Author Archives: Erin

Living Offshore Russia – First Impressions

So, we moved back to the US from Korea and then started our next assignment where every other month, we live here….

Sakhalin MapYes – you are reading the map correctly, we are are now in Russia – actually just off of Sakhalin Island which is off the eastern coast of mainland Russia and north of Japan. I highly doubt our parents ever thought we would have Russian work visas but we picked them up a couple of weeks ago and started our new assignment so it’s official! The trip to get here is a various assortment of planes, sometimes trains, automobilies, and boats! We had to fly from Houston to Tokyo and then Tokyo to Yuzhno, stay overnight in Yuzhno, take a charter flight to Nogliki and then a “Kamaz” bus ride to the port and then hop on a crew boat to take us offshore….

Kamaz

“Kamaz”

Crew Boat to get Offshore

Crew Boat

Once we arrived to our destination, we had to transfer from the crew boat over to the main accommodation vessel. To do that, we had to do a frog transfer – so we got strapped in and then the crane on the accommodation vessel picked it up and set us on the deck of the Accommodation Vessel (AV).

Frog Transfer

Frog Transfer from the Crew Boat to the AV

We made it! Our new home for the next 4 weeks! We share this as our home with almost 500 other people from all over the world – Korea, Philippines, UK, Australia, India, Canada, etc. So – on our first day, they ran us through all of our safety trainings, showed us our rooms (no, Ryan and I are not staying in the same room even though we’re married which makes this experience a little weird), got us to our offices, and fed us dinner. I have to admit the rocking of the boat and I didn’t get along too well at first, but 2 weeks later, it now rocks me to sleep and I don’t notice it much (except when I’m at the gym and have to hold myself in place on the treadmill!).

AVIt’s a funny feeling to be out here and see this project in its final location – we’ve spent a long time on this project and it’s a big deal to see it so close to being finished! It’s certainly in the middle of nowhere, though…this is the view on a clear day. On most days, we really can’t see land…that really small speck in the distance is another oil platform. It really is crazy to see almost nothing but water around you. It’s also been a bit crazy being so far North because it seems to be light out for so long – it’s hard to keep track of what time it day it is!

Ocean View

After about our first week there, the sea swells started to get pretty high, so we had to disconnect the gang-way that allows us to cross from the AV to the Topsides Platform and head to waters a little ways out (it was a bit more calm being further from the Topsides). So – we spent about a day at sea without access to our platform – it gave us the opportunity to grab some cool pictures of our project, though, so we took full advantage of that.

Erin & Topsides

You may be able to tell that we look chilly and I know what you’re thinking, “It’s July! It can’t be that cold!” Well, it is…especially when it’s windy and you’re in the middle of the ocean! We are pretty far up North, afterall. Luckily, we brought jackets and we’re staying pretty warm! Also, if you’re thinking the platform looks small – keep in mind we’re about a half a mile away from it on the AV in these two pictures…it’s about a football field long!

Ryan and the Platform

One of the other cool parts about being disconnected meant that we got to watch them re-instate the gang-way which was pretty awesome. The metal bridge looking structure is the gang-way – they are stretching it out to reach out to the platform so it can be set down and we can walk across. As you can see from the picture, it is really foggy – there are many days that we wake up and we can barely see the platform which is crazy because it’s right next to us! 

Gang-way being reinstated

So far so good after a couple of weeks – we’re learning a lot and enjoying this unique and interesting experience as we continue to live at our home sweet home for the next few weeks….

Accommodation Vessel

 

Like Mother, Like Daughter

I am really excited to introduce the first mother-daughter combo to be featured on the blog. Remember Jenn? Well, her mom is also in the STEM fields and is going to share her story with us today! Read on to learn more about how her interest in math and science has given her a very rewarding career and inspired her two daughters to follow suit! 

My name is Sue (Morgan) Castriotta and I am an alumna of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). I have always been fascinated with all things STEM-related. I remember being 12 or 13 and hoping for one thing for Christmas – a Texas Instruments calculator. I was so excited that I got it as I knew how expensive it was. I loved that it had memory capabilities and functions like square root. It kept me busy for hours as I completed calculation after calculation testing out all of its built-in functions and proving that the order of operations (PEMDAS to some of you) truly worked (nerd!).

Texas Instruments Calculator

This practice served me well when I got to high school in the late 1970’s. I was fortunate to attend a school that was large enough, and wealthy enough, to have its own computer. Part of all College-prep math courses included a 6thclass meeting during the week held in the computer lab where we learned to program computers. The lab was comprised of a small mainframe computer (small meaning the size of a fridge), a green bar dot-matrix printer (about the size of a chest freezer), and two desk-sized card punch machines. We were programming in Fortran ’77 using punch cards. What this meant was each line of code was “written” on a punch card. If you made a typo, you had to redo the entire card. You assembled your program by putting your cards in order then you stacked your program on top of those ahead of you in the card reader. When your program finally made it into the reader, it was then compiled and executed. Assuming you had no syntax errors (typos) and no logic areas, the program ran and you got a copy of your program and your output back on a large printout along with your cards.

Punch Card Program DeckI became intrigued by the power programming a computer gave me. I came to understand how my calculator worked and was able to replicate its functionality under my direction. It was during this time in my life when I realized that I wanted to work with computers. Upon graduation from high school, I attended WPI. I began my studies as a computer science major, but by the end of my sophomore year my interest in the field was waning. While I enjoyed the courses I was taking, I felt I was missing the pieces about where and how I could apply all that I was learning. It was at that point that I switched my major to management with computer applications. This degree area was a precursor to today’s Management Information Systems (MIS) degrees which synthesizes management practices with technology.

WPI

Following college, I got married and began my professional career working as a management information consultant for Arthur Andersen & Company (now Accenture). My experiences included customization of mainframe software used in manufacturing, government, and insurance which allowed me to travel around the state of Connecticut and experience some very different workplaces. It was also while working here that I had the opportunity to work on an early Macintosh computer and a Compaq portable. It was early into my tenure that I became pregnant with my first daughter and my husband and I decided to relocate to provide him with a better job opportunity.

When I returned to the working world 3 years later following the birth of my second daughter and another move, I went to work for PC Connection. I was drawn to the company due to its technology mission. At the time, the company was relatively new in the computer and computer accessory field and was conveniently located a half hour from our home. I was part of the sales team and began my work as part of the newly developed Macintosh sales force before transitioning to the PC side of the house. After two years in sales, I migrated to the technical support department. It was here that I developed expertise in the hardware side of computers and learned to support phone-based customers relaying information about computers that I could not see.

At about this time, my daughters were both school age, and I wanted to have more flexibility to spend time with them. I came across an ad in the local paper advertising a middle school computer teaching job which indicated that the applicant needed to be certified or certifiable. I figured I had to be certifiable, so I applied for, and got the job. While working on my teaching credentials, I obtained a Masters of Education degree in Computers in Education. I spent five years working with students from Kindergarten through 12th grade engaging in computer-related and computer-enhanced curriculum.

Regalia

While finishing my middle school teaching career, I was offered the opportunity to teach computer science part-time at our local state college (Keene State College). This part-time job turned into a full-time job when a position in the computer science department became available. However, to keep my job by obtaining tenure, I needed to complete a terminal degree. Back to college I went and obtained another Masters degree and a Doctorate. I worked my way up to department chair and became the School of Science and Social Science’s first Assistant Dean. Following my first year as Assistant Dean, I was offered the opportunity to take an interim position directing our newly formed Center for Engagement, Learning, and Teaching which was focusing on supporting faculty to enhance teaching and learning. This interim opportunity inspired me so much that I applied for, and obtained, the full-time position, a job I continue in today.

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Throughout my winding career path, I have been blessed to work in a number of interesting workplaces with a diverse group of colleagues. The thing I have enjoyed the most throughout my career is satisfaction I receive when a person I am working with successfully completes something s/he has been trying to do. For me this has largely involved technology and has ranged from customers across the country trying to use a piece of software to a student trying to write a piece of software and lots in between.

The thing I have enjoyed most personally is watching my two daughters grow into the beautiful, wise women they are today. Not so shockingly, both are involved in STEM-related jobs. My older daughter, Jenn (featured on this blog, as well), is also a WPI graduate and is currently working as a patent examiner in Washington, DC. My younger daughter, Alli, broke with family tradition and attended UNH instead, and ended up working as a business development specialist for a computer company.

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Sue and her husband with their daughter, Jenn

Advice:

  • No career path, or life path, is straight. Take advantage of opportunities in which you are interested as you never know what will come of them. You may end up in a place you never imagined you could be!
  • Build a support network – you don’t have to go it alone. As a first-year student at WPI, I was outnumbered by men 8:1. While that could have been overwhelming, I found other women with whom to connect. This is a practice that I continued to follow and have many people, both men and women, with whom I remain in touch despite not working together for years.
  • Emphasize and utilize all the skills you have mastered, not just the technical ones. Employers are looking for people who are good critical thinkers and good team members, skills that are honed while studying STEM fields.

Travel Tip:

When my husband (also a WPI graduate) and I have traveled, we have found ourselves not only viewing some magnificent sites, but have also taken a look behind the scenes. For example, we have visited to the Hoover Dam and taken the tour to see the massive generators and learn how the Dam was constructed. When we visited Paris, we toured not only the Eiffel Tower, but the engine room with its hydraulic lifts and the World War II bunker under the Champs de Mars.

Hoover Dam

Tongariro Trek Triumph!

We were still enjoying the beautiful Lake Taupo area and decided to do one of the Great New Zealand Walks while we were here. These are treks that give you the chance to be among some of the country’s most impressive scenery and usually take several days to complete – while we didn’t have time to do a full one of these walks this trip, we decided to walk most of one of the trails in a one day hike – the Tongariro Crossing.

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People had described this hike as, the closest you can get to hiking on Mars, and I didn’t know what to make of that statement until I was there. The landscape is unlike anything I had ever seen before with all of the lava flow – it was just awesome!

DCIM100GOPRO

The main peak (seen in the 2 pictures above) we hiked past is called Mt Ngauruhoe and it was used as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. Interesting story – the Maori Chiefs did not allow Peter Jackson to film the peak/interior of the volcano for the movies because they believe it to be sacred so they had to CG the top part. This part of the trail was nice and warm with the sun beaming down on us and lots of volcanic rocks around us – it was a great start to our full day trek!

Tongariro Start Collage

The landscapes really did seem to be out of this world – some places were so barren. Ryan couldn’t help but take a picture so it looks like he’s in the middle of nowhere.

DCIM100GOPRO

Along the trail, there was another Lord of the Rings filming spot (last one, I promise!) – the valley below was where they filmed Mordor. Can you tell by my expression I thought this was pretty cool?!

DCIM100GOPRO

At the top were some great views into one of the volcano craters – you’ll notice we’ve put our jackets on at this point – as you got closer to the top, it got chillier and much, much windier.

DCIM100GOPRO

After all the hard work of climbing to get up to the top, we started to head downhill and as soon as we did that, we had a great view of some turquoise colored pools. We ended up having lunch right next to them – a well deserved break after our few hours of hiking.

Tongariro Collage 2

We had decided to do this trek through a guided tour because you start and end in two different spots and we weren’t sure how to handle those logistics and we wanted to make sure we stayed safe as this was an active volcanic area (there was an eruption a couple of years ago – in fact, our guide, Tom,  is the one you hear calming everyone down in the video of the eruption) so we thought it would be good to have an expert close by. Being the science enthusiasts that we were, we loved walking through the volcanic area. 

Active Volcano Collage

Here is one of the craters left when the rocks went flying out during the eruption – that would have certainly been an exciting day to be hiking the trail!

DCIM100GOPRO

The last bit of the trail is certainly the easiest and the scenery changes again to be more green and there is a great view of Lake Taupo in the distance. It’s a somewhat relaxing way to end a long but wonderful day hiking.

Tongariro Crossing Lake Taupo

We had an absolute blast on our trek along the Tongariro Crossing and highly recommend it if you’re in that area in New Zealand – the scenery is unlike anything you will have likely seen and you feel accomplished after you finish! We finished our tour with some celebratory locally brewed beers!

Beers after Tongariro

 

Marathons, Manufacturing, and Many Adventures!

Today, we have one of my favorite fellow Mechanical Engineers from college – she’s smart, motivated, and super sweet! She’s a great example of how you can still change what area of engineering you pursue regardless of the degree you graduated with. Read on to learn more about my good friend, Megan….

Hi! My name is Megan Prokop. I am a manufacturing engineer working at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I am not working or traveling, you can usually find me running. I recently ran my first Marathon in October 2013.

My husband and I after finishing the Chicago Marathon

My husband and I after finishing the Chicago Marathon

I love being a manufacturing engineer; it is challenging, exciting and requires decisions to be made quickly – but manufacturing is not the career I had planned when I was at Worcester Polytechnic Institute getting my degree in Mechanical Engineering.

I decided to go into engineering because I enjoyed and excelled in math and science and loved problem solving. I attended WPI and became interested in mechanical design through one of my professors. I was interested in how parts moved and interacted in order to create motion and how products could be designed in order to help peoples’ lives.

During the summers after my sophomore and junior years I interned at General Electric in Connecticut where I performed product testing. One of my favorite tests was using a fire hose to blast an electrical panel with water to ensure it would not leak. When the unit failed, I had to figure out why and suggest improvements to eliminate the leakage.

Product Testing at GE

Product Testing at GE

I graduated in 2007 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Design. I went to work for Raytheon where I planned to put my new design skills to use. It didn’t take me long to figure out design was not where I’d spend my career.

I craved work that was more hands-on, where I could see the immediate impact of my work. I was fortunate to have a great manager who encouraged me to rotate into a manufacturing role where I would be responsible for developing a process for assembling circuit cards. He stressed the fact that a stint in manufacturing would make me a better designer engineer. Manufacturing would teach me how to design items for easy assembly and give me a better appreciation of the work required to build my designs. I was nervous to make this jump to the manufacturing floor since I had no experience with manufacturing or circuit cards, but was excited to give it a try.

Graduation from WPI!

Graduation from WPI!

Working on a manufacturing floor is fast paced and stressful, but it’s also extremely rewarding. You’re able to make changes to a process and immediately see how they affect the cost, quality and schedule of the finished product. I worked closely with people in many different positions who were all needed in order to make sure the process went smoothly – including people from supply chain, operations, test engineering, materials engineering, and my previous role – design engineering.

As suggested by my manager, I found that some of the plans from the design engineers proved very difficult to build. I also worked closely with the technicians who completed the manual part of the assembly. They taught me the differences between a good and a bad process and showed me and how to write a process that was easy to follow. I recently transitioned from circuit card manufacturing to system repair which has given me new a perspective on how the all the pieces of a system interact and the challenges of making all the parts come together to create a single product.

I’ve always loved to travel and continue to do so whenever I have the opportunity. In high school I traveled to my home town’s sister city in Japan: Nobeoka. I lived with a Japanese host family and attended Japanese school for two weeks. The trip was complicated by the fact that I knew almost no Japanese and my host family spoke minimal English, but the experience taught me to embrace other cultures and to learn as much as I can about the places I travel.

Meeting our Classmates and Participating in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (Nobeoka, Japan)

Meeting our Classmates and Participating in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (Nobeoka, Japan)

One reason I chose to go to WPI was the fact that they encouraged the students to go abroad at least once during their education. While at WPI I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to complete an interdisciplinary project. I worked with two other students at an Open Air Museum, where we developed a GPS guided tour that was aimed at getting middle and high school students more interested in the museum.

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark

Since then, I have traveled as much as possible. My favorite trips have been to Costa Rica, Italy, Hawaii and Victoria, British Columbia. Some of the best experiences of my life have required stepping outside my comfort zone, including zip lining in Costa Rica and flying in a helicopter in Hawaii.

Getting ready to take flight (Kauai, Hawaii)

Getting ready to take flight (Kauai, Hawaii)

In front of the colessum in Rome, Italy and a view of the Cinque Terre

In front of the coliseum in Rome, Italy and a view of the Cinque Terre

Orca whale watching in Victoria, BC

Orca whale watching in Victoria, BC

For work and for travel, my advice is to be open to change, push yourself and always go on adventures. You never know where you may end up and what amazing experiences await you.

Megan Costa Rica Collage

Zip-lining in Costa Rica – awesome adventure!

Visit to Hobbiton

I said in my Rotorua post that I thought my day trip to Hobbiton deserved its own post, so here it is! One of the only things that Ryan and I disagree on is how cool Lord of the Rings is…the fact that I went there all by myself for a wonderful day tour should tell you which side of the argument I’m on with this – I love Lord of the Rings and couldn’t go to New Zealand without visiting here!

Hobbiton Intro Pic for Blog

We got there and I couldn’t believe how well done the set was – it really brought it all to life! The main area has hobbit holes scattered around the hilly countryside with Bilbo’s house up at the top. I have to admit that when I was reading these books back when I was in middle school,  this is pretty close to how I imagined it would be.

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The tour guide walked us around the grounds and the level of detail that they put into these was particularly impressive. The fences had fabricated lichen on them (you couldn’t have new fences there, now, could you?!) and they told us that students were hired to run up and back from the house to the outdoor clothes drying rack until it looked like it was well worn (wanted to make sure people believed this had been around for a long, long time when they were watching the movie!)…even the chimneys were smoking as if someone were in there – they certainly were making continued efforts to capture the imaginations of the fans.

Hobbiton Collage

They used forced perspective for the LOTR trilogy movies so they had hobbit holes of various different sizes so the actors could stand/walk next to them and look taller or about the right height depending on their character.

Hobbiton Hole Collage

Bilbo’s house was up at the top of the hill…

Bilbo Hobbit Hole Collage

And my favorite one of the tour, Samwise Gamgee’s house…

Samwise Gamgee Collage

At the end of the tour, we all got a drink at the Green Dragon – I enjoyed a cider by the fire and soaked in the atmosphere. The interior of the place was great and I was glad I got to see this place in person.

Green Dragon Inn Collage 2

If you’re ever on the North Island of New Zealand, this place is definitely worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of the movies! 

Green Dragon Collage 1

Keeping Drinking Water Clean! (Lily – Environmental and Water Resource Engineer)

Today, it’s Lily’s turn to tell you all about her path to engineering and what she’s up to now! She is another great example of the dual passions between the performing arts and math/science and how you can do both. You’ll be able to tell right away that she’s super sweet and certainly cares a lot about learning more and more to impact the world around her…

Have you ever wondered where your drinking water comes from?  How does it get all the way from a reservoir or a well to your faucet? Is the water quality good enough to drink? How does it need to be treated to make sure its safe for you to drink? These are the sorts of questions Environmental and Water Resources Engineers answer every day!

water

 If you had asked me in high school what kind of career I wanted to pursue I probably would have given you a whole range of interesting options:

  • a musician
  • a dancer
  • a chemist
  • a biologist

I had always enjoyed math and science, but I also loved music and dance, and spent the majority of my childhood through high school playing in various ensembles, attending daily dance classes, and performing in weekend competitions. My parents are both professional musicians so it’s probably no surprise that a career in performing arts was something I enjoyed and was interested in pursuing!

Lily Career Interest Collage

I applied to music and science college programs as a high school senior and ended up choosing WPI, because I knew the school had excellent science and engineering programs and also a great music program…so I could do both. Let’s face it, I’m also a pretty practical person and I thought I would definitely be able to get a job after school with a science or engineering degree. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be an engineer though because I thought it would mean sitting at a desk all day doing calculations and not interacting with anyone.  

During my first year of classes at WPI, I took an Intro to Environmental Engineering class by recommendation of an upperclassman friend…and I loved it! I became particularly interested in drinking water.  Providing safe drinking water to communities presents many interesting engineering and societal challenges on local and global scales. Water is used for so many things such as drinking, agriculture, and hydropower generation, to name a few. Every living thing on the planet needs water…so how do we balance everyone’s needs in a safe and sustainable way?

At WPI, I was able to study Environmental Engineering and also continue pursuing my love for music by playing my trumpet in many different musical groups. People are always surprised by WPI’s great music program. But music and math actually have a lot in common, so it’s not all that surprising to me to find a bunch of engineers jamming in Alden Hall!

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Me standing with a brass quintet my senior year.

While at WPI, I was able to travel to Windhoek, Namibia in Africa to complete a project junior year. It was one of the best experiences of my life! I chose Namibia because it seemed like a place I wouldn’t normally visit on a vacation…why not try something a little different? Before starting my project in Windhoek, I travelled with some other students to Cape Town for a week. Here is a picture of me paragliding from the top of Lion’s Head Mountain! Birds eye view of the city!

In the air with my guide. He let me steer a little

In the air with my guide. He let me steer a little

Looking down at the beach

Looking down at the beach

We climbed higher for a better view

We climbed higher for a better view

The project I was working on in Namibia was not related to Environmental Engineering. Instead, my group worked in the National Museum of Namibia where we researched and designed touch screen displays for the historical and cultural exhibits in the museum. Designing the displays was challenging because visitors of all different backgrounds and languages came to the museum, so it was important that the displays be easily understood and enjoyed by people with different languages, ages, and educational backgrounds. One of the exhibits we worked on was about traditional Namibian musical instruments…so cool! Working and living in another country was eye opening and a wonderful experience.

The Namibian musical instrument display

The Namibian musical instrument display

One weekend we travelled to the coast and got to try out sandboarding…like snow boarding but on the dunes!

Sandboarding in Namibia…like snow boarding but on the dunes!

Travelling is a great opportunity to take advantage of if you can, either in school or just for fun. It allows you see the world from different perspectives and experience different cultures. My husband Chris, a Mechanical Engineer and graduate of WPI, enjoy travelling together (just for fun) and hope to do lots more in the future (when we’re both not in school)!

Chris and I in Dubrovnik, Croatia walking along the city wall

Chris and I in Dubrovnik, Croatia walking along the city wall

Kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine

Kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine

My senior year at WPI, I worked on a senior design project with my friends Rick (a Fire Protection Engineer) and Joe (a Structural Engineer). Our project assessed building and wastewater treatment needs for the extreme weather conditions on the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Wastewater treatment on the top of the mountain is especially difficult in the freezing weather!

This is my senior project team on the top of Mount Washington

This is my senior project team on the top of Mount Washington

After graduating from WPI, I have received my Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass) and I’m currently still in school working towards my PhD.  I just can’t get enough school or homework! But in all seriousness, I really enjoy learning new things and hearing about all the new research happening in the field and that’s what keeps me excited about engineering. Embrace the inner nerd!

Me being a mad scientist

Me being a mad scientist

Since I’ve been at UMass, I’ve been doing research on the Wachusett Reservoir in central Massachusetts. I use a model to simulate how water moves in the reservoir and I can use the model to research how potential contaminants (such as an oil spill) from different sources could travel to the drinking water intake. Last spring I traveled to Denver CO to present my research at a conference.

Exploring Denver, CO

Exploring Denver, CO

Sometimes my work allows me to go out into the field and get data or samples from the reservoir.  This is a picture looking out onto the reservoir on a calm summer morning. Beautiful!

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This is the Cosgrove drinking water intake on the Wachusett Reservoir. This is where the water is withdrawn to be treated and then sent to Boston.

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The thing I’ve enjoyed most about being an engineer is applying the concepts I’ve learned from class to solve problems that are really important to society, like providing safe drinking water. Engineers do so much more than calculations sitting behind a desk!!! We create solutions to challenging problems…and that makes for a really rewarding career in my opinion.  : )

My advice to aspiring women engineers is to talk to other female (and male!) engineers about their experiences! It’s a great way to hear stories, learn about the different types of engineering careers, and figure out which field of engineering is best for you. There are so many!

Thank you to Lily for sharing her story! I have been featuring many wonderful females within the STEM fields to show the wide range of interesting opportunities you can have. If you’re in one of these fields and want to share your story, too, I’d love to feature you – just drop me a line and we can get started! 

Being an Engineer and Mom is Awesome!

I am really excited to have Christie Holmes on the blog today – she is another fellow WPI alumna who always seemed like super woman. She was thoroughly interested in her classes at school, studying hard to learn as much as she could while staying very involved on campus (we even played a season of Rugby together!). Since graduating collage, she has maintained super woman status and is now a full time engineer, student pursuing her Masters, and mother. I can assure you, she is doing a wonderful job at all of these but I’ll let her tell us more about how she became an engineer and also how she manages an adorable son while maintaining her professional career. Without further ado, here’s Christie…

Work Life Balance

When I was in 7th grade, I did my first ever Science Fair Project on Newton’s Three Laws of motion; you could say I have been hooked on science and engineering ever since.  In high school, I continued my love for science by taking every course my school had to offer.  I also discovered my second passion while in high school; travel.  In my junior year, my Spanish 4 class traveled to Spain for 10 days.  It was an amazing trip and I couldn’t wait to plan my next adventure.  That summer, I qualified to play field hockey in Europe and traveled through England and Holland for a month while playing.  The following year I had to select colleges, and I was immediately drawn to WPI, not only because it was my Dad’s alma mater, but also because I loved the idea of being able to travel while pursuing my love for science.

Christie Photo Collage 1

I started as a Biochemistry major, but quickly changed to Chemical Engineering halfway through my freshman year.  I completed one of my projects required for graduation while living in beautiful Venice, Italy.  In 2006, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to work in a rotational program for a large chemical manufacturing company.  I moved to South Carolina immediately after graduation and began working in a chemical plant.  Moving that far from home was a total culture shock (what do you mean I can’t buy groceries until after 1pm on Sunday???), but I really enjoyed learning about new places. Shortly after I started working for the company, I became very interested in continuous improvement, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma.  I attended several training courses in Tennessee, Chicago, and Italy and within a year I was promoted to a Global Improvement Engineer, which was a role that fulfilled every wish I had when graduating from WPI. I was doing engineering, while traveling, and meeting new people all the time.  I spent many weeks in Germany, Brussels, Italy, Spain, Austria, New York, Chicago, West Virginia, and South Carolina.

Christie Travel Collage

During my visits to these sites, I was tasked with training the local plant employees on basic lean manufacturing principles, then I would work as a project facilitator to attack some of their more pressing issues such as waste minimization, cycle time reduction, increased plant capacity, and controlled inventory levels.  These projects were often a month or so in length, and it allowed me plenty of time for leisure travel while I was working in these beautiful places.  I feel very fortunate that I am able to say I have been horseback riding in the Alps and had the opportunity to spend weekends trolling Milan for the latest fashions.  It was a wonderful experience and one that I am so glad I was able to do before my responsibilities to my family became too strong.

After two years of this amazing lifestyle, my long term boyfriend (also a Chemical Engineer and WPI graduate) and I got married and decided to start a family.  I took a job with a local  pharmaceutical manufacturing company (in Rhode Island, where we are both from) working as a capital project and new product engineer.

Christie Photo Collage 2

To date, my greatest achievement has been the birth of our son Oliver in 2010.  I never really understood how large an impact such a tiny person can make on your life, and I would be lying if I said I was totally prepared for all the changes that came as a result of his arrival.  I had a (very) short maternity leave of 6 weeks.  At that point my company graciously allowed me to come back to work part time, thirty hours a week.  In six short weeks, I went from being the person that worked 80 hours a week, the woman that came to work while in labor to tie up loose ends before she was out for a couple of weeks, the woman that often opened and closed the building each day, to the woman that didn’t want to work anymore.  It was a long transition, but slowly I found myself feeling more and more comfortable at work.  I looked forward to being able to drink an entire cup of coffee while it was still hot and was thankful for the adult conversations.

Baby Oliver Collage

When Oliver was 9 months old, I came back to work full-time and it was another huge adjustment.  I found myself spending a lot of time worrying about my schedule, getting home to him, and reaching a balance in my work and home life.  One thing that has helped me find great peace is that to me, balance doesn’t mean you do all things equally always, it means that you are able to devote your time where  and when it is needed.  When work is crazy, I spend more time there and ask my husband to help more at home.  When Oliver is sick or going through a transition, I devote more of my time to him and work from home when possible.  By no means is my life very Zen, but I strive for balance between work, home and friends; some weeks it is more of a struggle than others.  I also feel like I am setting a strong example for him about what it means to be a professional and a parent at the same time.

Christie - Oliver Collage

Being an Engineer and a Mom is awesome! I love teaching Oliver about science. He may be the only three year old that knows when the bath water goes down it makes a vortex, or that gravity makes his ball fall out of the sky when he throws it up.  Our home is filled with blocks and puzzles and we spend lots of time talking about space and robots and dinosaurs; in fact he recently asked if our next vacation could be to the asteroid belt!  It makes me so happy to see how eager he is to learn and I am proud that I can answer so many of his questions.  I love that he shares my deep curiosity for how things work and always tries to figure out “what da pwowbem is” if one of his toys isn’t functioning the way it should.  Deep down I know that he is an engineer in the making and by setting the base for strong problem solving skills and instilling a desire to answer the question “why” all the time we are hopefully culturing a strong leader.

Christie and Oliver Photo Collage

Today, I am still working full-time at the same company, but I am now a Senior Process Engineer overseeing everything from new product introductions to process optimization projects.  I also went back to school to earn my MS in Operations Design and Leadership (from WPI) and anticipate graduating in May 2015.  Although my priorities have shifted and my next trip is scheduled to Disney instead of some exotic locale, I am honored to be on the biggest journey of my life - motherhood.

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We jumped out of a plane in New Zealand!

There is only one word to describe this experience: Awesome, absolutely awesome. It was quite possibly the most amazing adventure we have had yet – skydiving from 15,000 feet in Taupo, New Zealand! We jumped over Lake Taupo where the scenery was spectacular –  from the plane right before we jumped, we could see the eastern and western points of the North Island of New Zealand – fantastic view! It is truly hard to put into words just how great it was so I’ll let the pictures do it for me…

We headed up in the plane on our way to 15,000 feet on an absolutely beautiful day! Part of the way up, they had us put on oxygen masks (that’s how high up we were going) but it was all smiles from both of us…

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 When it’s your turn, they have you sit down at the very edge of the door of the plane with your feet dangling outside…there’s no way to go but down from here…

Ready to JumpAnd down you go…Ryan jumped first and his guy did a barrel roll right out of the plane…

Ryan Skydive Collage Roll 1

There was a lot more screaming when I exited the plane…the free fall feeling was crazy!

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Don’t worry, we got to smiles eventually during the free fall…

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This was my favorite picture – it was such a rush! Check out the plane from over my shoulder! I was having a blast! I promise those are screams of pure joy! IMG_0030Ryan was equally having a great time during his fall…

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The views the whole time were absolutely stunning – what a remarkable place to do our first sky dive!

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Erin’s Skydive

Ryan Skydive Collage

Ryan’s Skydive

And after about 60 full seconds of free fall, they pull the parachute…

Parachute Pull CollageAnd then it’s a smooth ride down where you are happy to have your feet back on firm ground after an unforgettable experience!

Ryan Landing Collage

Ryan is clearly the more bad ass of the two of us….he landed on his feet and they made me slide back to land on my bum.

Erin Landing Collage

We absolutely loved this adventure and will keep it as one of our favorite memories! Not sure if or when we’ll go again but we’re certainly glad we’ve been once! We HIGHLY recommend this adventure so I hope you will be able to experience the rush of skydiving at some point in your life! I’m sure you will love every minute of it just like we did! If you find yourself in Taupo and want to Skydive, Skydive Taupo is a great place to go! 

Math + Malaria: Correlating Passions

I am very excited to have Amanda on the blog today – she is a great example of someone who pursued a degree in one of the STEM subjects that have not yet been featured on the blog – she was a math major! She has a really interesting story because she was able to combine her aptitude for math with her desire to help people. I have no doubts you’ll really enjoy reading more about her and I hope you can find a way to do this yourself – combine your passions and pursue a career in that direction! 

My name is Amanda Brown Marusiak and I am currently a Public Health Associate at a large oil and gas company. My day to day job involves helping to develop programs to protect our workers from and educate them about infectious disease risks, from malaria to the flu. Our team monitors current outbreaks of disease worldwide to be prepared for what potential illnesses could come into our work facilities located all around the world. We also collect and analyze data about e effectiveness of our prevention and response programs in all our locations. You may wonder exactly how I ended up in this role, and it wasn’t the most straightforward path, but I have enjoyed every part of it, and have found a unique way to blend my passions and skills to benefit others.

Amanda Intro Collage

Although I knew I liked math, mostly because I was good at it, I entered Elon University in North Carolina as an undecided major. A couple of my professors helped me settle on mathematics, but I honestly had no clue what I would eventually do with my degree. Most people who found out I was a math major would ask me if I was going to be a teacher, which was not my ideal career path. Little did I know, I would have a seemingly un-math-related experience that would change everything.

My freshman year, I was accepted into a global service organization where I found my passion. It was a group of students working to build a health clinic in rural Ghana, west Africa, for people who had little to no access to health care. This was accomplished not by simply just raising money, but by learning about the culture of the people and understanding their needs and how we could best help them help themselves. It was a “teach a man to fish” sort of philosophy.

Amanda Ghana Collage In my sophomore year, I had an epiphany moment where a faculty mentor of mine proposed an idea that would combine both my skills in STEM and my interest in global development. I began a three year grant-funded research project to mathematically describe how malaria spreads between people and what prevention methods were most effective at protecting the most people. I felt like I had found the ultimate way to combine my skills to make the world a little better.

Amanda College Graduation, Reserach Cert

I ultimately decided my next step was to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in epidemiology (the study of disease patterns) at the University of Texas in Houston. While studying there, I secured an internship with the company I currently work for and was able to write my master’s thesis using data from the company’s malaria control program. After graduation, I dreamed of working for a non-profit to do some type of information analysis that had to do with infectious disease. Though I still have this hope, I have been lucky to be able to work in a similar role having an impact on a large amount of people in the private sector.

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My advice to aspiring women in STEM is that you are not alone if you aren’t sure what you want to do yet. It takes time to really figure out your purpose, and that’s ok. Many people in their 40s, 50s and beyond are still searching. What I do know, however, is that pursuing a STEM degree opens so many more doors for you, because companies want and need diverse employees (women!) who are competent in a technical field, especially in today’s global economy.

Try to seek out ways that you can merge your skills with your passions – I know someone who was passionate about baseball and wanted to pursue a career in statistics, which could make for a match if you think about it. Your skills and passion may meet outside of the office, like for my husband who loves to design and build things as a mechanical engineer, but has a heart for dogs, so has found joy in helping the local dog shelter plan and eventually build a play and training area in their new facility.

Last, but not least, take every opportunity you can to travel. You will learn and grow in more ways than you could ever imagine. One of my favorite quotes is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” While in college I had the opportunity to go to London, South Africa, and Ghana, which changed nearly my whole life perspective.

Amanda SA & London Collage I have now had the travel bug my entire adult life, because these college experiences inspired me to learn about other cultures and ways of life. Since then I have traveled to Europe and the Mediterranean, Central America, and now Asia. I am currently living in Ulsan, South Korea, with my husband who was also a STEM major, which gave him the opportunity to live and work here, and we enjoy almost every moment of life abroad. We even brought our two dogs with us – check us out at www.minnieandmurray.com!

Amanda Personal Travels

Good luck in your journey!

Cleaning Up the World! (Andrea – Civil & Environmental Engineer)

Today we have Andrea sharing her experience about how she has helped clean up the world, got her MBA, and now works in an entirely different industry! She’s a great example of how you can use your engineering degree as a foundation to do just about anything! I’m excited she’s on the blog today as she is a good friend from college and we had the amazing chance to travel to the other side of the world together while working on projects for school, but I’ll let her take it from here…

Engineering opens up opportunities.  Are you a curious person?  Are you always trying to figure out how things work?  Or how to make things better?  Do you like numbers and spreadsheets?  These are the things that attracted me to the engineering field and are essential building blocks to any career based in critical thinking.  I’ll share with you my experiences in engineering and business and how I’ve seen my technical background as a critical cornerstone to my career.

I went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and majored in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  During my junior year I had the opportunity to travel to Australia and New Zealand, with none other than the author of this blog – Erin!

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Top: Traveling Around Australia – even trying surfing for the first time!
Bottom: Traveling around New Zealand – sea kayaking through Milford Sound was beautiful!

This international experience really drove my curiosity to explore new places and since then, I have travelled to Thailand, Italy, Brazil, Turkey, and Cyprus!  While these trips haven’t been related to my work, I surely wouldn’t have taken them if my undergraduate experience hadn’t spurred my interest in learning more about the world around me.

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Top Left: My boyfriend, Matt, and I in Thailand
Top Right: Making sure that we are on budget in Italy – I’m never too far from my spreadsheets…
Bottom: The Blue Mosque in Turkey

While I haven’t travelled internationally for work, I have had the opportunity to extensively travel the North East and work at various project sites to clean up pollution. Over the years, I’ve been based near New York City and Providence Rhode Island – two places with excellent restaurants, entertainment, and nightlife!

I loved working as an environmental engineering consultant.  I knew I was cleaning up the world and making it a better place every time I put on my field clothes.

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My field selfie :)

My engineering role included a mix of office and field work.  In the field we tested materials to figure out what pollutants were present and where they were located.  Then in the office, we researched the history of the site – what types of businesses were there and what type of chemicals were used.  Using the information from the field and from research, we designed a strategy to clean-up the site.  Back in the field, we implemented our designs and cleaned-up the earth!

This is a wetland that was contaminated from a nearby business.  We dug out the polluted soil and replanted the area with trees and plants.  We witnessed baby deer playing in the area when it was restored (wish I had a picture to share – it was really cute!)  In this picture, we were checking out some of the nearby wells to gather data.

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This is a picture from a landfill where we were installing a system to contain the naturally forming (but dangerous) gas that is generated as trash decomposes.  It’s difficult to tell in this picture, but the landfill was one of my favorite spots to visit – there is surprisingly a lot of wildlife!

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These pictures are from one of the coldest days that I’ve ever worked in the field.  We were installing wells but the driller’s equipment kept freezing and breaking, so we had a lot of downtime.  Luckily, we were working inside an air museum and there were a lot of interesting things to check out!  One of my favorite things about working as a consultant is that you get to travel to a lot of unique job sites and learn about new things.

Air and Space Collage

In addition to all the fun we had at work, my company and coworkers also did a lot of activities together on the weekends.

Out of Work Activities

Top Left: Building a house with Habitat for Humanity in Providence, RI
Top Right: Biking through the five boroughs of New York City on a bike tour – with our signature sombrero hats
Bottom Left: Zip lining and a ropes course for a team building event
Bottom Right: Playing softball each summer

Despite having all this fun, I realized that my quest for learning wasn’t over and I decided to go back to school.  I enrolled part-time to get my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Bryant University.  I knew that at some point I would want to go back to school but had a difficult time deciding between a masters in engineering and a masters in business.  In the end I made my MBA decision because I could see the tremendous amount that I could learn and grow by studying a new field.

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Learning about business was truly intriguing to me.  There was so much complexity and ambiguity.  When we turned in our tests, unlike engineering, there was no “right” answer.  You had to analyze the case, determine your recommendation, but then also articulate and argue your point.  It was fun!  I found that my technical background helped me to create a sound base for my arguments as I was always comfortable diving into the data to help in my analysis.  However, I had much to learn from my peers in marketing and public relations on how to present my ideas to gain support.

I was able to use my new business knowledge in engineering consulting, but realized that I wanted to focus on building my new skills.  I took on a new role as a business consultant in a different field – the insurance industry.  Why would they hire an engineer in an insurance company?  They were looking for structured thinkers who could solve problems creatively, learn new material quickly, and communicate effectively in a team.  And these are exactly the building blocks that I had to work with.  Engineering really opened the door for me to take on these new challenges!

Our team commutes into Boston often, and employees have access to the company’s commuter helicopter.  The first time I rode in it, it took all my self-restraint not to take an aerial picture of frozen Fenway.

Our team commutes into Boston often, and employees have access to the company’s commuter helicopter. The first time I rode in it, it took all my self-restraint not to take an aerial picture of frozen Fenway.

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My team is always working closely together so we have a collaborative working environment. No cubes, we all work together at the table. Our room is also decorated with an “industrial feel” to help spur creativity and help us think outside of the box in a typically traditional company.

The business consulting role is both exciting and challenging.  Our team uses advanced analytics and big data to improve business processes.  Although engineering experience was not a requirement in the job description, I see every day how my approach and technical nature shapes the work that I do and it provides me with a unique and effective perspective when approaching problems.  Though I miss some of my days out in the field, I don’t mind being inside when it’s below freezing!

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