Published: Sept. 25, 2018

Hometown: Mesa, AZ
Advisors: Jennifer Cha & Andrew Goodwin

My path to engineering

Alex HarrisWhile growing up in Mesa, Arizona, some of my earliest memories about science were with my grandfather at the Phoenix Science Center, gazing at the planets through his telescope and experimenting with his homemade Tesla coil. These experiences were what ultimately sparked my curiosity for science and laid the foundation for my interest in STEM-based curriculum from elementary school. When I began applying to colleges my senior year of high school, selecting engineering as my major was an easy decision, however, I was undecided on the type of engineering.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through my freshman year at the University of Arizona that I realized that chemical engineering was the focus for me. In an introductory class to chemical engineering, taught by Dr. Paul Blowers, I was inspired by the endless practical applications that chemical engineering principles could be applied to solve real-world problems. Applications ranging from brewing beer more efficiently to utilizing algae as a biofuel to minimize dependence on fossil fuels.

After graduating with my BS in chemical engineering I went on to work in industry performing energy assessments for Ingersoll Rand in Seattle, Washington. These assessments were focused on improving the energy efficiency of industrial manufacturing facilities. After three years in this position, I wasn’t learning as much as I would have liked from a scientific standpoint, so I started looking at different career paths within chemical engineering and realized that the jobs that interested me most required more training. Therefore, I decided to return to school and improve my scientific skillset with a goal of earning a PhD in chemical engineering.

Why CU Boulder?

Colorado has always been a place I’ve wanted to live because of all the outdoor activities this state has to offer. So when I was applying to graduate schools, I applied to the three main universities with chemical engineering programs in Colorado. CU was always my top choice because of the graduate program’s ranking, research areas, lab facilities and proximity to the mountains, so when I received my acceptance letter into the graduate program, it was an easy decision to attend CU.

There are many things I love about CU, but the main thing I love is the location. Graduate school is definitely a marathon with ups and downs along the way, which can take a toll on graduate students. However, since CU is located at the base of the Flatirons in a city with many parks and open spaces, it is very easy to take a break from the day-to-day grind and stresses of graduate school to refresh. The location of CU has been something I’ve grown to appreciate more and more as I progress through my graduate studies.