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Bringing Chemistry to Summer Camp

Lowell Sun Image by Andrew Dunn
Janice Lane's group was one of the first to use the new 8,500-square-foot-space in the basement of the Francis College of Engineering. From left to right, Bharath Ramathathagari, camp staff; Emily Care of Andover; Traci Vaillancourt of Methuen; Sophia Ju of Andover; and Lane.

Lowell Sun
By Andrew Dunn

LOWELL -- A group of aspiring scientists and engineers met at UMass Lowell to discuss and collaborate on solutions to such critical issues as renewable energy, recycling and toxic chemicals in laundry detergents. The group was made of female high-school students from the area who developed solutions to some important questions at UMass Lowell's weeklong Engineering for Sustainability camp.

The groups were led by students and professors at UMass Lowell, including Janice Lane. Lane finished her bachelor of science in chemical engineering in May and will be pursuing a master's in plastics engineering beginning this fall. Over the summer, she has been helping with research at UML and helped lead and mentor this camp as a counselor.

Q: Having grown up in Texas, what brought you to UMass Lowell?

A: I started my first year in Texas and my university didn't accept me into the chemical-engineering program. Even after reapplying, I only got into some other engineering programs, and I knew from a young age that I really wanted chemical. My parents are from New England so when I went looking, I wanted to go somewhere in Boston but it was unaffordable, especially for an out-of-stater. So I ended up applying to UMass Lowell more as a backup, but it ended up being the biggest opportunity for me.

Q: What drew you to chemical engineering?

A: In high school, I had an amazing teacher that made me so excited about chemistry. I remember her being like, 'You can make explosives.
You can make green chemicals. You can do so many things with this.' I really enjoyed mathematics, and without any understanding of what I can do with this, someone suggested chemical engineering, and I just kind of went with it.

Q: Is this camp your first experience as a counselor?

A: This is the first year the school has done this camp and actually my first time being a counselor.

Q: What has the experience been like?

A: The girls were a little quiet at first, but after that, it was really great to work with them.

I see myself in a lot of them because I see them developing that interest in a similar way that I did. I really enjoyed it.

Q: This camp is specifically for girls. Were there any discussions as to what it means to be a female in a STEM field?

A: Not really. I think there's a bigger challenge than just being a female in the field. It's about being interested and being excited about the math and science that is going on. To me, it shouldn't be important whether or not they are women. It should be important if they love what they're doing and want to do that every day.

Q: Do you have a favorite moment from the camp?

A: One of the girls, every time the instructor asked, whether it is separating chemicals or lighting a surface on fire to sanitize it, she was, like, 'Yes, I want to do this.' I really hope that she pursues science because, to me, it's so clear that she was meant for it.

Q: Did you ever have any struggles because you were a woman in a male-dominated field?

A: Obviously, I had more males in my class than females. To me, it's more important, though, that instead of saying, "We are female engineers or scientists," we say, "We are engineers or scientists."

Q: Outside of engineering, what do you do for fun?

A: Another thing that made me more interested in chemistry was, it was like a recipe. From my younger age, I remember being in the kitchen and loving cooking. Whenever I have enough time, I definitely love to make new things and experiment in the kitchen.

Q: Where would you like to find yourself in 10 years?

A: Another reason I always wanted to go into engineering was I felt like it was an opportunity to give back to people. I've always imagined myself doing some type of research in industry where whatever it is I'm developing goes right back to consumers and improves their lives. I have no idea what, exactly, that looks like but, to me, it's so important that I find something that I want to develop, something that people will benefit from.

Q: What advice would you give to females thinking of going into a STEM field?

A: Mainly to not let anything stop you. It's easy to hear, "I'm not a numbers person," or "I'm not good at math." And I think many people are interested in science in a basic way but they allow that mentality to stop them from pursuing it. I would tell them, "Don't let that stop you." Personally, I struggled a lot. I worked really hard for good grades, to understand, to do what I wanted to do. It's not easy, but it's life in so many aspects. If you like science and you want to pursue it, you should do it.