A Path Combining Chemical Engineering and Communications
Andrea Griffin, E’24, chemical engineering, grew up in the greater Milwaukee area of Wisconsin. She recalls a seventh-grade class, “Project Lead the Way,” which was her first experience with engineering. “It was mostly mechanical engineering.” She later applied to Northeastern University as a political science and international affairs major, but after her senior year of AP Government, she decided she didn’t want to go into politics. “I switched into chemical engineering. I realized I’ve always been very STEM-minded,” says Griffin. She chose Northeastern because of what she calls the academic vibes: “everyone was academically motivated and independent.” The Dialogue of Civilizations global experience, the co-op program, and the walkable campus at the heart of Boston were also factors.
Before even starting classes, Griffin participated in the Summer Bridge program for engineering and science students. She describes, “It’s for black, Latinx, and first gen students to come together and form a community before we came to campus. A few professors helped us with review sessions so that we’d feel up to date.” Once on campus, Griffin joined the honors program and in her second year became part of the honors alumni mentoring. “My mentor was a chemical engineer; she’s been absolutely phenomenal for every part of my Northeastern experience,” she says.
Griffin enjoyed her cornerstone class in which she completed three projects throughout the semester. “You’re learning a lot really fast. Professor Hertz made it such a great experience. Our class was about games. Our final project was an interactive exhibit for the Boston Children’s Museum. The individualized learning and hands-on demonstrations were great. Everything was cohesive. He was super available,” she says. Another class, differential equations with Prasanth George, helped cement a tip she learned from the Summer Bridge: always go to office hours. “Every week I went to his office hours to cement my learning and chat a lot. As it was my first college class experience at 8am on Mondays, it helped to make the class feel more comfortable.”
Griffin’s Design Lab 1 class was the first to feel like chemical engineering. “We have a unit operations lab that has a lot of the different machines that you would see out in industry with process equipment—mixer, piping system, distillation tube,” she explains. Griffin enjoyed the experimentation with the machines. At the end of the course, instructor John Wiley, took whoever was interested in a water treatment plant tour in Massachusetts. “We got to see how what we were working on in class scales up in the real world.”
For a global experience, Griffin participated in a Dialogue of Civilizations for Sustainable Building Systems in Brazil. Given the pandemic at the time she participated in this experience virtually.
Griffin’s first co-op was with a hydrogen fuel cell company in Billerica, Massachusetts with their material verification testing in the membrane electrode assembly from different companies. “We would compare the top material with less expensive ones and analyze them on the most basic level.” Running the materials through different tests under various humidity and temperature conditions, steady state under stress tests, and other comparisons against the high-quality material would provide the other companies with areas of improvement. “There was a lot of hands-on lab work operating two test stations.”
Beyond classes and co-op, Griffin is involved in Husky Ambassadors, the Northeastern tour guide program. “Over the pandemic, I was on the programming for internal events and communications committee for blogs and TikTok posts,” she says. During her third year, she was the communications co-chair and now chairs the organization at large. “Two hundred and fifty tour guides. That’s my biggest time commitment.” She is also a member of the Black Engineering Student Society and a DJ through WRBB radio. “I would find undiscovered artists on TikTok and promote them.”
Her most recent co-op finished in December 2022 in a technical marketing role at Rogers Corporation. “That was inspired by my communications work in Husky Ambassadors, which led to my marketing minor.” At Rogers, Griffin put together product announcements. “My supervisors were all chemical engineers by study, but we chose to diverge from the standard path. I still have to understand the product on a technical level, but how I talk about them is different for different markets.” Assessing where the products go in assembly lines, doing market research for CPAP devices, and learning about the tests and standards for ISO and FDA. “It was a very interesting switch up to find an intersection between engineering and marketing.”
Griffin looks forward to her final co-op in fall 2023. “I think it’ll still be technical marketing. I’m more extroverted, and I like the collaboration that comes with working across a bunch of different teams, like sales and product development and marketing. Down the road, I’ll get my MBA in marketing, but after I’m with a company for a little bit.”
She’s glad she went on co-op to focus her interests on engineering and communication, rather than just four years of chemical engineering. “Something, in general, I had to remind myself is that my path will be different from everyone else’s,” says Griffin. She encourages other students to “remain comfortable with the path you are on as long as you are sticking to your passions, and your resume and career will come together.”