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Meet Our Students

Get to know our students! We talked to our undergraduates and alumni to learn more about their experiences, their plans for the future, and the challenges they faced along the way.

Undergraduate Students

Reginald Denny Reginald Denny

Hometown: Norfolk, Connecticut

Expected Graduation: 2020

About Reginald

Clubs/Activities: Supervisor at McMahon Dining Hall, Club Ultimate, Disc Golf, Hiking, Running

Why did you choose to major in Environmental Engineering?

Despite my father being an environmental scientist, I never had an interest in the field until ninth grade. We had a long term sub for my science class that year and each student got to do a project about some green technology, renewable energy source, or environmental issue. I chose the most lame option available, green roofs, and when presenting came around, it was the first time I was genuinely excited to participate and share knowledge in school. Even that seemingly boring topic has inspired me until today to follow a career geared toward the environment and sustainability of this Earth.

What has been your favorite class at UConn? (ENVE class)

So far, ENVE 1000 has been my favorite course. Despite the low number of the class, I had not had too much exposure to the engineering side of the environment as my high school experience had been just Envirothon. ENVE 1000 actually showed me all the different sides of environmental science and engineering that are not always as apparent and got me even more excited to pursue this career path.

Have there been challenges you’ve had to overcome at UConn so far?

The main challenge for myself has been finding a good place to sit down and do work. Engineering buildings, such as E2 and UTEB have great spaces to do homework that are smaller, quieter, and usually way more available  throughout the day than the library. Finding a good place for you on a big campus can really help when making a transition from high school or a different college, just like it did for me!

What has been your favorite experience at UConn so far?

At a party with some friends and some people I didn't know, I bumped into another student and we somehow got on the topic of renewable energy sources, namely nuclear. We got into such an heated conversation about societal misunderstanding of the nuclear energy and how it had so much unharnessed potential and this lead to us getting into more and more intense discussion about how cool it would be to have a 100% green nation with all our energy coming from multiple different renewable sources. It was super cool to find someone passionate about the same things I am, in such a random place.

Has a certain professor had a significant impact on you?

Dr. Christine Kirchhoff has influenced me greatly both academically and professionally. I entered UConn with the idea of wanting to have a career in renewable energy sources. Her upbeat and engaging teaching style and her work on climate information and water governance has helped shift my interests in the environmental world to an area I had previously thought was boring. Water.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation from UConn, I hope to go to law school to further my education and become and environmental lawyer, either at a private firm or for the federal government. The future of environmental law is going to be heavily dominated by water as transboundary bodies of water, (aquifers, rivers, etc.) are extremely unregulated and states cannot seem to come to agreements themselves. The coolest part of water law is that most Supreme Court cases between states actually have to do with water! I want to be a major part of altering environmental law to ensure our country natural, social, and financial health is in tact.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Meet your professors. Read some of their work and ask them to meet and talk about it. Go to their presentations and extracurriculars. Networking at a younger age will set you up in the future, whether that be with grad schools or the professional world. Professors want to find people who are passionate about what they do and want to help those people as well, that’s part of the reason why they are educators. Do not be afraid to be forward and introduce yourself. They are an opportunity to good to miss.

Ben North Ben North

Hometown: West Cornwall, CT

Expected Graduation: May 2019

About Ben

Why did you choose to major in Environmental Engineering?

Modern society enjoys a standard of living that can be very damaging to the environment. If left unchecked, this lifestyle could have a devastating impact on our future. I have always understood the challenge of the environmental engineer is to use our knowledge of natural processes to create a sustainable society that benefits both mankind and the preserves the environment for future generations.

What has been your favorite class at UConn? (ENVE class)

I think the course I enjoyed the most was Ecological Engineering. We researched interesting case studies in environmental engineering early in the semester. We also learned about advanced treatment techniques to remediate major environmental problems. And towards the end of the semester, we worked on real-world projects that required us to use the knowledge that we learned in the class and other courses to create solutions to difficult problems. 

Have there been challenges you’ve had to overcome at UConn so far?

My most difficult challenge that I have faced during my time at UConn is working a fulltime job while attending. Living 45 minutes from campus has also been difficult to participate in activities at the school. If I could do it again, I would live on campus to be more involved with the UConn community. 

What has been your favorite experience at UConn so far?

My favorite experience has been working with my fellow students in tackling difficult group projects. The engineering department at UConn may be large, but there are very few environmental engineers. We became a closely-knit bunch, and everyone knew each other. UConn is a large school, but has a small school feel at the same time.

Has a certain professor had a significant impact on you

Similar to the camaraderie that I felt with the students in my major, I felt like all of my professors were always there for me if I needed help with something. The core group of professors in the environmental engineering department were inspiring to learn from, and I felt as though they were a group of elders imparting their knowledge upon us so that one day we may join them as accomplished environmental engineers.

What are your plans after graduation?

I currently am employed in the field of water and wastewater treatment and work for a contract operations company that runs water treatment operations across the world. I plan further my career in this field and earn my Engineer in Training (EIT) designation on my way to getting my Professional Engineer (PE) status.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

My advice would be to pay attention to what prerequisites are needed to get the classes that you want. Make sure that you have planned out as far ahead as possible what your end goal will be. Look to find interesting internships that will get you in front of potential employers. Conduct research with professors in areas you are interested in. All of these things will help you in your pursuit of landing a career that you will enjoy once you graduate.

Ryan Palzere Ryan Palzere

Hometown: Bristol, CT

Expected Graduation: May 2021

About Ryan

Clubs/Activities: Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, Engineers Without Borders, UConn American Red Cross Club, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society

Why did you choose to major in Environmental Engineering?

Originally, Environmental Engineering was not even what I was planning to study when I got to college. I wanted to go to Boston and study architecture; but finances and the convenience of Storrs, CT drove me to UConn. Environmental Engineers are sometimes seen as the people that clean up after all other engineers’ messes, and I’d say that that absolutely fits my personality type. Since my time here, I’ve specifically become more interested in brownfield remediation and wastewater treatment. Although it wasn’t what I had originally planned on pursuing, I am extremely fortunate to have been accepted into UConn’s School of Engineering and I have loved my experience with the high-caliber engineering program here ever since.

What has been your favorite class at UConn?

My favorite ENVE class at UConn so far has been ENVE 1000: Environmental Sustainability. While the nature of the class is more of an overview of what Environmental Engineering is all about, it is a fantastic introductory class for those just entering this field of study. From calculating your own ecological footprint to proposing new strategies on how to make UConn buildings/facilities more green, it truly made me realize what I want to pursue for a career.

Have there been challenges you’ve had to overcome at UConn so far?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face at UConn was adjusting to campus during the first week of school. It is definitely an unsettling experience to be starting the next chapter of your life in a completely different place; but everything fell into place after the first week. I wouldn’t change a thing.

What has been your favorite experience at UConn so far?

One of my favorite experiences so far at UConn has been my time as a First Year Experience Mentor. Not only has it allowed me to help my freshmen get acclimated to UConn culture; but it has also helped me polish my own leadership skills. I would highly recommend taking a UNIV class to any incoming UConn student.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to work for an engineering firm or other company that provides environmental services in the New England area.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Take risks. The best things in your life happen outside of your comfort zone. Also, stay active. The Freshman Fifteen is very much a real thing.

Jaclyn Sidman Jaclyn Sidman

Hometown: East Greenwich, Rhode Island 

Expected Graduation: May 2019

About Jaclyn

Awards/Scholarships: UConn Award Merit Scholarship

Research Group: Dr. Clausen and Dr. Dietz Research Spring 2019

Clubs/Activities: Volunteer with SWE, Shaolin Kempo Karate, Ukulele, UConn intramural sports

Why did you choose to major in Environmental Engineering?

I’ve always said that if I left the world just a little bit better than how I found it, then I had a happy life. Bettering the world can mean a lot of things, but to me it meant helping the environment. While this age of industry and technological growth produces many amazing things, it also negatively affects humans, habitats, animals, oceans, and the atmosphere. I want to do what I can—for people and the environment—to make this world just a little cleaner, a little better, and a little happier. 

What has been your favorite class at UConn? (ENVE class)

I enjoyed taking ENVE 4210 Environmental Engineering Chemistry. Prior to taking the class I was nervous that it was going to be too challenging because I struggled in general chemistry classes. It was a hard class, but it was also extremely interesting because it took general chemistry and applied it to science that pertained to my major. The professor for the class taught the material so well that while I was challenged, it was never more than I could handle or understand. It was one of my favorite classes because the material was interesting and was presented in a way that made sense to me. I ended the class doing very well and feeling like I truly understood the subject, which was exciting considering that I believed I would struggle in the class.

Have there been challenges you’ve had to overcome at UConn so far?

I have always struggled with finding balance in my life, and UConn has been no exception. Learning how to balance my time and energy has been a learning curve here. Engineering is definitely a lot classes and work, and learning how to do assignments the week before instead of the the night before, or seeing a professor after a lecture that left you confused instead of the day of the exam is a crucial skill. Not only does managing your time help you do better in classes, but it also helps you better understand the information that you are learning. Also, it helps with free time and seeing friends, doing clubs, and overall mental and emotional health. Scheduling your time and being proactive improves your whole life, not just your academic life.  Once I learned how to manage my time and be proactive with school, I found that I enjoyed my classes more and got far more out of them, and I also had more time to see my friends, peruse my hobbies, and generally feel more accomplished. 

What has been your favorite experience at UConn so far?

Sports here are well loved. Not only is going to football games and basketball games a great time with friends, the spirit and connectivity between everyone with UConn pride is amazing. Playing sports here is also great. While I don’t play any sports that UConn offers well enough to do club or college level, the range of intermural sports offered here is wide. It is a lot of fun to make a team with friends and play a sport together. Soccer and flag football have been two of my favorites. Oozeball, a muddy volleyball tournament that happens in the Spring, is such a fun experience, too. I think that everyone should get a group of friends together to make an Oozeball team at least once in their time at UConn, because it is a unique activity that you won’t soon forget. 

Has a certain professor had a significant impact on you?

I have had a lot of amazing professors here at UConn. Each professor in the Environmental Engineering department is so experienced and willing to help each student. Dr. Astitha and Dr. Agrios are some professors that have had very positive impacts on my college experience. I had Dr. Astitha for ENVE 3230 Introduction to Air Pollution and Dr. Agrios for ENVE 3200 Environmental Engineering Lab and ENVE 4210 Environmental Engineering Chemistry. These were all higher level classes with hard material, but these professors were always available to help me when I needed clarification or help. It is evident that they both care greatly about their classes, students, and the material they are teaching. They really want you to thrive in classes and in life. Dr. Astitha is my advisor as well, and she is always very responsive to my emails and helps me when I need guidance. These professors put in so much work to see us succeed and it is evident in the way that they teach their classes and interact with their students. Both Dr. Astitha and Dr. Agrios have helped me with class work, recommendations for internships, and guidance on graduate school. The professors in the Environmental Engineering department care about us long after we finish their classes, and I would not be where I am today without the help and guidance of professors like Dr. Astitha and Dr. Agrios. 

What are your plans after graduation?

Currently I am planning on getting a job, either in consulting or in the nonprofit sector. I would ideally like to work in hydrology or water resources, but I am also open to doing remediation work. My overall plan is to work for a few years, and then using my work and undergraduate experience to go back to graduate school to get a Masters degree. I plan on taking the FE exam this summer after graduation, so that I am on track to eventually take the PE exam and become a licensed professional engineer. 

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Study the major that you want to study. Go to the basketball game. Sleep in on a Saturday morning. Start prepping for the exam you have in two weeks. Four years sounds like a long time, but it goes by so quickly. As excited as I am for the next steps in my career and life, I will miss UConn, because it has been my home for four years. So don’t get so caught up in school that you don’t hang out with your friends, or miss every football game, or skip Oozeball every year. But on the other hand don’t get so swept up with friends and parties and sporting events that you don’t study for exams or you skip your 8 am classes. Life is about balance, and nothing needs balance more than your college experience. College is so much better once you learn how to balance academia with socializing. Don’t worry if you get overwhelmed by things at first. When you fall down, take a deep breath and pick yourself up. Having fun and doing well at school aren’t mutually exclusive, and it doesn’t have to be stressful either. If you put in the time and effort to do well there is nothing you can’t accomplish. Work hard and have fun, because this school and time in your life is so great. You will learn so much, do so much, and be so much more than you ever thought you could be.

Alumni

Farzaneh Mahmoodpoor Dehkordy Farzaneh Mahmoodpoor Dehkordy

Hometown: Tehran, Iran

Graduated: PhD, May 2019

About Farzaneh

Research Group: Bagtzoglou/Briggs

Research Focus: Groundwater flow modeling

Fellowships: University of Connecticut, Graduate School, Doctoral dissertation fellowship

Activities: Scuba diving, travelling, movies

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Environmental Engineering?

Environmental engineering spans a broad range of problems and requires interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, this makes studying environmental engineering interesting and fun. You can work with people from different backgrounds and interests and learn about a variety of topics which will help you improve people’s lives and our environment. Also, the environmental engineering department at UConn in general and in particular my advisors Dr. Bagtzoglou and Dr. Briggs are very supportive and friendly, which made it easier for me to make the decision of joining UConn ENVE department.

How did your choose your research group?

I was offered a great opportunity to work with Dr. Bagtzoglou and a group of great scientists at the USGS branch of geophysics on an exciting project on the dynamics of sediment water interface and its potential effects on greenhouse gas production led by Dr. Briggs. The project involves computation modeling, laboratory experimentation, and field works, and involves several different research groups across the US, which make it interesting and challenging. 

How has your research experience impacted you? 

Research has taught me a lot about life, I have learnt that whatever problem I am facing I can find the best solution when keeping an open mind on possible solutions and patiently searching with a systematic and scientific approach. Sometimes the problems may seem unsolvable but breaking them down to smaller and simplified problems can make them solvable. All in all, when there is a problem, “you” can find a solution. 

Have there been challenges you’ve had to overcome at UConn so far?

Whatever you want to do, there are hundreds of challenges you should overcome, and the challenges make what we do even more interesting. Working with a large group of people makes it more difficult to satisfy everyone in the team, this requires patience and management. Also, at the beginning of my PhD I had to change my department, which is of course challenging but possible. Sometime, you might need to teach courses that you never thought you would, for example I have done TA in the political science department as well, which in the end turned out to be one of my best experiences. 

What has been your most influential experience at UConn so far?

I had an interesting experience in my first year at UConn when I was the graduate assistant at Global House learning community in UConn. Dr. Hedley Freake, then the faculty director of Global House, trusted me with the job based on my passion for understanding different cultures and helping the students do so as well. In global house we were trying to introduce different cultures to undergraduate students from all over the world and help them learn how to be a global citizen and I, myself, learnt a lot from this process. My experience at Global House and working with Dr. Freake was unique and extremely influential for me.

Briefly describe your TA experience and the impact it has had on you.

I have been a TA in many different course, including Environmental Studies in the Political Science department, Environmental Modeling, Fluid Mechanics, and Advanced Fluid Mechanics. Owing to my extensive experience with teaching Fluid Mechanics under supervision of Dr. Bagtzoglou, I am now the instructor of Fluid Mechanics course. I have earned a great deal of teaching experience and knowledge because of my TA experience. I also further learnt about managing small and large groups of students and understanding their needs. Moreover, I really sensed the fact that you can explain a complicated concept in an understandable way, only if you have learnt that fully yourself. 

How have you learned to balance your life as a graduate student?

I think the only thing to do is just to enjoy whatever you are doing. To be honest I do not think graduate student work is too hard, especially if we consider that we are doing something that, one way or another, we like and have chosen to do so. 

What are your plans after you secure your degree?

I think I am more inclined to working in academia, something that involves both research and teaching, but I am keeping my eyes open for industry jobs as well. 

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Simple! Do what you like to do, as long as you can make that choice, and find the people that you like to work with.

Amir Erfanian Amir Erfanian

Graduated: PhD, December, 2017

Current Employer: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

About Amir

Research Group: Dr. Guiling Wang’s group at UConn and Dr. Rong Fu’s at UCLA

Clubs/Activities: 

ClimaMedia, co-founder, scientific media platform

EPSP, executive committee member, AGU focus group 

Hobbies: swimming, running, surfing, reading, hiking, watching documentaries

How has your experience at UConn prepared you for your job today?

UConn provided me with many opportunities to learn and grow. Close interactions with fellow talented graduate students and postdocs helped me expand my skill set, especially when first starting my program. Select core courses provided hands-on programming and modeling experience, which helped me get started in programming with Python, R, and NCL. These skills helped to accelerate my acquisition of the mathematical and statistical skills needed to conduct successful research projects and establish my expertise as a data scientist. UConn also gave me the opportunity to learn from excellent mentors who offered great advice in both my technical field and life in general. The whole package helped me succeed in finding a great postdoc position after finishing my degree. 

What was one of your favorite experiences at UConn?

One of my favorite experiences at UConn was starting the ClimaMedia project. It was a creative endeavor that I learned a lot from and was also a great way to channel my passion for my research and try to share the exciting news in the research world with everyone else. Making videos and working on the project also helped me to alleviate some stress during the many ups and downs of the final year of my PhD and writing my thesis. 

Did a certain professor have a significant impact on you

Many of my accomplishments in life can be attributed to guidance I received from my professors and mentors throughout the course of my PhD. But the one person who had the most significant impact on me was my advisor Professor Guiling Wang. She was a brilliant professor, mentor and advisor to me. She not only taught me the basics in our field, but also candidly shared her experiences and advice in many aspects of professional life including leadership, public speaking, critical thinking, and problem solving.  Her input/insight was essential in solving tough problems I faced in both professional and personal life. 

What route did you take to get to your current position?

My experience taught me that a good publication and presentation record alone is not enough to succeed in the competitive academic job market. The extra boost in getting to my current position came through efficient networking. During the course of my PhD studies, I served as a student committee member of an AGU focus group and attended several important meetings in our research community. Presenting in those meetings helped me build a stronger network. I was able to begin a professional relationship with my current supervisor at one of these meetings, after inviting her to be a part of my PhD committee. I also had the chance to interact with several other PIs at these meetings. Building and maintaining relationships with other professionals in your field can not only help you learn and grow as a researcher, but can also assist in the job hunting process after graduation.  

What advice would you give to current UConn students?

There are two basic pieces of advice that I would share with current UConn students. First, pick a profession that you’re passionate about. I have always believed that I could be among the best at something if I loved spending my time on it. If you love what you do, you will want to spend your time doing it and you will learn more. The more you learn, the more you will love it, and the cycle continues. The other key advice I would give is to constantly work on improving your soft skills. It is so easy to underestimate the importance of soft skills in the era of robots, computers, and AI that we live in but social relationships, effective communication, and leadership are skills that may be tough to learn through conventional academics but are nonetheless essential to success in every career.

Yan Li Yan Li

Graduated:PhD, 12/08/2016

Current Employer: Jilin University, China

About Yan

Research Group: Group of Contaminated Site Remediation

How has your experience at UConn prepared you for your job today?

The graduate courses of environmental engineering prepared me for the steady foundation of the environmental research. Besides, the every-week seminar and some environmental conferences broaden my horizon about the environmental studies and my professional presentation skills. In addition, some UConn social activities such as Career Fair and environmental engineering graduate association activities made me more active and care about the future engineering related career. 

How did your research experience impact you?

The research experience at UConn prepared me for the professional skill in environmental engineering field, especially various wastewater treatment technologies that could be applied in not only traditional wastewater treatment but also some other studies such as ex-situ contaminated site remediation.

What was one of your favorite experiences at UConn?

I love the policy of gym for students, the exercising instruments are various and fine and I can swim without additional charging fees. Besides, there are a lot of exercising courses such as Zumba, kickboxing and yoga that can relieve my research pressure and I can join for free every day! In China, it’s different story.

Did a certain professor have a significant impact on you?

My advisor Dr. Baikun Li impacted greatly on me and my research. Her serious attitude about research, her great passion on research and the depth of thinking problems impressed me on my career.  When I felt stuck in research and lost confidence in research, I thought what Dr. Li would do when she was in this situation. I still benefit greatly from her. 

What route did you take to get to your current position?

I got my Ph.D degree from UConn and applied for the projects of talent introduction in China.  Luckily I got the offer from my undergraduate university – Jilin University and became the associated professor of environmental engineering. 

What advice would you give to current UConn students?

No pain, no gain. 

Never give up until last minute. 

Keep balance between study and life.

Bingchuan Liu Bingchuan Liu

Graduated: Ph.D, graduated in May, 2015

Current Employer: Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China

About Bingchuan

How has your experience at UConn prepared you for your job today?

The research experience I gained at UConn had great influence to the preparation of my current job. Also, education abroad (especially in USA where the educational system is highly advanced) has given me much confident in finding a job in academia.

How did your research experience impact you?

The research experience at UConn has given me the ability of active/critical thinking in scientific research process and more importantly, proactivity. I think my advisor (Dr. Baikun Li) is a great Ph.D advisor (first and foremost, she was very nice). She taught me many skills in doing scientific research as well as in scientific writing. Without her help, I wouldn’t be able to publish 6 research articles in top ranking SCI journals during my pursuit of Ph.D degree in US.

What was one of your favorite experiences at UConn?

One of my favorite experience at UConn was playing Tennis with my friends on campus, especially during the summer holiday, when we just breathed the fresh air and enjoyed the beautiful nature and wonderful facilities all alone.

Did a certain professor have a significant impact on you?

Dr. Baikun Li was definitely the professor that had the most significant impact on me. The reason is exactly what I mentioned in the second question. Besides, I have a strong feeling to express my gratitude to her for that she accepted me as a Ph.D student in 2011 and gave me a full tuition waiver (was really excited by then). I have known many professors and most of them had given me a beautiful memory. Professor James Rusling is an old man. I was always wondered when he would be retired? To my surprise, during my first year at UConn, he was fixing my gas chromatography with his own fine tools, setting standard tests and analyzing the graphs…It was like he was the Ph.D student taking my job away.

What route did you take to get to your current position?

I applied directly for my current position. The government policy on talents by then had given me a convenient pathway to this job, and I had a bit of luck in it. I took this opportunity based on my self-evaluation of my background.

What advice would you give to current UConn students?

I advice that you need to try to know yourself better by taking as many opportunities as you can to participate activities/events/part time jobs, so you could then choose the right path for you.

Stefanie M. Shea Stefanie M. Shea

Graduated: Environmental Engineering, May 2015

Current Employer: Graduate Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO

About Stefanie

Research Group: Undergraduate Thesis advised by Dr. Chad Johnston

Clubs/Activities: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Many Mentors

How has your experience at UConn prepared you for your job today?

My undergraduate course work at UConn gave me a great foundation for my graduate level studies. I was pleasantly surprised with how easily I transferred into graduate school after several years away from school. I think a main reason why that transition was easy was because of my education at UConn. Additionally, the technical writing and public speaking skills that I learned while at UConn have been particularly beneficial to my career since graduation.

How did your research experience impact you?

My research experience at UConn was a significant reason for my decision to return to school for a graduate degree. It was my introduction to the research process and, after graduation, it was personal goal of mine to return to research in the future. Undergraduate research was a great learning experience and I look forward to using those lessons while pursuing my graduate research. 

What was one of your favorite experiences at UConn?

My favorite academic experience at UConn was the Senior Design project. It was an opportunity to apply all that I had learned in my 4 years at UConn and to work on a team with classmates whom I had developed close friendships with. Ultimately, my senior design project led me to a job in environmental remediation after graduation. I still love to return to UConn on Senior Design Day to see the projects that the Seniors have worked incredibly hard on and are so proud to present.

Did a certain professor have a significant impact on you

Dr. Timothy Vadas was my favorite professor at UConn. Dr. Vadas held me and my classmates to high standards and always tested our fundamental understanding of the concepts he taught. These expectations made me a better student and, ultimately, a better engineer.  Dr. Vadas has also been a significant mentor to me since graduation. I am thankful for all the connections I have with the faculty at UConn. 

What route did you take to get to your current position?

After graduation, I worked in environmental remediation at AECOM for three years. I had projects at all stages of the investigation and remediation process. I oversaw remediation activities at sites throughout Connecticut and helped report these activities to clients and regulatory agencies. While working for AECOM, I decided my passion in the environmental field lies in the technical side of the business. I chose to go back to go back to school for a graduate degree to advance my technical skills in environmental engineering. I started a master’s degree in environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines in August 2018. I am working with Chris Higgins studying the fate and transport of per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the subsurface. 

What advice would you give to current UConn students?

My best advice is to begin networking as early as possible. Grades and academic performance are important, but the connections you make will be equally important after your time at UConn. Go to career fairs even if you aren’t looking for a job yet. I would also encourage you to reach out to industries you’re interested in to ask questions or to shadow them for a day. It’s intimidating at first, but people who are passionate about what they do are usually quite happy to share some advice and guidance. Keep in touch with the contacts you make even after you graduate. You never know when you might need them.

David Wanik David Wanik

Graduated: MS, 2012; PhD, 2015

Current Employer: Sr. Data Scientist @ Hartford Steam Boiler/Munich Re Group

About David

Research Group: Hydrometeorology and Hydrologic Remote Sensing Group; Eversource Energy Center

Clubs/Activities: Guitar; running; travel

How has your experience at UConn prepared you for your job today?

UConn has a rich and supportive research environment which gives you the freedom to explore a topic as broadly or deeply as you want. Taking courses outside of my comfort zone helped me develop into a better scientist (especially those course that involve some form of programming or modeling.) Going through this graduate program has given me the confidence to tackle any research question I might want to try to answer. The program has also taught me how to work on a team and the importance of keeping a pulse on emerging technologies, and it has firmly convinced me that anything is possible with enough coffee! 

How did your research experience impact you?

My graduate research was on how to combine remote sensing products, numerical weather prediction outputs and utility infrastructure data into a power outage forecast model (see eversource.uconn.edu for some highlights). The model predicts the intensity and spatial distribution of the power outages, and these predictions are used to help pre-stage restoration crews before a storm strikes, which helps to decrease the duration of power outages. My research experience gave me the opportunity to work closely with a broad range of industry and academic stakeholders who could give me advice on how to continuously improve my research. And that has really stuck with me today – I like to bring everyone to the table when doing research to make sure I don’t have any unintentional blind spots.

What was one of your favorite experiences at UConn?

The day our Eversource Energy Center moved into the Innovation Partnerships Building (IPB, UConn Tech Park). That’s when I knew that all of the work we had done on storm outage forecasting, tree and forest management and grid resilience (2011 – 2017) would always have a home at UConn. I also think “13 year old me” would think publishing a paper with NASA scientists is also pretty cool!

Did a certain professor have a significant impact on you

I owe it all to my PhD faculty advisors and collaborators – Manos Anagnostou, Brian Hartman (now at BYU), Marina Astitha and Guiling Wang. Mentoring and advising students is a 24/7 job, and I always felt at ease during my graduate career knowing that I could reach out with any personal or research question. I would always be impressed when I would fire off an email with research results at 10 PM and have good comments back by 11 PM! That enthusiasm and support is something I hope I can pass on someday.

What route did you take to get to your current position?

I took an “all of the above” approach, trying to balance industry, academia and professional development. I worked full-time at Eversource Energy while doing my Masters (thesis option) and I worked full-time at United Technologies Corp. during my PhD classwork. After I passed my PhD qualifying exam in 2013, I transitioned “in-residence” for my research and took my EIT licensure exam (and found I was well-prepared). I worked hard on my research and had always taken extra graduate classes while at UConn, so I was able to graduate in 1.5 years for my Masters (2012) and in 2.5 years for my PhD (2015). I was a post-doc for a semester before the formation of the “Eversource Energy Center”, where I served as the Center’s first manager and as an Assistant Research Professor in ENVE. I wanted to share what I had learned in my PhD program, and was grateful to be given the opportunity to teach a grad class on “Predictive Analytics for Scientists and Engineers” in 2016 and 2017. Today, I see that many of those students use data science in their research or industry careers today, and I’m glad I helped give them a start in an emerging field. I had met the folks from Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) in 2013 when I was a PhD student at a research meeting, and we kept in touch over the years, and when the time was right I decided to transition from UConn to HSB. I love my job today as a data scientist working on IoT, remote sensing, and artificial intelligence projects and try to hire UConn grads whenever possible. I still advise PhD students, go to conferences, and am teaching graduate classes on analytics and deep learning, all of which help make me a better data scientist and engineer.

What advice would you give to current UConn students?

The father of our 26th President (Theodore Roosevelt) used to tell his son:

“Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.”

… which, in the context of a UConn ENVE graduate student, loosely translates to “you should be writing that research paper that you’ve been putting off!!!” 

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about my experiences or if you’re working on an analytics-related project and want to geek out (dave.wanik@uconn.edu).