Tag Archives: travel

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”!

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! 

Living Large in Rotorua!

Our next stop on our New Zealand vacation was the town of Rotorua. We had heard from several of our friends that this was quite the hot spot for adventure. We got there a bit late in the evening, so we checked into our wonderful little hotel and then went for a quick look at the nearby Redwood Forest. The trees were giant!

Redwood Forest NZ CollageWith a full day of fun ahead of us, we woke up early the next day to check out one of the thermal parks. Rotorua is known for being one of the few places in the world with a high concentration of thermal activity. We knew we had made it when the smell of sulfur overcame us – we walked around and saw the colorful thermal pools, including quite a few of the bubbling mud pools.

Rotorua Thermal CollageEvery day in the morning, the geyser in the park erupts so we went that direction to get a good spot to watch. At first I was skeptical that the geyser erupts on such a strict schedule – nothing in nature operates that way. The park ranger walked up and put in some soap to stimulate the eruption, mimicking the way it was found many years ago when people accidentally put some soap in there when going to wash their clothes. So we were right – it’s not naturally that predictable but it was still impressive!

Rotorua Geyser Collage

After a wonderful morning exploring the thermal parks that we couldn’t jump in, we went off for an adventure where we could, called the Squeeze. It combined a Riverjet ride with a walk to some natural hot springs – I know, sounds like the most perfect trip ever…and it was!! We had an absolute blast! The jetboat is a NZ invention – it is basically a water ski in boat form. It is incredibly fast and can do also turn on a dime, so they do plenty of 360 spins during your trip. The icing on the cake is that the scenery around you is to die for!

NZ Riverjet View

After a beautiful ride along the river, our driver told us to get out. So we jumped out of the boat and started following him up onto the banks where we followed the shallow river inland – the longer we walked, the warmer the water became. We also came upon some skinny, mossy passageways that we had to maneuver through – SO COOL! At the very end was a natural hot springs waterfall. Our pictures didn’t come out all that great, but you’ll get the idea even with the blurry photos – it was incredible!

Squeeze Collage

We spent a little while soaking in the pools before heading back for another wild ride on the river. It was an amazing day!

NZ Riverjet Ride 2On our last day in Rotorua, we did separate activities in the morning – Ryan went running/hiking and I went to Hobbiton (which was so awesome I think it deserves its own post so stay tuned!) and then in the afternoon we went mountain biking at this really great park in the Redwood Forest. Ryan has gotten really into mountain biking while living here in Korea and I’m always up for trying new things so we rented bikes and helmets and headed out onto the trails. It was raining, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time! I had a couple of falls but Ryan was always there right away to help get me back on my bike. With this, we fulfilled our mission to go hard in Rotorua!

NZ Mountain BikingThat evening, we got ready for our last activity in Rotorua – this time one where we could learn more about the fascinating Maori culture. The Maoris are the native people that originally settled New Zealand. You may have seen the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team perform the Haka before – this is a Maori tradition. We got to see it performed by some of the Maoris still living in New Zealand – it contained all of the intimidating tongue showing which we did with the chief before heading to dinner. Dinner was a feast cooked in an underground oven and was delicious!

Maori Feast Collage

Just before we left, they took us to one of their sacred springs which has glow worms in it….these little critters were really bright and a really neat sight to see! The Maori feast and performance was the perfect ending of our time in Rotorua – a few days full of adventure and culture…just the way we like to vacation!

Future Chem Eng Professor (Liz – Chemical Engineer)

Joining us today, we have Elizabeth Stewart who is currently pursuing her PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Liz and I met in college where we both got our bachelor’s degree in engineering – Liz in Chemical Engineering and mine in Mechanical Engineering. We had all kinds of fun and even got to take a flight over Worcester together in our trustee mentor’s plane to get an aerial view of our campus right before we graduated. She’s done some amazing things while continuing her education and I don’t want to spoil any of her stories, so read on to find out what she’s been up to…

Liz and Erin Flight over Worcester Rev1

Liz and I taking a flight over our college campus right before graduation our senior year!

Why did you become an engineer?

I became an engineer because I wanted to work on solving technical problems that have a big impact on society.  I chose to major in chemical engineering, so I could learn to think in a manner that is useful for solving a large variety of problems.  Chemical engineers work on problems across many scales ranging from the  creation of nanoparticles to the design of large manufacturing plants.

I know chemical engineers who are working in processing plants making chemicals, running nuclear reactors, designing medical devices, manufacturing consumer products, making wine, engineering microbes for next generation fuels, designing novel catalysts, the list could go on and on.  I think it is pretty amazing to be trained in a manner that is so versatile that it can be used to work on so many different types of problems.

Michigan Big House

The Big House in Ann Arbor aka where I have spent many, many fall Saturdays cheering on the team. The enthusiasm for Michigan football is highly contagious!

What kind of research do you work on?

I have always been particularly fascinated by biological problems.  Currently, I am using my engineering tools to research bacterial biofilms.  Bacterial biofilms are aggregates of bacterial cells surrounded by protective matrix materials (polysaccharides, proteins, and DNA) that are resistant to treatment with antibiotics.  Biofilms can form on medical devices and cause patients to become extremely sick.  I look at biofilms as a material and try to understand at a fundamental level how the structure and mechanics of biofilms impact their resilience.  Here is a shameless plug for a paper I wrote, if you want to check out some of my work.

I am also interested in engineering education and the best techniques for teaching engineers.  Engineers are often required to be interdisciplinary when tackling problems, so there has been an emphasis at universities on creating interdisciplinary learning environments.  In addition to my technical research, I have begun doing research to investigate interdisciplinary learning in graduate education.

What do you want to do when you finish your PhD?

My goal is to become a chemical engineering professor, so that I can teach other people the tools to approach the world as an engineer and continue to do my own research on scientific problems.

What places have you lived in or traveled to while studying or working as engineer? 

As an engineer, I have had the opportunity to live in Worcester, MA (WPI), Columbia, South Carolina (University of South Carolina), Bangkok, Thailand (Chulalongkorn University), Rochester, NY (ExxonMobil Chemical Films), & Ann Arbor, MI (University of Michigan).

When you do research for a living, you get to travel to meetings all over the world to discuss your work with other scientists and learn about the work that they have been doing as well.  During graduate school I have travelled to Nashville, TN, Salt Lake City, UT, Washington, DC, Lindau, Germany, Copenhagen, Denmark, Mount Desert Island, ME, Miami, FL, Boston, MA, and San Francisco, CA to learn and discuss research with others.

Here are some pictures from some of the exciting adventures I have had while traveling for work:

Here I am with my friend, Amy,  before the Country Music Awards (CMAs).  Lucky for me, the CMAs were the same week as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting held in Nashville!

Country Music Awards

I took a trip with my labmates, Lilian and Aayush, to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks before our conference in Salt Lake City.

Liz Utah National Park Collage

I attended a short course on fluorescence microscopy at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratories in Maine.  The labs were right on the water, so it felt like summer camp for scientists.  In addition to learning microscopy and discussing science, I was able to use my fine honed New Englander skills to help with the lobster boil on the last day!

Liz at MDIB Labs in Maine Collage

I presented my work in Copenhagen, Denmark for the Eurobiofilms conference.  I saw some famous sights around the city, including Nyhaven (the New Harbor).  The conference attendees were welcomed very warmly with a reception at the Copenhagen Town Hall with town hall pancakes.  They were very tasty!

Liz Denmark Collage

Vinnie (my boyfriend) met me in Scandinavia and we travelled to Bergen, Norway after the conference.  In the pictures below, we are in front of Bryggen and then kayaking in the fjords. The fjords of Norway are one of the most beautiful places I have ever been!

Liz Norway with Vinnie

I went to Yosemite National Park with my brother, Andrew, soon to be sister-in-law, Hailey, and fellow Michigan Engineer, Huanan, before the AIChE Meeting in San Francisco.

Liz Yellowstone Collage

My research group had a reunion with current and past members in San Francisco.  It is great to connect with people with training similar to yours to see how they are doing and where their careers are taking them.

Liz Research Group Reunion

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

One of the coolest opportunities I have had as an engineer was attending the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates.  I highly encourage all young researchers to apply for this unique opportunity.  Young scientists and researchers from all over the world meet in Lindau, Germany to learn from the Nobel Laureates.  I attended the interdisciplinary meeting with laureates from physics, chemistry and physiology/medicine and it was an incredibly inspiring experience to hear about the scientific journeys of the laureates and my peers from across the globe.  I received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to attend the Lindau Meeting.

Lindau Meeting Collage

Left: NIH funded US delegates at L’Enfant Plaza in DC;
Right: Beautiful Lindau Harbor Entrance in Germany!

The American delegation of young researchers at the Lindau Meeting.

Nobel_Monday209I really enjoyed listening to stories and getting advice from Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto with my roommate for the week, Markita as well as chatting with other young scientists.

Liz Nobel Prize Networking

I also had the chance to check out Lake Constance with Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies.

Liz with Oliver Smithies

After the meeting, I took advantage of being in Europe and went on vacation with my Mom to Italy and southern France.

Liz in Europe Collage

Left: Me and my mom on the Arno in Florence, Italy; Right: Vineyard in Provence, France

Any advice to aspiring women interested in engineering?

  1. Work for people who you consider role models.  I am very fortunate that I am able to work for people who I have a great amount of respect for.  If I am able to teach, mentor and care for students in the way that my advisors work with me and their other students, I am certain I will succeed in my career.  If you don’t have the privilege to control this, seek out other mentors for this support.
  2. Build a support system of people who respect and care for you in and outside your field. Sometimes work is hard.  Research can consist of long days in the lab, analyzing data, or writing up results.  I will be honest.  The majority of your data will not be groundbreaking.  Share your life with people who will be there for you in the ups and downs of your work.
  3. Dream big and work on problems that inspire you.  Personally, I have found that I work best when I am working on problems that could lead to helping people in some way (even if the work may not be used for many, many years).  This drives me to work hard.  Some people are driven by seeing a product made in front of them, making the most efficient process possible, or working to lead companies to success.  Try to reflect on what inspires you to work hardest and pursue a career in that direction.

Thanks for reading this far and thanks to Erin for featuring me on her blog!

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!


NYE in Sydney!

As I said before in my last post about Sydney, spending New Years Eve in this amazing city was very high on my bucket list! We booked a cruise ahead of time so we could enjoy the fireworks in one of the best seats in the city. With tickets in hand, we didn’t have to board until 7 PM meaning we had all day to explore a bit more. So, to make our NYE even more amazing, we headed to Bondi Beach to spend the day.

Bondhi Beach 2

The weather was perfect so we enjoyed the day at the beach before heading back into town to get ready for the main event!

Bondhi Beach Collage

We went to Darling Harbor to get on the boat and then took a cruise around Sydney harbor – we got a great view of the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.

Sydney NYE Harbor Cruise

Harbor Bridge on NYE

Our cruise boat was in the Harbor of Lights parade so all of the ships had lights all over them and we made a big loop around the water before parking right in the front row.

Harbor of Lights Parade

We were one of a few ships allowed to be as close to the bridge & Opera House…we were literally right in the front row.

Front Row Seat - NYE Fireworks

The fireworks were amazing – it’s hard to put into words just how awesome it was. It was absolutely the best firework show we’ve ever seen!

Sydney NYE Fireworks 1

Sydney Fireworks 2

It was the best way to ring in the New Year – 2014 is going to be one to remember! I’m so glad we went and highly recommend everyone putting this on their bucket list!

From Ice in Antarctica to Shale in Texas (Kim – Geologist)

I’m really happy to have my friend, Kim featured on the blog today – you will probably recognize her from our trip to Vietnam because we had a great time with her and her husband – we also really enjoyed living with them in Korea and were sad to see them leave. Well, not only is she our travel companion, she’s also quite the geologist. She’s another wonderful example of someone who has studied science and had some really cool opportunities…in fact, she’s probably my favorite geologist! I’ll go ahead and let her introduce herself…

I am Kim Fangman, a 26 year old geologist who recently married an engineer.  We have a small white poodle named “Penny.”I grew up in Houston, Texas and went to college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. There, I double majored in Geology and Economics. After graduation I came back to Houston and received a master’s degree in Geology from the University of Houston.

Me in ice

I am now a geologist with Marathon Oil. I work in the Eagle Ford Operations team. The Eagle Ford is an unconventional shale play in south central Texas. I help “steer” lateral wells, and tell the rig where to drill down in the Earth. It is sort of like a video game. I receive new data every couple of hours, which I model in software. I then decide if we need to go up or down, left or right, to tap the best rock for producing oil and gas.

As a side note, I think masters programs in science are one of the best kept secrets. Many masters programs for geology will give you a full ride to attend the school, and a small stipend, if you are a teaching assistant (TA) for undergraduate classes. I was fortunate enough to be in one of these programs, and TAing really enhanced my experience beyond paying for school. Having to teach and clearly explain the basics of geology really solidified the knowledge and I am sure it will help me in the future. Most jobs in geology do require a master’s degree, which takes around 2 years to complete.

Why did you become a geologist?

I definitely did not go to college expecting to become a geologist. I viewed geologists as “mountain men,” very rugged like Pierce Brosnan in Dante’s Peak. I am not the most outdoorsy person; I was in a ballet company throughout school.

But, I was in the liberal arts school at Vanderbilt, which required everyone to take an intro science course freshman year. I, like many students, assumed Geology would be the easiest, so I took it. It did not turn out to be easy, but it just seemed really interesting to me and I was good at it.

I found out I have a knack for really understanding things spatially, visualizing in 3D, and am good at maps (which is important, because a professional geologist’s product really is just different types of maps). Geology was more fun for me than economics. I fell into the perfect fit, which is why I really recommend keeping an open mind in college and taking a variety of courses. I became more open to camping and hiking along the way, too!


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

While in school I primarily worked on two research projects. The first used video footage of the ocean floor taken by divers below sea ice around Antarctica. I mapped the ocean floor and identified and counted the various critters I saw. There were mainly scallops, eels, worms, sea cucumbers, and star fish. I really enjoyed the project because I was helping to explore part of the world that had never been seen or studied.

My master’s thesis research was also on Antarctica. I took sediment samples in front of glaciers and analyzed them to see when the glaciers retreated, and how fast.


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

Geologists get to travel, and to many exciting places! It is sort of integral to the job. I went to Antarctica for 3 months during my masters program. I was on an ice breaker that went right up to glaciers and allowed me to catch sediment samples for my research. I was close enough to touch penguins, whales, and seals! I also traveled around Chile on the trip.


With my undergraduate classes I hiked around the Appalachians, and went to conferences in San Francisco and Portland to present my findings. With Marathon I get to go on a one week training course each year in a different location to learn about the geology of that area. I am going to the beach in South Carolina this year. Some of my friends at work are going to Spain and France!

What have you enjoyed most about being a geologist?

I have enjoyed the travel opportunities, and the people I work with. I have coworkers that are passionate about what they do, and who are very friendly, caring people. It makes work something I look forward to. I think part of the reason for my pleasant work environment is geologists aren’t trapped behind a desk every day. We get out into the field, visit a rig, and really feel like we are part of the action and making decisions.

Group Picture at Eagleford Shales

Any advice to aspiring women interested in a career in science?

Don’t shy away from science or engineering because you don’t think it fits with your persona. Just like I didn’t have to be Pierce Brosnan to be a geologist, you don’t have to be a character from the Big Bang Theory to be an engineer or have a PHD. If you enjoy a subject, have a knack for math and science, just go for it!

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