Now being a senior, I have a very different perspective on what Chemical Engineering is compared to when I was a freshman. Initially, I thought I was going to be overwhelmed with chemistry, and my classes would be an extension of concepts covered in my high school AP Chemistry class. However, over time, I have realized that Process Engineering is a more accurate description for this major. Chemical Engineers are optimization experts. They design and manage chemical processes. My classes have been much more focused on how to optimize product output in an industrial process than focusing on atomic and elemental science (although there’s definitely a fair share of that too).
When I was a freshman, the first Chemical Engineering class I took was CHE 120 – Introduction to Chemical Engineering. This class covered many different aspects of what it is like to be a chemical engineer, and dived into some basic concepts, like mass and energy balances of simple chemical reactions. During my freshmen year, I also took CHEM 105, which is a general chemistry course that covers many different topics in chemistry that you will utilize in later classes. This chemistry class also is the first laboratory class I took, conducting experiments in groups, and writing up formal lab reports. These two technical classes gave me a good introduction to Chemical Engineering, but I had no idea what was coming sophomore year.
During my sophomore year, I got a rude awakening with CHE 330 – Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics. Engineering is a tough major, and this class definitely set the tone for the rest of my technical undergraduate classes. This should not scare you off though – engineering IS tough. That’s why you’re interested in Viterbi. Thermodynamics is the first class that really picks up the pace. My sophomore year was also when I learned the value of a study group. The content is difficult, and studying with others in a collaborative environment is key to doing well.
My junior year, I began to take classes in my emphasis. One thing that is so neat about Chemical Engineering is that this major covers such a large scope of topics, from biotechnology to petroleum to polymers. In my study group of 6 people, we are split among 4 different emphases, all focused on going down different paths when we graduate. These emphasis classes help introduce you to a specific field within Chemical Engineering, and provide you with technical skills going into that field after your undergraduate studies. My emphasis is in petroleum, so I got to take four technical classes, exposing me to various areas within petroleum engineering, including production engineering, drilling, formation evaluation, and well completion. My petroleum classes were all taught by lecturers who are currently working in the industry, so they have a current point of view on the state of the industry.
During my last two years, I have finally gotten the opportunity to take some laboratory classes specifically related to Chemical Engineering. These classes involve experiments on different topics in Chemical Engineering. The experiments last 2-3 hours, working in groups, and are followed by a formal report, sometimes being up to 50 pages long! It is a lot of work, but it is so rewarding to finally see how these concepts from class translate into something tangible.
My experience studying Chemical Engineering has been very positive and I am glad I chose this major. My favorite part about Chemical Engineering is that so many different industries rely on chemical engineers. Whether it’s the medical, polymers, biotech, energy, commodity chemicals, technology, or aerospace industry, chemical engineers are relied on for their expertise at optimizing processes and transforming raw materials into useful products. This can be shown by where my friends plan on going after graduation. One is probably going to work for a nanotechnology company that manufactures batteries. One is going to work for British Petroleum as a process engineer. One is planning on going into the biotech industry. One is focused on becoming a petroleum field engineer. One is planning on continuing her focus on nano-biomaterials in graduate school. And I am planning on going on to graduate school to study nuclear fusion. Yet, we all studied within the same major. That’s why I love Chemical Engineering.