“It’s important for students to see versions of what they can become,” says Elizabeth Wayne. “This is how I learned.”
Wayne, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering, is one of several faculty in the Department of Chemical Engineering who are integrating alums into the classes they teach.
Recently, Greg Went (’85) visited Wayne’s Principles of Immunoengineering and Development of Immunotherapy Drugs class. About 40 students filled the room in Wean Hall. Those enrolled in the class were joined by undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. students across engineering and science departments. Went is a scientist, inventor, investor, and experienced entrepreneur with successful start-ups in the life sciences. He talked with students about his path and shared tips for pitching a life sciences start-up. Toward the end of class, he demonstrated his latest pitch, for Reflexion Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company discovering and developing an entirely new class of therapeutic products.
Went is committed to protecting and guiding young entrepreneurs. After his pitch, he asked students what he left out. Went’s pitch didn’t compromise any intellectual property, and he used the example to advise students on protecting their ideas while working out their patent strategy.
“You’re leveraging risk by having a community of people with emotional, intellectual, financial knowledge. You have to ask,” says Wayne. Went agrees. “Being willing to connect starts to shrink the size of the world exponentially. You have to start someplace. You have to be brave,” he says.
Alums who are on campus recruiting are also helping chemical engineering students consider career paths. They often stop by the Introduction to Chemical Engineering course to speak for a few minutes.
“The purpose of the Intro course is for students to learn what ChemE is about and the different types of fields in which they would be able to apply their degree. An important component of that is having alums come and talk about their careers. Students make the connection between what they’re doing here in class and the job the alum is doing,” says Joanne Beckwith.
Recently, a panel of alums working at Merck spoke to the class. Aadi Mhatre (’19), Abby Vesco (’21), and Gillian Crews (‘17) shared their own paths through ChemE to Merck and the skills they draw on from their classes and research experiences. Vesco told students that chemical engineers are uniquely trained to understand the principles behind things. Mhatre remembers Transport Process Lab as a favorite. “Transport Lab taught me to take a lot of data that is messy and make sense of it,” he says. Mhatre draws on that foundation when synthesizing data and clearly communicating it to stakeholders to make decisions at Merck.
In anecdotal feedback and on course evaluations, students tell Beckwith, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, that they love hearing from alums about what they can do with their degree.
During his visit to campus, Went also joined Beckwith’s Intro class. He spoke to first-year students two days before Major Declaration Day and shared how he made his decision to major in chemical engineering. “My choice to study chemical engineering was the one where I would close the least amount of doors and open an exponential amount,” says Went.
Connecting chemical engineering to business and entrepreneurship, Went described to students how chemical engineers excel at lining things up in unit operations, determining what will work by determining what will scale.
Went thinks alums can add a lot of value for students because they have a different perspective than faculty on the current distribution of career opportunities. “Students need a better sense of the world that’s going to open up in front of them with chemical engineering,” he says.
Are you an alum interested in sharing with students how you’re applying your chemical engineering degree in your career? Please email Maria Barnes, Academic Recruiting and Outreach Manager in the Department of Chemical Engineering.
Pictured, top: Greg Went speaks to a graduate class while visiting campus on March 28, 2023.