Published: Sept. 13, 2018

Name: Melissa Estep
Hometown: San Ramon, CA
Advisor: Joe Kasprzyk, Water Resource Engineering

My Path in Engineering

Melissa EstepI grew up in the Bay Area in California, but moved to Folsom, between Sacramento and Tahoe for high school. I always had an interest in science growing up and hoped to become a marine biologist at a young age. During high school I found that I enjoyed math as well and applied to engineering programs in order to integrate the two disciplines together. As an undergraduate I studied industrial and systems engineering (ISE), and had an incredible mentor, Dr. Najmedin Meshkati, who directed my research on implementing sustainable water and sanitation systems in developing countries. Through Dr. Meshkati, I was connected to the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, under whom I was able to work as an intern at the State Department in Washington, D.C. I was profoundly impacted by my experience there and became aware of the importance of managing water globally to ensure human and economic health, and to prevent conflict.

After college I worked for four years at a manufacturing company and moved up within the company, eventually managing a team of six to optimize processes.  However, I eventually realized that apart from helping my team members succeed, I did not find the end results of my work fulfilling. I pivoted my focus back to what I was originally interested in: the environment and, specifically, water. I took a position as an environmental consultant, as well as a significant pay cut, in order to familiarize myself with the field and prepare myself for school, where I knew I’d eventually return. I ultimately chose to return to engineering rather than policy in order to learn skills specific to water resource engineering and management that could be applied to policy. I felt that I needed these “hard” skills to be successful in a policy position relating to water. I am currently studying water resource engineering, and performing research that integrates engineering, policy, economics, and community resilience, as well as an optimization component that draws from my previous profession as an industrial engineer. My research is a great integration of all of my interests and experiences.

Why CU Boulder?

I chose to attend CU for a variety of reasons. I had already been living in Boulder, so it was easy to continue to stay in the place I had come to call home. I love the mountains and had a hard time imagining moving away from them. I had been accepted to Stanford as well as another high-level school, which left me with a difficult decision. I found that the professors and students at CU were very easy to connect with and formed a strong network. The professors appeared to be engaged with their students, accessible, and still very accomplished. Everyone seemed to have a healthy work-life balance, and shared similar interests to mine. I knew I did not want my graduate experience to be in an environment where I was competing with other students or where I did not have any time for life outside of school. I also appreciated the graduate student workspace and amenities at CU. Finally, I was lucky enough to receive a Fellowship for five years to pursue my PhD.

My experience at CU has proven to be what I expected and more. All of the graduate students I have worked with have been incredible people, many of which are now my friends. The professors are clearly passionate about their work, making the courses engaging. There are opportunities to expand my learning if I make the effort to do so, through seminars from my department and others. The graduate department truly feels like a close community. CU as a whole also offers great services for its students through its health department and student events. And of course, the picturesque views of the Flatirons and the Indian Peaks beyond are not a terrible backdrop for studying.