As a climber and a mathematician, Darice Guittet doesn’t shy away from a problem.
Her pursuit of the best route led her from Pasadena to Santa Barbara to Boulder. From writing to engineering to math.
So how does a student who never thought she would do math end up not only graduating with a degree in the subject but earning the highest GPA in her class, becoming the Outstanding Graduate for Academic Achievement?
For one, this isn’t her first time as an undergraduate student. The Pasadena native earned her first bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2012.
“Back then I was really into art and writing and kind of imagined myself more as a writer, I guess,” Guittet said. “After graduation, I found the first job that I could get. I was working as a community care provider for people with disabilities and writing on the side. After about a year and a half I realized I had to go back to school because I needed to find a more fulfilling career.”
She began studying anatomy and physiology at Santa Barbara City College with an eye toward physical therapy or medicine.
“I had great professors who encouraged me to really pursue my academic potential,” Guittet said. “I kept on following my interests, and eventually I realized I had to go get a four-year degree.”
Her boyfriend, Arthur Guittet, who’s now her husband, was preparing to graduate and leave Santa Barbara, and both found what they were seeking in Boulder: He, a great job using his PhD in mechanical engineering, and she, a top-tier university to continue exploring her interests.
And for both of them, exceptional bouldering and rock climbing.
“Outside of school, that’s my main focus,” Guittet said. “It’s very important to me. It’s hard to explain why, but I love doing it. Nearly all my friends are climbers. I love the challenge. I love being outdoors. It’s a hobby that’s both physical and problem-solving, and it’s kind of creative.”
Unafraid of a challenge, Guittet started at CU Boulder as a biochemistry major, but two weeks before starting switched to chemical engineering. In her year pursuing that major, she conducted research in the lab of Professor Hendrik Heinz aimed at creating eco-friendly cement.
Heinz and her primary mentor, PhD student Tariq Jamil, described Guittet as “diligent, intelligent and determined.”
“Among the more than 20 undergraduate students who have come to my lab in recent years, Darice has made the most scientifically valuable contribution,” Heinz said. “She programmed an entire graphical user interface to generate atomistic models of calcium-silicate-hydrate, which is a major phase in cement and critical to understanding setting and mechanical properties of concrete.”
She participated in CU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and presented a poster on her work at an international conference. Heinz said a forthcoming peer-reviewed paper will include Guittet as an author.
Meanwhile, Guittet continued exploring her interests in research and renewble energy through a summer internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, where she became enamored with data science and statistics.
That experience, coupled with a eureka moment while taking differential equations and physical chemistry concurrently in spring 2017, caused her to pivot once again to applied math with a minor in computer science.
Benjamin Miquel, who taught her in differential equations, said Guittet was eager to understand the underlying concepts and bridge them with the broader picture.
“I remember some very interesting discussions during my office hours when she would grasp very quickly the limits of concepts and how these concepts could be extended or generalized,” Miquel said. “She was continuously giving the impression of being several steps ahead.”
Her academic capabilities and intellectual curiosity created a near-flawless collegiate record for Guittet, who graduates Dec. 20 with an expected GPA of 3.98. After graduation she’ll start a full-time job at NREL doing power system modeling and is considering a master’s degree in the future.
“There’s just so many opportunities to pursue, especially in engineering,” Guittet said. “I would strongly encourage people to at least try a bit of everything.”