Tag Archives: Engineer

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)…


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:


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.


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

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! 
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”!

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.

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!

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!


 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!


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!


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.


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! 

Engineers Can Do Anything! (Sydney – Chemical Engineer)

It is a pleasure to have Sydney Baker telling us about herself today – she is a recent graduate of my alma mater and she’s already had some pretty cool experiences. She’s full of energy and excited to be starting her career as an engineer working in a management field – she will show you can really do anything with an engineering degree! 

Introduce Yourself:

Hello everyone! My name is Sydney Baker, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Class of 2013. While I was in school, I majored in Chemical Engineering. I am currently working for General Electric Power & Water in their Operations Management Leadership Program. What that really means is that I hold roles in manufacturing, quality engineering, and sourcing. While it is not traditional engineering, I think it’s a really cool way to use my engineering education in more management focused roles. I currently live in Schenectady, NY (near Albany), but my program is rotational for the first two years, so who knows where I could be living next!


Why did you become an engineer?

I decided to become an engineer when I was a junior in high school. I liked science and math, so I figured – why not? I also had a chemistry teacher in high school who worked in industry for years before becoming a teacher. She was actually a member of a team that invented nicotine patches to help people quit smoking! To hear her talk about working in a technological field was fascinating and definitely inspired me to explore this world of opportunity!

What projects have you done while studying or working as an engineer?

When I was still in college, I got to work on my senior project in waste water treatment. Not only was it something that makes an environmental difference, but it was sponsored by GE, which helped me to get my full-time job offer. I also had the opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa to pursue a project for my degree! While it was not as technical in nature, I definitely put my analytical skills and creativity that I learned from engineering to the test!


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

Other than South Africa, I have gotten to go to training courses all over the US in order to learn all about manufacturing.


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

I think that the coolest thing I have discovered about a career after getting an engineering degree is that engineers can do anything! And I mean that! The skills that you learn about by studying math, science, and engineering are applicable in a wide range of fields. So if you’re not entirely sure what you want to do, go for engineering!


What have you enjoyed most about being an engineer?

Every day is different and I get to work on things that really make a difference in other people’s lives. Every day I get to go to work to solve problems in order to provide power to people in developing countries all over the world – pretty cool!


Any advice to aspiring women interested in engineering?

Remember, a girl can do whatever a boy can do…but while wearing high heels!


From Chips to Patents (Jenn – Mechanical Engineer)

To finish up National Engineers Week, here is the lovely Jennifer! She and I were roommates our senior year of college and took many classes together throughout our time at WPI. Jenn is a fantastic example of the breadth of options that engineering can give you. As you read, you’ll see that she’s worked for companies where you may not expect an engineer, but I’ll let her tell you a bit more about that! 

Introduce Yourself:

  • Jennifer Castriotta
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute Class of 2008 – Mechanical Engineering
  • Patent Examiner, US Patent and Trademark Office, Alexandria VA

JCass Picture 1Why did you choose to become an engineer?

Engineering is in my blood. I come from a long line of WPI grads including my grandfather, father, and mother. I actually bounced around a lot with what I thought I wanted to major in. I came in to college wanting to be a Physics Major, but then realized that I wanted the chance to actually build and create things, so I switched to Mechanical Engineering. One of the things I loved most about Mechanical Engineering was all the different directions you could take the major. I personally was more interested in Robotics, but I had friends who were interested in the biomedical field, Fire Protection, Aerospace, Manufacturing, and tons of other areas.

JCass Picture 2

What places have you traveled while working or studying as an engineer?

When I was a Junior, for my Interdisciplinary Qualifying Project (IQP), I had the opportunity to come work in Washington DC at the Smithsonian Institute with the National Zoo. Then the summer between my Junior and Senior years, I got the chance to do my Major Qualifying Project (MQP) in Wuhan, China.

JCass Picture 3 and 4 Rev1

I truly loved this opportunity! While in China I had the opportunity to visit Shanghai, Beijing, and some outlying areas including The Great Wall of China.

JCass Pictures 5 and 6

Post graduation I traveled to Connecticut, New York, Texas, Virginia, and returned to Washington DC.

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

When I first graduated college, I worked for Frito Lay as an Operations Resource in both Maintenance and Packaging. One of the best parts about my job (besides doing Quality tests for fresh Doritos and Salt & Vinegar Lays) was that I was responsible for the production a product that every single person in America recognized. I was also given the opportunity to meet and work with the foremost experts in Potato Chip and Tortilla Chip Manufacturing. I’ll even let you in on a little secret… On every Frito Lay product bag there’s a 9 digit code that tells you a lot about the chips inside. New England Pride moment- If your bag reads #66######, the chips were made at the Killingly, CT facility!

JCass Pictures 9 and 10

After about three and a half years, I decided that I needed a change and took a chance with a new opportunity working at the US Patent and Trademark Office as a Patent Examiner. In my current career I get the chance to see some of the latest and greatest inventions in the country. In the last two years I have had 13 published patents with several more on the way!

JCass Picture 10What have you enjoyed most about being an engineer? 

I think that the thing I have enjoyed most about being an engineer is meeting other amazing female engineers and getting to learn from them. Being a female engineer is a special bond that is hard to explain to outsiders. Traditionally speaking, the world of engineering is a male dominated field. The most influential women in my life are engineers – they’re the smartest, most outgoing, driven, independent, spunky, creative, and talented people I have ever met. Women as a whole have a tendency to be underestimated, and nothing makes me happier than constantly seeing female engineers meet and far exceed people’s expectations of us!

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Where to Next?! (Gaby – Chemical Engineer)

To kick off Engineering Week, Gaby will tell us her story of what she’s been up to while studying and working as an engineer. I knew her while at school and have had the chance to work with her in Houston – she has more energy and enthusiasm than anyone you will meet and it’s contagious so it always brings the group up wherever she is. What’s great is that she takes the time to learn at least 3 new things from everywhere she lives – she’s had some great experiences, so read on…

My goal in my twenties: visit a new country every year! This obsession started at WPI, where I studied chemical engineering (and where I attended university alongside some of the fantastic women who have previously written on Erin’s blog). I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and experienced some of the impacts of cultural differences when I moved to Massachusetts. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to spend several months in the poorest areas of Thailand that I learned  just HOW MUCH you could truly gain when you step through these cultural boundaries. There was no turning back.

Thailand (right - Elephant Park; Left - Wat Pho aka Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

Thailand (right – Elephant Park; Left – Wat Pho aka Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

I interned with ExxonMobil my junior year in Miami, FL. I got to travel to Panama, Fairfax, Houston, and Ft. Lauderdale and did everything from gauging oil tanks, to observing the Panama Canal, and having some of the best meals I had eaten in my life! I received a full time offer from ExxonMobil and moved to Houston, Texas! There, I joined an organization which helps manage the engineering, construction, installation, integration, and commissioning of future oil & gas facilities all over the world. This brings me to the three miscellaneous things I learned in Houston:

1. Bullfighting and being a rodeo clown is a lot harder than it looks: I have been to the Houston Rodeo for four straight years and fully intend to make this year the fifth. The food, crowds, the music, and did I say the food? You can get fried Oreos!!! Yumm!

Gaby Houston Rodeo

At the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo – over 75,000 spectators!!

2. Indulging in the local cuisine is always a good idea: Tex-Mex restaurants (a combination of Mexican cuisine with the tendencies of food products in American cities) are abundant in Texas and are absolutely fantastic! And…it’s official, I cannot eat too much guacamole!

3. Always Root for the Home Team: This might come as a shock to you, but I am not a professional football player, baseball player, or any sport for that matter. So instead, I attended as many Houston Texans, Astros, and Rockets games as possible. If you want to feel included among the people of wherever your travels take you, go to a sports match (whatever the sport may be!), you’ll definitely feel included!

At the Houston Texans Season Opening Game

At the Houston Texans Season Opener

Then, in April 2010 I was offered an assignment which included a three week trip across Europe including Paris, among other cities. I could not have said “Oui!” any faster. There, I met with different members of the oil & gas industry to collect market information. About a year later, my Canadian adventure began. I was doing two week rotations to St. John’s, Newfoundland (where I call home today). In April 2012, I officially moved to St. John’s. Here, I am part of the project management team of the Hebron Project: the end goal is an offshore platform which will be taller than a 10 story building and have a topsides operating weight heavier than 30,000 cars! I work closely with our contractors to enable leadership’s ability to make decisions affecting the overall cost and end date of the project. And this brings me to the three miscellaneous things I have learned in St. John’s:

1. Don’t be afraid to kiss a fish: I learned the hard way, but now I know - Codfish DO NOT turn into Prince Charming. Wondering why I would do such a thing?! Well…Newfoundlanders are incredibly welcoming and have an official ceremony to allow newcomers to become honorary Newfoundlanders by engaging in their old tradition of getting “screeched-in.” Naturally, I partook in this ceremony, where I was required to kiss a cod and repeat the following phrase: “Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” which actually means “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”

Gaby St. Johns

Top – Overlooking the city of St. John’s from the East Coast Trail Hike; Bottom Left – Whale Watching off the coast of Newfoundland; Bottom Right – Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America!

2. Snow doesn’t shovel itself AND ice and I do not get along: This was a pretty disappointing finding. Somehow in college, I never had a problem with this. I’m not sure what happened. True, shoveling is no one’s favorite activity, but my goodness does winter bring some beautiful sights! Even if you have lived in a winter city your whole life, go and play in the snow this weekend! I gave curling a try, and really enjoyed myself. Interestingly, I spent more time sitting on the ice than standing; and by sitting, I mean slipping.

Gaby Snow Collage

Top Left – my first shoveling experience and it took 7 hours!; Top Right: View on my running route; Bottom: my first “tobbagan” ride!

3. Hockey = football: Ok, so maybe they’re not the same sport but I have your attention. Canadians absolutely LOVE hockey! At least half of the TV commercials involve hockey in one way, shape, or form. If you can’t beat them, join them. Go St. John’s Ice Caps!!!!!

Hockey Fans in Canada

I majored in chemical engineering and minored in management. My favorite classes were differential equations and organic chemistry, but my current job involves working with people more than anything else. From all the skills I learned in university I find teamwork, leadership, and adaptability are the ones which have helped me the most. I feel like the opportunities are ENDLESS, and fully intend to take advantage of them. This brings me to my final list of three miscellaneous things I have learned:

1. Roll with the Punches: It is possible for your luggage to travel more than you – fact. Funny story – In June 2012, I planned the perfect trip to Brazil, only to realize en route, you need a tourist visa to enter the country. My luggage ended up in Brazil and I ended up in Hawaii the next morning. (Don’t worry, I made it to Brazil the following year). Can’t complain, but lesson learned: do your homework. And, you never know, sometimes the unplanned moments turn out to be even more memorable than what you had originally planned so keep an open mind and just roll with whatever comes your way.

Gaby Rio and Hawaii

Right: Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro; Left: Set of Jurassic Park (and many other movies/tv shows including LOST) in Oahu, HI

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new: No matter where you go, you will meet some incredibly interesting and impressive people. I have picked up a new hobby probably every year since I left school. I skied, ran a half marathon, ran a full marathon, surfed, went hang gliding, skydiving, bungee jumping, rappelling, zip lining, spelunking, four wheeling, and white water rafting for the first time ALL within the last five years. Get out there, get involved, make a difference and I GUARANTEE you will be changed.

Gaby New Hobbies

Top Left: Ziplining at Petty Harbor; Top Right: Mud Run in Bay Roberts;
Bottom Left: White water rafting through the Macaé River; Bottom Right: Hang gliding over Ipanema Beach

Gaby Adventures

Spelunking inside Angeles Cave, Camuy; Surfing off the shores of Hawaii; Skiing for the first time in Lake Tahoe

And last but certainly not least,

3. Never say _ _ _ _ _: It’s funny, I have been chasing Erin everywhere she goes for years. Her move to Korea was the first I did not follow. But hey, never say never. I’ve also done a lot of things that I never expected but have thoroughly enjoyed them all! Engineering has been a great path for me to see the world, try new things, meet some amazing people, and be a part of exciting projects!  So the million dollar question is now….Where to next?!

Erin & GabyThanks for sharing your story, Gaby! I can’t wait to see where you end up next!

Let’s get girls interested in Engineering!

Lately, I have been featuring some of my fabulous engineering friends on the blog and I’d like to tell you a little more about why I’m doing that. There are some big problems in the world and we need more people signed up to tackle those challenges  - the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects are one of the keys to solving these issues.  I think there is truly something special about a mix of men and women solving these problems; however, if you look at the statistics, women are in the minority within these fields. As a woman in engineering, it is really important to me to encourage the next generation of females to pursue a career within these areas.  It’s a wonderful career path for people (both men and women) and can give them incredible opportunities! My goal is to feature a lot of other female engineers and their stories in hopes that it will inspire someone to follow in our footsteps. So far, you have met Jen, Kristen, Morgan, Kim, and Kristin - all fantastic role models with great experiences within engineering! I also have others coming your way, so please stop by to learn more!

Me volunteering at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in 2010

Volunteering at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in 2010


The timing is great because next week is National Engineers Week and there is a special day devoted to Introducing Girls to Engineering. For several years while we were living in Houston, I planned this event for our company & community. We always had a group of 70 – 80 amazing young girls from Houston schools who were interested in the world around them and left the day excited to continue to learn even more about engineering. It was one of my favorite events because we got to see the girls’ eyes light up with fun science experiments and the realization that engineers are pretty darn cool. Be sure to look in your area to see if there are any events that you could volunteer at, attend, or encourage others to check out!


To celebrate this week, I will be featuring two great women on the blog – be sure to check back to learn more about them! If you have any questions or are interested in being involved by writing an article for my blog, please let me know! I would love to work with you! Also, if you would like to ask me questions about being an engineer, please feel free to add a comment or send me an email – I’m always happy to help!

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