When American author John Burroughs said, “Leap and the net will appear,” he must have had the chemical engineering program at RIT and students like Garry Clarke and Shannon McCormick in mind.
In 2008, the new degree program in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering was awaiting approval from the New York State Department of Education. Clarke came to RIT as a freshman that year with thoughts of being a dentist, chemist or engineer, but heard during the annual Accepted Student Open House that there was a good possibility the college’s proposal for the chemical engineering program would be approved.
Both the college and Clarke were confident this would occur and took a daring leap. Four years later, the approved and thriving program has more than 200 enrolled students. Its first students will graduate this May, and both Clarke and McCormick are among that class.
The program was formally added into the engineering portfolio of degrees in 2010. It combines the systems and structural focus of engineering with the materials and processing emphasis of chemistry.
“The 18 students in the fifth-year were not externally recruited,” says Steve Weinstein, chemical engineering department head. “They were already here and transferred into the program. This is why we have students graduating for the first time this year.”
Today, chemical engineers will play significant roles in the nanotechnology, biomedical, environmental and alternative energy fields. The students were able to experience these broader career options through co-op experiences in national corporations and within the department itself, working alongside faculty.
Clarke did a co-op with Honda Corp. working to further develop protective paint coatings for vehicles and assess the company’s lines of weathering materials as new standards were being implemented in the industry.
McCormick worked with the Anheuser-Busch engineering team on operational efficiencies. Both were able to use their skills in engineering and chemistry.
“I love engineering, I’ve always taken things apart to tinker, and chemistry was a passion,” says Clarke. “I can see where people would think of chemical engineering as basically just chemistry. But co-ops give you skills to get jobs in different fields.”
Clarke, who came to RIT from New York City, and McCormick, from Auburn, N.Y., also took classes in mechanical engineering and industrial and systems engineering.
“You’re encouraged to take other classes and get a wide range of experiences,” McCormick says. She will be using some of those experiences at Anheuser-Busch when she begins her new job in June as a group manager in the brewing department.
While Clarke waits to hear from graduate schools and several corporate interviews, he continues work with Brian Landi, associate professor of chemical engineering and one of the foremost researchers in lithium-ion batteries. When he was on co-op at Honda, he saw that his professor’s reputation had traveled ahead of him, and expectations were high at the company for Clarke.
“I talked with the guy I was working with about testing and developing the lithium-ion batteries and because of my work with Brian, I felt he trusted my judgment, too,” says Clarke.
Another leap of faith.