Published: June 27, 2022

Elizabeth Wallace
Elizabeth Wallace
Header Image: Wallace hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

Name: Elizabeth (Izzy) Wallace
Hometown: Lexington, Ky
Major: Environmental Engineering Bachelor Accelerated Masters (BAM) student
Year: Senior

My path to engineering was not straight and narrow.

As a child growing up in Lexington Kentucky, I showed a talent for the arts and a natural curiosity for science. However, for a long time, the latter of my interests was pushed to the back.

I was singularly focused on my goal of becoming a ballerina. I achieved this goal at the age of seventeen when I joined the New York City Ballet. I continued to dance professionally for the following eight years, but along the way, I realized this wasn’t what I wanted.

One day on a hike with a loved one, I offhandedly said, “I wish I could be an environmental scientist.”

He replied, “Why can't you?”

No one had ever given stock to the idea that I could do something with this other passion of mine.

When I got home, I ordered some used textbooks and applied to the local community college. Unexpectedly, I found I was getting more fulfillment out of my night classes than in my ballet career. So, I officially retired from ballet and began classes at the University of Colorado Boulder.

I am now focused on a new goal, protecting our environment and determining how we can optimize human development within the constraints of our delicate ecosystems. I want to not only ask the important questions, and expand the collective knowledge base through academic research, but be a part of implementing the solutions. This is what drove me in the direction of environmental engineering.

I’m now entering my 4th year as an undergraduate student in Environmental Engineering and am pursuing a concurrent master’s in Environmental Engineering with a focus on air quality.

My current research interests within Dr. Hannigan’s lab focus on the impacts of energy use and its contribution to community-level air pollution exposure.

In a previous research opportunity, through an NSF-funded REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates), I was able to study ambient levels of air toxics near fracking operations in residential Colorado neighborhoods.

I love that here at CU Boulder I have not only been able to develop the technical skills required to achieve my goals but also encourage other young people to learn about environmental issues in their community and pursue careers in STEM.

I recently completed a DLA (Discovery Learning Apprenticeship) designing and piloting a project-based STEM curriculum that leverages a soil quality monitor “s-pod”, newly developed here at CU Boulder in the Hannigan Lab, with the goal of enhancing student engagement in STEM in rural Colorado high schools.

Within this program, and other CU Engineering outreach activities, I have been able to encourage migrant, refugee, and rural young people across Colorado to pursue careers in STEM.

I love that I’m given this opportunity to be that support for students who might not have received the necessary resources or encouragement at their school or at home. Maybe even students like me, who didn’t believe they could be an engineer at first, but absolutely can!