There are two main experiences that really helped me decide to study Chemical Engineering. The first is my four-year involvement in LEGO Robotics. Initially I gravitated toward the robot programming side of things, but as the season progressed, I found myself working on the research component more and more. One year, the topic was Body Forward. My team had chosen to study diabetes and design an insulin pump that is better suited to fit patients’ needs. Our group researched and researched. We met with health professionals, sent out surveys to diabetics in our school, and used the internet. The whole process of designing this insulin pump was a lot of fun for me. We designed a product that made us all proud. This further invigorated my interest in science. As a result, I took all of the possible AP math and science courses that my schedule would allow. I loved every single one of them, especially AP Chemistry. My love of this class is what really caused me to choose Chemical Engineering as a major.
The second experience that lead me to study Chemical Engineering was my participation in an Ohio State Engineering summer camp. We learned about all different types of engineering and I just soaked up information about each and every one of them. I was trying to determine which field would be right for me. One of my favorite activities was when we were asked to program a robot to complete a certain number of tasks. My team ended up getting first place! We were the only team to complete all of the challenges successfully. This was both fun and rewarding, since I won a cool Ohio State hat. Another funny story from that camp occurred on circuit board day when my friend accidentally gave me a second-degree burn on my finger with a soldering iron. I have the scar to this day and I still bring it up to her when I want to razz her. It is a constant reminder of this camp memory and that, despite the mishap, I am excited to study engineering as my career field. This camp exposed me to all aspects of engineering and helped me to decide on Chemical Engineering. Also, it allowed me to spend a week at Ohio State where we did various activities in all of the engineering buildings across campus. It was at this camp that I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, I could totally see myself going to school here.’ From that point on, I was a Buckeye. Once I received my acceptance to Ohio State, I immediately accepted it and didn’t even consider the other schools where I was accepted. Now that I am into my schooling, I can definitely see that Ohio State was the right choice. I love being a Buckeye and I am excited to see what else my time at Ohio State has in store for me.
During my time at Ohio State, I joined two STEM-related organizations: The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Phi Sigma Rho Sorority. I joined SWE because of the outreach they do. They introduce younger girls to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, specifically engineering, through organizations like Girl Scouts. I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was in kindergarten and my troop did a lot of STEM-related activities. These experiences really helped me decide that I wanted to pursue engineering as a career field. I hope that I can have a similar influence on younger girls around Columbus through this organization. This year I held an Officer position in SWE; I was the Publicity Director. This means that I was in charge of all of our social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (follow us @osuswe 😉). I have traveled with our organization around the country to various conferences. I have learned a great deal as a result of being involved with SWE and I can’t wait to continue being a leader within this organization. This upcoming year I will be OSU SWE’s Big Little Coordinator and I am very excited to see what this new Officer position holds! I am also a member of Phi Sigma Rho, a social engineering sorority. I joined this organization because I like being surrounded by other girls who are also in engineering in social setting. Everyone in Phi Rho understands what all it takes to become an engineer, so we can all support each other through it. Also, I have gained a lot of friendships in my sorority which is nice because it provides me with some insights into the major and into possible co-ops and internships that are available for Chemical Engineers.
Right now, I co-opping with The J.M. Smucker company! It is a 7-month-long internship where I’m doing Research and Development on Smuckers’ coffee products. I’ve always wanted to do R&D for a consumer products company and I’m really loving getting to use my Chemical Engineering knowledge in this consumer-products setting.
As for the research aspect of Chemical Engineering, I have always been fascinated by the way that chemicals interact and influence the human body. Biology has always interested me and I think that I would enjoy developing nanoparticles or nanomaterials that could be used inside of the body in order to help a person with an illness. I’m also intrigued with the science behind cancer and all of the various causes and possible treatment methods. I’m a huge science nerd so the idea of studying cancer has always appealed to me. I saw a TED Talk that was done by a Chemical Engineering professor at MIT about a nanoparticle that she had designed to treat cancer and I was beside myself. It was so influential that it caused me to go meet with an Ohio State professor about her cancer research even before I was enrolled as a student here. A few years ago, my mom learned she had breast cancer so I took it upon myself to get a position in this professor’s lab so that I can help solve this disease that affects me so closely. I have been in this research position since June and have been steadily working on projects and experiments ever since. It has been challenging to manage all of my schoolwork with this position, but since it is about a subject that I care a lot about, it motivates me to dedicate my time to the research. The work that I am doing specifically analyzes the migration patterns of breast cancer cells. This way, we can see how they move and hopefully learn more about how exactly the cells move from the breast tissue into the brain to cause brain cancer. I can’t see where this research leads during the rest of my time at OSU.
Allison Whitney is a 2nd year student at the Ohio State University studying Materials Science and Engineering. Allison was motivated to pursue STEM because it challenges her, “I wanted a career that would allow me to be creative while also constantly challenging me. I’ve had a history of being involved with the developmentally disabled community and learned about a lot of the struggles they face emotionally and physically. Through engineering, I want to make advancements in the adaptive devices field in order to improve their quality of life.” Allison feels that as a woman in STEM if she isn’t as accepted as some of her other peers, “The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a woman in engineering is having to constantly defend myself. The majority of the groups I’m in for projects are all guys and myself, and I notice that whenever they share an idea it is accepted by the group but my ideas are talked over or aren’t as easily accepted. I’ve also received many comments that degrade my accomplishments. If I receive a scholarship or an internship offer, a common response from fellow engineering students is that I only accomplished that because of my gender and not because of my hard work.” Although, there is challenges in STEM, Allison encourages young women to pursue STEM, “There is so much support from other women in STEM! I have met so many more people who are supportive of minorities in STEM than those who don’t support it. If it’s something you’re passionate about, don’t let others hold you back. The network of other women in STEM has been the best support through all the challenges of studying engineering. If I’m ever struggling with something, there is 100% chance that someone else has experience the same thing and is more than willing to help. I’ve made connections with so many wonderful students and staff that have helped me grow as an engineer and as a person.” Allison has had several experiences where she felt as if her gender negatively impacted her studies, “This also goes along with one of the biggest challenges of being a woman in STEM: everyone thinks we have the best handwriting so we have to write all the time. There have been multiple occasions where I was in an all male lab group and was pressured to be the person to record all the data as opposed to performing the actual experiment. They’ll make excuses like “my handwriting is illegible” and then that takes away your opportunity to get hands-on lab experience.” Allison is an active officer in the Society of Women Engineers at Ohio State University and believes male allies are an important aspect of their club, “There are multiple men who have come to SWE events to support their colleagues and that is really encouraging! They’ve offered to come to events, help our members with homework, and participate in our outreach events. There are a lot of great guys in STEM and I’m sure the number of allies will continue to increase in the future.”
Kelsey Riffle is a 4th year student at the Ohio State University pursuing Materials Science and Engineering. She was encouraged to pursue STEM initially because she was good at math and science, “I joined a robotics team in my junior year of high school and fell in love with the constant problem solving.” She explains that being a woman in STEM is not always easy, “The biggest overall challenge while being a minority in STEM is building relationships. It can be difficult to find people that are willing to help if they are still of the mindset that minorities should not be involved in STEM. I have been fortunate enough to have open-minded co-workers and mentors through all of my internships but there are many stories from others that are not quite as friendly. It seems as if you have to prove yourself twice as much as someone who is not a minority.” She advises women who interested in STEM to pursue it, “Any woman who wants to join the STEM field should. There are so many organizations out there that provide resources to aid them to be the most successful they can be. One of these organizations is the Society of Women Engineers which focuses on building professional excellence in their members and demonstrating the value of diversity in the work force. The STEM field is not always a walk in the park, but it is one that is full of reward when you’re successful.” The Society of Women Engineers has helped her overcome the challenges of being a minority in STEM, “The best decision I made after becoming a minority in the STEM field was to join the Society of Women Engineers. I have made a multitude of lifelong friendships and learned a variety of skills that have helped me to achieve any goal I set and prepare me for a career in a male-dominated environment.” She explains that her gender has often impacted her studies, “I’ve found that some men refuse to study with women. They have their study groups where they work together to understand the concepts. If a man asks a question, they are all more than willing to explain the concept to him. But when a woman asks a question, they seem appalled that she doesn’t know the answer.” However, there have been many men who are supportive of her career and that’s why we will continue to fight for equal representation in STEM, “I have been fortunate enough to meet many men supportive of women in the STEM field throughout my time in college. The most memorable being a male peer who went out of his way to promote the Society of Women engineers to his female AND male peers. He was always there to answer questions about academics or industry and has become a great friend in the process.”