The Class of 2017: Where are they Headed?

Congratulations to the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering graduates of the 2016-2017 academic year! After a college career full of successes and accomplishments, our graduates are headed all over the world to put their degrees to the test. Here are the college experiences of four Texas ChE graduates and their plans for the future.

Emmalie BerkovskyEmmalie Berkovsky
Hometown: Shiner, Texas.

Q: Tell us about your time here, how did you get involved at UT?

During my time at UT, I’ve had the opportunity to become involved with many diverse organizations on campus. As a freshman, I joined the Texas Wesley, a Methodist ministry, which was crucial to helping me adjust to life on campus. I was also very involved with the Women in Engineering Program (WEP) my freshman year and throughout college. In my first year, WEP helped me to navigate the school of engineering and develop time management and study skills. Later in college, I was a mentor for a WEP summer program that brought girls in their senior year of high school to UT to learn about engineering. Through WEP, I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor freshmen in my department and help them succeed in chemical engineering.

In my junior year of college, I joined Texas Orange Jackets, which is the oldest honorary women’s service organization on campus. Texas Orange Jackets is based on the tenets of service, leadership, and scholarship and acts as the official hosts for the university. Through Orange Jackets, I’ve been able to serve the Austin community by volunteering at The Settlement Home for Girls, which houses girls in difficult situations. I’ve also been able to give back to my university by hosting events on campus, such as speakers, conferences, and galas. Throughout college, I’ve also been heavily involved in undergraduate research in the chemical engineering department.

Q: Why would you encourage incoming freshmen to choose chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering, especially at UT, affords a student so many opportunities for the future. Because chemical engineering is broad and diverse, students with a degree can go into anything from oil and gas to medicine. A chemical engineering degree also teaches life skills that are transferable to many situations. Students learn how to be problem solvers and critical thinkers, which will serve them well in any career.

Q: What was your most memorable moment at UT?

As a part of Texas Orange Jackets, I had the opportunity to sing “The Eyes of Texas” on the field before home football games. During one such game, while on the field, I spotted UT’s king, Matthew McConaughey, on the field. Since I was in my Orange Jackets vest, I couldn’t go up to him and ask for an autograph. I had to settle for a picture of me with him in the background. A little later, I realized he was standing about 7 feet away from me and we made eye contact.

Q: What was your most challenging ChE project or assignment and what did you learn from it?

The most challenging ChE project was the design project for Process Design and Operations, also known as “plant”. The plant project was a capstone for chemical engineering that incorporated knowledge from many upper division classes. To complete the project, I had to work with a team to design and model a chemical process, determine the economic feasibility of the project, and assess the environmental and safety concerns associated with the project. This project taught me a lot about working well with a team to implement different ideas and coordinate efforts to produce the best work possible. It was a struggle learning to tie together concepts from different classes that had been separate and distinct up to then. This project was the ultimate test of our problem solving skills and technical abilities.

Stephen TungStephen Tung

Hometown: Plano, Texas

Q: Tell us about your time here, how did you get involved at UT?

Throughout my four years at UT, I was involved in Tau Beta Pi (TBP), Omega Chi Epsilon (OXE), the UT AIChE chapter, the Dean Scholars Honors Program, and undergraduate research.  Being an officer in both TBP and AIChE helped me to develop my leadership skills and meet engineers across the different disciplines in the Cockrell School of Engineering, and through Dean Scholars, I was integrated into the scientific research community, while also being able to mentor incoming freshmen for the CNS honors program.

Beginning my second semester of freshman year, I have worked in three different labs. My first research experience was developing nanoparticles for chemical catalysis. A year later, I moved into surfactant research for enhanced oil recovery under Dr. Gary Pope. However, the culmination of my research was with Dr. C. Grant Willson in the development of block copolymers for microelectronic applications. These unique research opportunities have been some of the most rewarding experiences at UT, and through them, I have been able to innovate and discover new processes valuable to the scientific community.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I will start a full-time position at Shell’s Deer Park Manufacturing Site as a process engineer in the Shell Graduate Program.

Q: What will you miss most about The McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering?
I am going to miss the tight-knit community in the chemical engineering department. So many of the faculty are willing and eager to help students learn and explore the field, and I have become close friends with so many of my fellow classmates. Looking back, I will miss being able to see all my friends on a daily basis.

Q: Why would you encourage incoming freshmen to choose chemical engineering?
Chemical engineering is one of the most diverse engineering majors. Once here, you will have the ability to explore so many different fields and areas of study, both in an industrial and academic setting. Here at UT Austin, there are numerous opportunities for innovative and exciting fields of research and connections to various industries. Many people come into the department expecting to go into one area of study, only to find themselves steered into another area where they are passionate about their work and contributions.

Reika KatsumataReika Katsumata

Hometown: Kawasaki, Japan
Lab Group: Dr. Chris Ellison

Q: Tell us about your time here, how did you get involved at UT?

My time at Texas ChE prepared me to become a professional problem-solver, not just through development of my personal abilities, but more importantly, by learning to conduct projects as a team.  I got involved in the department outside of research as a co-chair of Chemical Engineering Women (ChEW), and also as co-social chair of the Graduate Student Executive Committee (GSEC).  Also, I have been a serious player in several department teams– flag football, dodge-ball, and softball.  By joining these organizations and teams, I learned how to achieve a goal as a team, and it helped me a lot when I led a research project involving several institutions including companies.  And most importantly, I developed incredible friendships through these activities and research projects in the lab.

Q: What are your plans for after graduation? 

I am currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, working with Professor Rachel Segalman (another Longhorn!).  After my postdoctoral training, I will be joining the Polymer Science and Engineering Department at University of Massachusetts, Amherst as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2018.  Being a PI in an academic institution has absolutely been my dream job.  I am thrilled to pass the baton of engineering best practices on to the next generations with my Longhorn spirit!

Q: Why would you encourage incoming freshmen to choose chemical engineering?

Don’t be afraid of changing your major: broadening your academic background just makes you special!  In my case, I received B.Eng. and M.Eng. degrees of Polymeric and Organic Materials.  Of course, taking qualifying exam based on the undergrad chemical engineering curriculum was challenging, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn a new field, which taught me a new framework to approach problems.  I would strongly encourage students who have broad backgrounds to apply to the program.

Q: What was your most challenging ChE project or assignment and what did you learn from it?

All of grad school was a challenging (and therefore exciting!) project.  In particular, I cannot forget July 4th of my second year.  I was stressed out because I had too many homework assignments, TA responsibilities, and to make things worse, tons of un-reproducible data.  I skipped the July 4th celebration, and kept myself in a yellow lab (my material was UV sensitive) the entire day long; however, I could not make any progress.  At that time, I felt so behind to my friends who already had ‘real’ jobs, while I was stuck in the lab on a holiday without any guarantee for the future.  In my next meeting with my advisor, Prof. Ellison, I explained my data, but he noticed that I was exhausted.  He helped me diagnose the problem, and shared a phrase which I kept in my mind for the rest of my grad school or I would say, for life: “Research is not a sprint, but a marathon.”  I cannot imagine finishing the marathon (although I’m still running) without encouragement from such wonderful mentors and lab mates.

Krystian PerezKrystian Perez

Hometown: Provo, Utah
Lab group: Dr. Tom Edgar and Dr. Michael Baldea

Q: Tell us about your time here, how did you get involved at UT?

I had such a wonderful time when I was at UT. I had the opportunity to serve once as a recruitment chair for the graduate students. During that time I got to advocate for our prestigious graduate program to potential students and work with some great graduate students. I also got involved with some of the STEM outreach programs at UT such as the science club at the Texas School for the Deaf. I really enjoyed the service-focus of the department and the opportunity to help get high school students interested in STEM careers.

Q: What are your plans for after graduation? 

After graduation I will be working as a senior engineering at Dow Chemical in the Advanced Process Control and Optimization group where I will be able to apply the many problem solving and optimization skills I gained while at UT Austin.

Q: What will you miss most about The McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering?

I will miss the people. The staff in the department were always so helpful. I will also miss being surrounded by very smart and ambitious students trying to solve meaningful problems. I had some really fantastic advisors in graduate school. Dr. Edgar and Dr. Baldea are really busy, important and established men but they always found time or resources for me to do well.

Q: What was your most memorable moment at UT?

I was part of the Chemical Engineering Graduate Leadership Council. I was the enrichment chair and got to host some really impressive people that came to speak to our graduate students. One of my favorite speakers was Rex Walheim, a NASA astronaut, who was kind and a really interesting speaker. He came just to speak to our students about the future of the space program and the need for engineers to solve some of those problems. I got to fulfill a life goal of high-fiving an astronaut!

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