In the middle of exams, papers, and upcoming deadlines, I attended the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Regional Conference at Penn State this week. As I attempted to review my organic chemistry notes on the four-hour car ride to the conference, I wondered if I had made the right decision in attending: I was not prepared for my orgo exam, I had an English paper due the day after, I was behind on my immunology course work, amongst other things. But as I began attending workshops, fun activities, and spending time with my other CBE classmates at the conference, my perspective completely changed. In this post, I will reflect on some of my takeaways from the conference and why I am grateful that I attended.
The first event we attended was jeopardy, a competition held between teams from each school for a chance to compete at the AIChE National Conference in November 2019. Although I was not part of Princeton’s jeopardy team this year, I watched the competition with other students who were not competing. Cheering for Princeton’s team at a CBE-themed jeopardy competition was an experience I would probably not get through just my coursework in the department. Although I was still worried about upcoming deadlines, I really enjoyed the event.
The second day of the conference was filled with career and self-development workshops. My favorite workshop of the day was titled “150 Green Dots”. The speaker, Dr. Darrell Velegol, talked about the importance of forming a “tribe” in your life, consisting of people and books that inspire, empower, and motivate you to grow in six areas of your life: character, expertise, ownership, tenacity, expertise, and relationships. He mentioned that we should strive to find 150 people, or “green dots” that will bring us energy and serve as motivation to build ourselves in those five categories. In the process of finding those green dots, we must also cut out the “red dots” in our lives, or those who drain that energy from us. As an activity at the end, Dr. Velegol asked us to write down a few of our green dots on a piece of paper. As I began writing, I realized some of the other Princeton students attending the conference with me were part of my green dots. I thought about the energy inside and outside of the classroom, and I was grateful to be sharing this experience with them.
ChemE Car Poster Competitions
The last event at the conference was the ChemE Car poster competition. For this event, students were given the opportunity to form teams and design small ‘cars’ that were powered by a chemical energy source via a controlled reaction. Although I did not participate in this competition, as I have no experience with chemical design yet, I attended the poster session to learn about other projects. I learned about a team that designed their fuel with hydrogen peroxide and another team that 3D printed their own batteries out of zinc and copper. The projects all explored options for cleaner alternative fuel sources, which is similar to the goal of my research this past summer. Seeing how different projects were coming together for the same goal, I was reminded of the value of learning from others at academic conferences.
Throughout the weekend, I learned about the future of alternative fuel sources, heard inspiring keynote speakers, attended empowering workshops, and engaged with the other students that attended the conference. Through this experience, I learned new things that I would not have been exposed to through my coursework, which is why I would attend this conference again next year. In addition, I was less stressed about some upcoming deadlines. At times, I am hesitant to take opportunities outside of my regular coursework, such as this, in fear that they will interfere with my academics. But in fact, events like this strengthen my academic experience. I encourage you to check in with your department and find similar opportunities in your area of interest.
—Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent