Published: April 25, 2023 By

Brittany MichaelEach semester, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering facilitates connections between alumni and current students through the Alumni Student Mentor Program. Students and their mentors meet several times over the course of the semester to discuss professionalism, career advancement and perspectives on engineering.

Brittany Michael (ChemEngr'12 ) was selected as the Outstanding Mentor Award winner for the 2023 spring semester for her work with senior Saylor Perez.

"It has been an absolute pleasure to have Brittany as my mentor for the past year," Perez said. "Not only is she spectacularly kind, but also extremely helpful when it comes to knowledge of the industry. She has helped guide my next career moves by providing great advice and making many introductions on my behalf. I look forward to continuing to foster this relationship.”

Michael answered a few questions about her time as a mentor.

What motivated you to become a mentor for the department?
I had a really challenging time in the program. The University of Colorado Boulder's chemical engineering program is HARD. I was really uncertain if engineering would be a fit for me when I graduated, and I was a bit nervous about entering the industry. I made just about every mistake one could make when it came to applying for jobs, interviewing, negotiating and conducting myself at work. I eventually learned from these mistakes and became very successful. But, I would much rather help students avoid those same mistakes by sharing my knowledge and experience with the next generation of engineers. Mentoring allows me to make a meaningful impact on the professional development and career paths of young engineers.

What do you hope to impart to the next generation of chemical and biological engineers?
I hope to impart the importance of lifelong learning, adaptability, business savvy and collaboration in the ever-evolving field of engineering. I want to encourage students to think critically, communicate effectively and embrace diversity and inclusivity in their work.

How has the engineering and professional world changed since you graduated, and what new challenges do you see up-and-coming engineers facing?
The prevalence of technology has necessitated that chemical engineers learn programming skills. Engineers who can program are in high demand because they are able to design and develop software that interacts with the hardware components of various devices or efficiently automate analysis tasks.

Another notable change is the increasing prevalence of remote work. Teams are more likely to be distributed across the country or even the world, and engineers need to be able to collaborate effectively with their colleagues regardless of their physical location. Future engineers will find video conferencing and messaging apps to be a breeze to learn, but there is a lot of nuance and understanding required when working with colleagues abroad, whether due to language barriers or cultural differences.

Looking to the future, engineers will likely face new challenges. The increasing complexity of engineering projects and the demand for multi-disciplinary skills will continue to be a trend. In addition, engineers will need to learn to work effectively with people from different cultures as globalization continues to shape the engineering profession. This will require the development of strong soft skills, such as cross-cultural communication, empathy and flexibility.

What are some things you’ve learned from your students as a mentor?
I swear the students in the program are getting smarter every year. As a mentor, I have had the opportunity to learn from my students about their experiences with current internships and laboratory work. It's exciting to hear about new engineering applications and what other industries are up to. They have also shared the challenges they are facing when applying for jobs, as the job market is becoming increasingly competitive at the entry-level.

In addition, I have learned from my students about the changes in coursework at the university. They have told me about the new technologies and techniques that they are learning and the increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and sustainable engineering practices. This has helped me to stay current with emerging trends in the field and to better support my students as they navigate these changes.

How would you pitch your fellow alumni on becoming mentors?
Becoming a mentor allows you to make a meaningful impact on the next generation of engineers and stay connected to the latest industry trends and technologies. Mentoring allows you to develop valuable leadership, communication and coaching skills that can benefit your professional career.