG_0239

From the same vantage point, you can see the Marina Bay Sands hotel which we stayed at for a few days while we were there. The other building in the picture (the one that looks like a white Lotus Flower to the left of Ryan’s head) is the Art Science museum – seeing as we are both engineers and love science, you would be right if you guessed that we went there. The building itself is really cool and the dinosaur exhibit was pretty awesome!

IMG_0240

The main reason I wanted to stay there was so that we could go to the infinity pool on top of the hotel. The ship looking structure at the top is where the infinity pool area (called Sky Park) is – it’s currently the highest and largest infinity pool in the world so it was insanely cool to experience that! It’s on the 57th floor looking out onto the city – the views are absolutely spectacular! 

IMG_2512

Singapore Infinity Pool Collage

One of my other favorite activities while visiting was the Night Safari – it’s on the outskirts of the city so it’s easiest to take a cab to get there and it gets pretty crowded, but it’s certainly worth a visit! Seeing as many of the animals at the zoo are nocturnal, what better time to see them than at night when they’re active. You get in a tram and they drive you around the park past all of the animal enclosures. There are several stops where you can get out and take your time walking around. They ask you not to take pictures so you don’t disturb the animals so I don’t have any pictures from the animals, but my absolute favorite part of the park is where you can walk through the enclosure with the Flying Foxes and fruit bats (it’s the “Mangrove Walk which is off of the Leopard Trail) - the bats often whizz right past you! It was awesome! We also caught the otters being particularly playful and it was simply adorable! I’m really glad we spent an evening there!

_DSC0071

One of the other aspects to Singapore that I really liked was the cultural diversity – you are truly in an international city when you are walking around Singapore! You can tell by all of the food options, too – Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Singaporean, Italian, Spanish, Thai…you name it, they have it! We took a walk around some of those cultural areas of town, enjoyed some great food, interesting drinks (fresh squeezed sugar cane juice!), and soaked in the exciting vibe of the city!

Singapore Culture Collage

On one of our days, we headed to the resort hot spot, Sentosa Island. We went to go to Universal Studios because we both love roller coasters! We had a fun day wandering around the park and going on all of the rides. The park areas were extremely well done – Jurassic Park and the huge Egyptian figures were something to see! While that was impressive, I do have to admit that the rides weren’t anything all that special. We were lucky to be there on a day when the lines weren’t too long so it was easy to get onto the rides. If you’re short on time, I wouldn’t put this as very high on your list of things to do in Singapore but it was a fun day nonetheless.

Singapore Universal Studios Collage

In the evening, some of our friends who are living in Singapore, took us out for Chili Crab – it is one of Singapores’ most famous dishes and its delicious! After you messily devour the crab (thankfully, they give you bibs!), you can ask for rolls to dip in the sauce – so good! (we do not have any pictures of us eating chili crab because our hands were too messy to operate a camera – so we just dug in and enjoyed it and skipped the picture!). Be sure and try both Chili and Pepper Crab if you find yourself lucky enough to be in Singapore!

Jumbo Chili Crab

Afterwards, we went to the famous Raffles Hotel which is a historic and beautiful hotel where the fruity drink, the Singapore Sling, was invented. We indulged ourselves at the Long Bar with a classic Singapore Sling for each of us (shock factor, they are about S$18 each!) and had fun in the lively bar area watching the bar tenders make glass upon glass of Singapore Slings (apparently we weren’t the only ones that got the memo that you should stop by there to try it!).

IMG_2552

We decided to walk back to the Marina Bay Sands on our last night and ended up stumbling upon some random art exhibits on the walking path. One of the coolest exhibits was a cloud that was raining – when you walked through it, the water would stop in the area where you were standing. It was really cool because you could stand in the middle and it would be raining all around you but not a drop would get on you. One of our favorite things about traveling is when you spontaneously find fun/interesting things that you didn’t expect…this was one of those instances!

IMG_2561

We also caught the laser light show just in time! What a great ending to a great week!

_DSC0080

 All in all, we really enjoyed the few days that we spent in Singapore – we stayed busy exploring the city, ate some amazing food, and also had some time to relax (with a stellar view on the 57th floor overlooking the incredible city!). I really hope that you get to visit there some day to see all that Singapore has to offer!

Singapore Orchid Garden

I am back in Russia again…among snow storms and extremely frigid temperatures so to help warm up, I have been reminiscing about our time in Singapore and Hawaii last year so I thought I would share some stories over the next few posts of our warm climate vacations! Lucky for us, we had friends that used to live in Singapore and they happily gave us some recommendations of what to do while we were in town. One of their recommendations was to go to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. We hopped a bus (we found the public transportation to be really easy to use to get around town) and headed into the garden. The grounds were absolutely gorgeous and we really enjoyed walking around them. My main reason for wanting to stop by there was to see the National Orchid Garden…orchids are some of my favorite flowers!

national orchid garden collage

The garden was full of all different types of orchids and they were incredible! One of my favorite areas was where they had grown unique orchids for each of the VIPs that had visited Singapore – Nelson Mandela, Kate Middleton & Prince William, Princess Diana, and other dignitaries from all over the world! The colors and shapes of the flowers were amazing!

Erin and Ryan Orchid Garden

On the way back to the hotel, we grabbed some food at the Hawker Center which is a famous area in Singapore with lots of “hawker stands” – small food stands where people are selling all kinds of different food and drinks! We grabbed some delicious curry, famous Singaporean chicken/rice, and starfruit juices! We also got some Malaysian iced coffees which were delightful. If you have a free day in Singapore, it’s definitely worth heading to the gardens, particularly if you adore orchids like I do!

Travel Tip: If you are heading to Singapore, be sure and pack light and airy clothes because it’s extremely humid and usually boasts pretty warm temperatures. Also bring along some water and you will have a more enjoyable day walking around the gardens! 

Happy 2015!

Well, 2014 was heck of a busy, crazy, and exciting year! We started off the year in Sydney for the greatest NYE fireworks show in the world; after that, we spent the first 10 days in the beautiful New Zealand!

NZ and Aus 2014 collage

We finished up our assignment in Korea and moved back to the States; we spent a few months living offshore Russia on an accommodation vessel; we had the chance to explore Singapore and Hawaii (stories still to come!) and closed out the year spending the Christmas holidays with our family for the first time in 3 years! 

2014 Collage

I hope you had a wonderful start to 2015 – it’s going to be another amazing year for us and I hope it will be for you, too! 

Finding Your “Element” (Laura – Chemical Engineer)

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce today’s engineer, Laura! She is the Engineering Manager for the project we are working on and one of my role models! She is smart, level headed, and always full of smiles and good advice. I couldn’t ask for a better person to look up to! She is one of Ryan and I’s favorite people and I really think you will enjoy hearing her story! 
_DSC1328
My dear friend, Erin, asked me to write something for her blog to inspire girls to become engineers… And I thought, hmm, what would be the best way to do that, other than just telling others what made me one? And also, giving a little flavor of all my adventures during my professional career? However, before I start telling you more about myself, I wanted to mention something I consider critical: choosing your career is one of the most important decisions you will make so you will want to make a good choice. The only trouble is that you may not fully understand what it means when you decide what direction you want to go. You will probably wonder – What is a Process Engineer (my actual degree)?; what is a mathematician? What do lawyers really do? What does a person actually do when they graduate with their specific degree? The bad news is, you probably won’t understand it until a few years into your professional career or luckily, during your final college years. However, the most important thing is to follow your instincts to find “your element”: that thing that you love doing; that thing you can get so immersed in it, that time at work just flies by; that thing that you can never get enough of. Remember that even if you love it, it will still likely take a lot of time and effort, but that is also true of any good thing in life that you want to be successful at, right?!
Laura Noria Field Intro Pic
Now onto my story….this is how it goes: I really liked the sciences during high school and I was really good with math, chemistry, etc. Also, my home country of Venezuela, the Oil & Gas Industry is a big part of the economy (and also where the best salaries were). So, the combination of my math/science skills and the prospects within the oil & gas industry made it a no brainer for me to become a Chemical Engineer. However, it wasn’t until the middle of my internship at the Complejo de Refinación Paraguana (Venezuela’s biggest Refinery Complex) when I really understood what my career was about and some aspects of what I would be doing in the future. I was fascinated by such a huge facility able to produce oil and multiple other products by physical, chemical, and mechanical separation processes. The final years of my career took a whole other meaning after that experience because I saw the practical applications of everything I had been learning in school. One of my favorite parts about being a Chemical Engineer is that we are really versatile and, by knowing the actual “process” (translation: that mysterious word that just means what happens with the stuff coming from the ground when it gets inside the refinery), we become very handy in multiple other fields which means we can have a really broad range of experiences.
Laura Venezuela Refinery Collage
Then, about a year after I graduated from college, I started working for ExxonMobil in Venezuela at the Operadora Cerro Negro, Heavy Crude Oil Upgrader (very similar to a refinery). That was quite something: countless hours of hard work learning the units I was in charge of by heart… Learning from the Operations crew, the older engineers…Everyday there were new things to learn! This steep learning curve actually happens with anything you do, I think…the beginnings are always hard but, at the same time fascinating. One thing about being a female engineer in the oil industry is that, although nowadays there are a lot more women dedicated to this field, I can say that is still a male dominated one. But that does not have to be a bad thing! It depends always on how you approach it. Female engineers can add a lot of value with a different perspective than men and so the collaboration between men and women usually brings about better outcomes. I can say as a female engineer, I am taken seriously by my male colleagues and we always work together to find the right answer! And, I have made some truly wonderful friends that are also female engineers!
Process Engineers
The last part of my career, I have spent it working on a fantastic project for ExxonMobil Development Company (Arkutun-Dagi Platform). It is the heaviest Topsides ever built going to an arctic-type environment. Everything was different for me: country, language, specialty (offshore vs onshore), operating conditions (remember I was coming from the Tropics and now I was designing an Arctic style platform!!). During 7 years, I have seen it all…all types of challenges and a tremendous team effort to bring something from design on paper into a reality. I also had the opportunity to work in a Korean Fabrication yard which, engineer or not, is a mind blowing experience! All that besides meeting awesome people to work with like the Kendrick’s.
AD Topsides Collage - Laura
One of the cool parts about traveling to Korea (besides the amazing experience of working in a shipyard on a huge project) is that I was able to see some of the sights around Asia…I went hiking with my team and experienced the beauty that Korea had to offer and also got to hike the Great Wall in China with my husband’s MBA class on my way for one of my trips to Korea. Having the opportunity to see more of the world is something I really enjoy!
Laura Noria Asia Travel Collage
In summary I can tell you, if you want a profession where you are ALWAYS learning (I can still say that after almost 15 years), and if you are driven by challenge….if you like to build, create, innovate, then go for it and become an engineer! Remember that an engineer can work in nearly any industry, not just oil and gas; food processing, construction, cosmetics, plastics, commodities…the opportunities are endless! My biggest advice is to never forget to follow your instincts and don’t settle for just “a” career – challenge yourself and find your “element”!

Napier – Art Deco Capital of New Zealand

The last stop on our New Zealand trip was Napier, which is a town on the eastern coast of the North Island. After an earthquake in 1931 wiped out most of the city, they decided to rebuild it in the Art Deco style so it’s a unique and interesting town to walk around. The buildings have so much character and we really enjoyed checking them all out – many of them are in the art deco style, some were extra colorful, and all were lively and fun to admire.

Napier Collage

After walking around town a bit, we went out to see the nearby coast while the weather was nice. We quickly noticed a sign for roller blade rentals – we had recently been joking about how we wished we could try roller blading again because we both had loved it as kids. And there, right in front of us, was our chance so we went for it – it’s not every day you get the opportunity to relive your youth, right?! I have to admit, it was not as easy as I remember it being when I was little but we had a blast nonetheless and spent the afternoon roller blading along the trail by the beach!

Rollerblading in Napier

Our hotel, the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, was one of my favorite buildings – it certainly had the charm from the 1920′s on the exterior as well as the interior…I loved that they had taken efforts to preserve such a fun era! Our first night there, we ended up playing trivia in the bar below the hotel  - we formed a team with another one of the locals and had a great time! Travel Tip – We always try to find local activities to do to learn a bit more about what life is really like in those locations beyond the big touristy sights. We find it often leads to some of the more unforgettable memories from our trips. If you ask around, you can usually find some fun things to do that way, and maybe even some locals to join in!

Art Deco Masonic Hotel Collage

The next day, we rented bikes and visited many Gimblett Gravels wineries in Hawke’s Bay. The best part about this was that a lot of the wineries were small, family owned businesses, so we had a chance to talk to the owners while they explained more about their wines – it’s fun to get to know the face behind the wine so we usually ended up buying a bottle after the tasting, put it in the baskets on our bikes and continued on our journey. Some of them had great food platters, too, so we enjoyed olives, fresh breads/oils, and salami & cheeses. It was such a wonderful day! (Unfortunately we didn’t have our camera that day so we didn’t get too many pictures…we’ll just have to take more next time we go!).

Napier Wine Tasting Collage

Sadly, this brought our vacation to an end…it was such an incredible adventure! We loved every minute that we got to spend in New Zealand hope to return one day!

Air New Zealand

Nuclear Energy and Adventurous Travels (Ashley – Mechanical Engineer)

Our guest post today is by Ashley who is living and working in the energy industry but in a bit more of a unique niche – nuclear energy! I’ve known Ashley since the early days in college – in fact, she, Kristin, and myself were and still are great friends – sharing a love of our school (hence the picture at homecoming with our college mascot!), engineering, fitness, and adventures. Read on, because I think you’ll enjoy hearing what Ashley has been up to!  

Erin Kristin Ashley

Introduce Yourself:

I’ve known Erin since she first came to campus at WPI.  We became quick friends and shared many on-campus interests including involvement in student government and serving as orientation leaders introducing new students to school.  Erin has had great opportunities to travel all over the world, but I do miss her often. Recently Erin reminded me to get my blog post in, so I’m armed with Starbucks and a free Sunday morning to tell you my story.

Ashley Lindeman

What have you done in your career as an engineer?

After graduating from WPI, I went to work for Westinghouse. Nope, I didn’t design or manufacture toasters or TV’s. Westinghouse is actually a vendor of commercial nuclear power plants.  In addition to designing the new reactor design, AP1000, they provide field services, fuel, and engineering services to operating plants all over the world.

Specifically, my group at Westinghouse performed probabilistic risk analysis (PRA) for nuclear power plants. These risk analysis can help plant operators identify vulnerabilities as well as providing a tool to run the plant safer.  There are many hazards that need to be evaluated and all of them are evaluated from a large boolean fault tree of the plant components.  I specialized in Fire PRA, which specifically looks at fire sources in the power plant and evaluated the potential risk impact.  For six years, I traveled the world performing and reviewing similar analyses.

A little less than a year ago, I had a great opportunity to move from performing these fire risk assessments to managing the research in the area of Fire PRA.  Currently I work for the Electric Power Research Institute. My role is really interesting as requires a strong technical background on the subject area, managing projects (schedule, budget, status,etc.) and communicating status of research results. I have ongoing projects in many technical areas including circuit behavior during a fire, calculating frequencies of fire events, verifying and validating adequate fire dynamics tools as well as working on how to best simulate fires in electrical cabinets.

Ashley Work Collage 1

Why did you become an engineer?

Growing up I wanted to be anything from a fish expert to a firefighter to a lawyer. In school, I was always performing well in both math and science courses. My dad studied electrical engineering and I knew studying engineering in college would help me have a successful career. My dad told me that someone with an engineering degree would have many options  beyond engineering. I still think that is true!

What places have you had the opportunity to visit?

I’ve traveled to visit domestic nuclear power plants in Alabama, Arizona, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Carolina; internationally, I’ve visited nuclear power plants in Brazil, Sweden, and Spain.

I’ve also traveled to other neat places – Belgium, France, Las Vegas, Florida, New Orleans, Charleston, Disneyland and Disneyworld (within one year) and extensively to Washington, DC.

I’m heading to Germany at the end of this month to present a paper I wrote!

Ashley Travel Collage

How were you able to make the most of your time in places that you were sent for work?

I extended my trips so I could go early or stay a bit later to do some sightseeing.  I’ve extended trips to see the Hoover Dam, spend a weekend in Copenhagen, travel a week earlier to tour France and Switzerland, windsurf in Sweden, spend the weekend in San Francisco, and routinely meet friends for dinner in Washington, DC.

Ashley Eurotrip Colllage

Pro tip: Extend your trip so you go early (versus staying later at the end) if you may get homesick. I know at the end of a two week trip I had an extra day to sight-see, but, I really just wanted to get home.

What is the most interesting story you had while traveling?

I definitely enjoyed touring and performing plant walk-downs.  The first plant I became very familiar with was in Sweden. I visited probably every room in the three units!  My favorite experience was going into Containment (the large cement structure that houses the nuclear reactor) for a tour.  We went when the plant was in an outage and were able to walk all around and see plant components and systems that were previously a mystery to me. Peering into the flooded fueling cavity was really neat, as well as seeing the large reactor coolant pumps which are multiple stories tall and 7000 horsepower!

Also, now that I think of it. When I was in Brazil, at my hotel, a massive thunderstorm came through and knocked the power out – it was a bit creepy. The other creepy thing about the hotel, was that there were in the process of demolishing it. That was probably the most bizarre of my travel experiences and the behind the scenes tour of the Swedish Nuclear Power Plant was the most interesting.

Brazil

What have you enjoyed most about being an engineer?

Besides the strange need to do an unhealthy amount of research to plan a vacation? Or make the most badass spreadsheet to plan every day of it?! Clearly those are the top reasons, but I do enjoy the opportunities for engineers. I had a job by Thanksgiving of my senior year which made me rest easy for the remainder of my time at WPI. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to travel, meet new people, solve challenging technical issues, and learn new things every day about the nuclear power industry!

Tips for aspiring engineers:

Writing and communication skills are really important! WPI did not require English classes nor writing classes, so naturally I did not take any.  I really wish I did, because I write all the time for work! Make sure to take time to stay well rounded so that in your career, you’re able to use all your skills to be successful!

More Stories from Offshore Russia

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of our initial thoughts about living and working offshore and I am going to share some more fun stories that have happened since then. For starters, while we are out here, we work every single day (no weekends off!); our days start early – we’re usually in the office before 6 AM which means we usually catch the sunrise and we’ve had a few really great Sakhalin sunrises!

Sakhalin Sunrise

Most recently, one of the coolest things about being out in the middle of the ocean is that there are other animals that you wouldn’t normally see that come to check you out – this is our friendly neighborhood sea lion who has been stopping by often since we’ve been here. I didn’t believe he existed for a little while because I hadn’t seen him and then I was able to see him up close when he decided to hang out on the back of the boat for the morning last week. I was unbelievably excited to see him…he even looked up to say hello!

Sea Lion

We end up working a lot of hours (starting before 6 AM and usually finishing around 8 PM). Part of this is due to the fact that there is not much else to do out here, so working seems to be a natural way to kill time. Even still, we’ve been doing our best to make time to stay fit while we’re out here. We usually workout in the morning but joined the group workout on the helideck on one of the really nice nights out here. It was a great place to work out – certainly a unique experience, particularly running around the helideck and lifting weights while the sun was setting…pretty darn cool!

Helideck Workout - Kendricks

Helideck Evening WorkoutOne of the more frustraing aspects out here has been the internet – I never knew this message existed….

No Internet

…until we started seeing it quite often because our internet kept going down. The picture of the T-Rex translates to: ”Welcome back to the Cretaceous Period where the internet did not exist.” It’s funny because we all get really frustrated when our internet doesn’t work (you hear groans around the office and you immediatley know what has happened) – we can’t get to the files we need to work off of, our email doesn’t work, and we can’t Skype or communicate back and forth with family/friends. It feels like it has almost become a basic necessity – all you need is food, water, shelter, and….an internet connection. I am happy to report that we have had a more reliable connection the past couple of days (which is why I’m able to post this today!).

Last story – a couple of days ago, my roommate, Tamara, came running into my office and said, “it’s official – we are on a cruise ship!” I looked at her puzzedly and she pulled out her phone and showed me pictures of our beds where the cleaning staff had folded our towels to look like flowers.

Flower Towel 2

Tamara’s Flower Towel

In case you’re wondering – yes, we brought our own towels with us – the ship doesn’t stock pink colored towels. My back to back (person who is here working while I am on days off), Amy, had advised I bring my own towel and a fleece blanket with me….I’m really glad that I did – it definitley makes things more comfortable and feel a bit more like home which is nice. And…it seems it also gives our cleaning staff artistic inspiration.

My bed with the towel flower

My bed with the towel flower

To say thank you, we left a candy bar for the cleaning people and the next day, we came back to other towel critters. At the end of it all, sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile more than you would ever expect.

Towel Animal

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little more about our 3.5 weeks offshore – yes, you read that correctly…3.5 weeks…which means only a few more days until we make the long trek home! And then our time off begins…we are really looking forward to it as I’m sure you can imagine.

Site Design by Bumble + Buzz Design // Copyright © 2013 Traveling Techies