Science and Engineering Student Profiles

Freelance Writer

Science and engineering graduates shape the world we live in. From building bridges to creating complex pharmaceuticals to developing electronic marvels, these graduates explore and solve many of the problems in the 21st century. Careers in these disciplines remain in high demand not only for the knowledge graduates bring to the workplace, but also for their problem-solving and innovation skills.

Kiana Frank, University of Rochester

“I’d like to say that I was a really cool, fun, popular kid in high school—and I was in my own way—but actually, I was a huge nerd.”

Growing up in Kailu, a small town on Oahu, Hawaii, Kiana says that when she wasn’t dancing around the living room with her siblings or doing homework, she was studying science. “It was my passion,” she explains.

She attended the select Kamehameha High School, set up in 1887 by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop for students of Hawaiian ancestry, where she was a member of the speech, debate, and math teams, as well as being part of an honors science research team. She was also elected to the National Honor Society.

Her education at Kamehameha defined her as a Hawaiian, Kiana says, and was the basis of a commitment she made to return to Hawaii and inspire younger generations to become committed to their culture.

Kiana’s interest in college began around fourth grade. “I told my guidance counselor that I needed to work ‘very incredibly’ hard because I knew that the only way I was going to be able to go to college would be on a full merit scholarship.” And years later, the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, offered Kiana just that—a full-tuition merit scholarship for all four years. She saw Rochester’s great science department as a stepping-stone to her dream of becoming a marine microbiologist.

But there were definite cultural adjustments at Rochester. As the only native Hawaiian there, Kiana felt for the first time she was a minority. “I grew up in a Hawaiian home, in a Hawaiian-ish community, attended a Hawaiian school, and was surrounded by people that look very similar to me with similar value structures. No one ever treated me as ‘different.’ I’m 5’11”, I’m brown, I wear flamboyantly colored floral island prints, and I always wear a flower behind my ear. Boy, did I stand out!”

Majoring in molecular genetics and minoring in math, Kiana also did independent research in an oral pathology lab. “I was able to focus and overload on science and math classes rather than being required to take literature or history. Also, I was able to take courses I was interested in, like linguistics and painting.”

Graduating magna cum laude in 2008, she was accepted to a Ph.D. program at Harvard, her dream school. “When I was three,” she recalls, laughing, “my dad used to dress me up in pint-sized Harvard t-shirts, start our home video camera running, ask me, ‘Where do you want to go to college?’ and document my response. Those videos make us laugh hysterically now because, well, now I’m actually at Harvard!”

Field work is one of her favorite activities, Kiana says. Working up to 20 hours a day on a research boat with scientists from all over the world is productive, demanding, and great for building scientific collaborations.

Her dream remains to return to Hawaii and secure a position at the University of Hawaii. “The most important thing to me is to use my experiences and expertise in marine biology to benefit my people and my home.”

Joseph (Joe) Kamel, Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Joe describes his family as small but “large in relatives.” Because his parents valued education so highly, college was always part of his life plan.

At Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn, he was interested in both sports and business. In addition to playing football, basketball, and being on the swim team, he also tried tennis, handball, and running. Sports helped Joe learn the importance of always being on his feet and dealing with pressure.

Joe chose Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in part because of its proximity to LaGuardia Airport. “I wanted to become a pilot, so I went there my first year for ground school. I then attended another college for two years to get real flight time, but after that I came back to Vaughn,” he says.

“I found a number of different fields fascinating, and I wanted to complete them all. At Vaughn I was able to integrate all aspects of engineering into one degree. The first year I was there I majored in Aircraft Operation but when I returned, I switched to mechatronic engineering.”

In the classroom Joe got a lot of satisfaction from being part of a team, working with other students on a project or common goal. Outside the classroom he liked to go fishing with his father and relax with his friends, either on cross-country drives or simply sitting on a city rooftop.

Joe has one particularly good memory of Vaughn that, to him, typifies the school’s attitude towards students. “I had just started there, and frankly, I didn’t know much! A man I didn’t recognize asked me how I felt about the school and what I thought should be changed. I spoke honestly. Later I found out that the man I had been talking to was the president!” he says. “Wow. I was pretty impressed.”

Currently Joe lives in Columbus, Indiana, where he works at Cummins, Inc. as a control engineer. He has been involved in projects as varied as designs for the International Space Station Equipment and a project involving a rover that would scavenge the planet Mars for data.

Joe is contemplating continuing his education: perhaps integrating work in neurology with his mechatronics background. “I have always wanted to invent something that would change the world we live in,” he says—and then mentions one of his favorite quotes by André Gide: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Valerie Coulter, Trine University

Valerie describes herself as the “stereotypical bookworm” who spent most of her time in the library, two blocks from her house in Lebanon, Indiana.

“I was always extremely technical,” she says. “My favorite toys were Legos and K’nex. Anything that broke in the house I had to be part of fixing it. My parents always gave me the broken appliances so that I could take them apart—do you know how many parts there are in an iron or a hard drive? I built my first computer when I was a freshman in high school.”

Skipping sixth grade, Valerie says, forever set her apart, and she mostly kept to herself. “It was really hard in high school. I was ‘the smart kid,’” she says. “I never had a chance to fit in. Around sophomore year, I just stopped caring about that aspect of my life and focused instead on getting the most out of my public high school education.”

As a result, Valerie spent more and more time with her church group, going on missions to Tennessee and “working around town” to help the elderly and disabled maintain their homes.

She says that while her parents never required certain grades, they did expect Valerie and her older sister to do their best. She was obsessed with moon missions and watched Apollo 13 many times, imagining herself not in the lunar capsule but rather at Mission Control, working to solve problems.

When it came time for college, Valerie looked at two schools with strong engineering programs, but her visit to Trine University in Angola, Indiana, made the decision easy. “Although I only spent one day on Trine’s campus, I was immediately more comfortable with the students and faculty there.”

Valerie’s mother, a nurse, constantly encouraged her to live her dream and to ignore any possible blowback from entering a mostly male domain. “I started and stayed in chemical engineering all four years [at Trine].
I loved it.”

One of the highlights of her senior year was participating in a national design competition sponsored by the American Institute for Chemical Engineers. It was a bit of a monster, she says, involving both design and economic analysis, but also a lot of fun. “We got to use all of the knowledge we’d accumulated in our classes and apply it to a real-world problem.”

Outside of class, playing in jazz band was Valerie’s passion. While she says she is no jazz professional, she believes music relates to engineering in different and complementary ways.

Looking back, Valerie says Trine was a “spectacular place to learn. Most of the students are down-to-earth and really care about others. The faculty honestly wants to see their students succeed. All in all, it’s a community that cares about its students. I would choose to go there again in a heartbeat.”

Now a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering at Yale, she looks forward to a career in academia and research. Meanwhile, she is engaged to her college boyfriend and hopes to settle in Virginia.

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