Undergrad

An Environmental Engineer Abroad

Going abroad for a semester is a huge part of Clarkson’s international culture. Many students choose to study in another country and experience a different lifestyle. While Business majors and Engineering & Management majors are required to have an international experience, studying abroad is available to all students.

Mackenzie Peters, a Senior Environmental Engineering Major with a minor in Environmental Science, had the opportunity to study in the Netherlands. Mackenzie is a first-generation college student in her family. She had an amazing experience in Europe, where she met people from many different countries and worked with them on a research project. As a student who wishes to work with the natural world and environment, how did she get to study in the Netherlands?

Natural Beginnings

Starting with her home life, Mackenzie grew up in the Adirondack Park, where she spent much of her time outside. Hiking, fishing, hunting, and sailing on Lake Champlain led her to the decision of becoming an Environmental Engineer.

“Environmental Engineering provided the perfect balance of science, design, and collaboration that intrigued me,” she says.

Environmental engineers use their knowledge in subjects such as biology, chemistry, and even soil sciences to develop solutions to environmental problems. Mackenzie finds it fascinating to be able to create more highly sustainable infrastructures which would provide safer drinking water or cleaner air to breathe.

It seems she always knew she wanted to help the environment and lead a life of sustainability. This passion led her to Clarkson, where she is a senior about to graduate.

Mercury in the Mountains

In her second year at Clarkson, Mackenzie spent a semester in the Adirondacks at Paul Smith’s College. Clarkson’s Adirondack Semester is an opportunity for students interested in environmental sciences and policies to learn more about the environment with hands-on classes and projects. Students can explore one of the largest protected landscapes in North America while studying the wildlife in the area.

While in the Adirondacks, Mackenzie did a research project in which she observed the Mercury deposition issue on the Upper St. Lawrence River Valley. Mercury pollution has been an emerging threat in ecosystems spanning from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This pollution is a threat to the inhabitants of these lakes, as well as the communities of people who rely on the river for drinking water.

Internships

Continuing her pursuit of environmental studies, she also had two internships surrounding her major. Her first was at a 100% recycled paper mill, where she worked with the company’s wastewater treatment. In this internship, she monitored the mill’s wastewater treatment system and ensured environmental compliance with state and government policies.

The second was at a consulting firm called Barton & Loguidice as a Water Resource Intern, where she was offered a full-time position when she graduates in Spring 2023 (she accepted!). Here she used Civil3D to design piping layout for water treatment systems, was a developer of ArcGIS maps, and wrote many engineering reports.

Environmental Education Abroad

With her experiences, Mackenzie decided to study abroad at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands. While there, she took classes that pertained to Environmental Engineering, Sciences, and Policies. These classes involved climate changes, meteorology, risk analysis, and water treatment.

Impressively, these classes were mainly master’s level, and she was given the opportunity to do research with students from other universities. The purpose of the research was to look into the harmful algae blooms in Lake Champlain, which was fascinating especially for her since this is the lake where she often sails.

Outside of classes, Mackenzie was able to travel to other countries in Europe. Only an hour from Amsterdam, she could take buses, trains, or planes every weekend to delve into all the different European cultures. These trips were one of her favorite experiences of traveling abroad.

Mackenzie was able to see amazing landscapes, breathtaking architecture, and make friends from all over the world. Her favorite country to visit was Switzerland. Some of her fondest memories include skiing under the Matterhorn, hiking up mountains and coming across many cows, and eating delicious fondue.

She saw things in many other countries, as well: the Eiffel Tower in France, Big Ben in England, the view from the Top of Mont Blanc — the highest mountain in the Alps, the brightly-colored buildings in Copenhagen, Denmark, the ABBA Museum in Sweden, the highlands of Scotland, and so much more. In her travels, Mackenzie forced herself out of her comfort zone, and was able to do so many cool things. She developed skills, and words from other languages, and she made friends from all over the world.

Though it is not common for engineering students to travel abroad due to the rigorous curriculum and classes, Mackenzie recommends the travels to anyone who is interested.

“It will broaden your mind to different cultures, perspectives, opportunities, and possibilities that you might miss otherwise,” she says. “It will push you out of your comfort zone and allow you to grow in ways you never imagined.”

While she admits the process of being able to travel and study abroad while staying on track to graduate on time was a bit stressful, she does not regret the experience in the slightest. It took some meetings with her advisor to figure out schedules for upcoming semesters, but Mackenzie is still graduating on time in May of 2023.

To other students with even the smallest urge to study abroad, Mackenzie advises that everyone should do it. She calls it “the experience of a lifetime.” All it takes is some planning ahead. 

A Leader at Clarkson

Mackenzie also has many roles of leadership on campus. She has been the Co-President of Engineers for International Sustainability (EIS), Clarkson New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) Chapter, and Photo Club, where she spends much of her free time helping with the workshops, designing projects and bringing them to fruition, and attending many professional development events.

On campus, she also has a couple of jobs. She tends the front desk in residence life, and is also a lab assistant. As an undergraduate lab assistant, she works with professors, graduate students, and other undergraduate students on research pertaining to anaerobic metabolism and digestion. She performed COD and solids tests on the anaerobic digester influent and effluent samples which came from the Cornell Cooperation Extension Learning Farm and on the Clarkson on-campus anaerobic digester.

In doing this research, Mackenzie has written a proposal with a group of professors and students to the US EPA for the annual People, Prosperity, Planet (P3) Competition.

As a strong-willed individual, Mackenzie has grown in a major way throughout her college career. She persevered through the year of COVID, managed two impressive and important internships, helped to lead several organizations on campus, worked on a few research projects, and even was able to study in another country. She worked extremely hard to do all that she wanted to do in college, and now has a job already lined up for when she graduates. Mackenzie is a supreme Clarkson Environmental Engineering student.

These are Mackenzie’s last thoughts:

“Coming from a small town, and being the first woman in my family to become an engineer, let alone a first-generation college student, Clarkson has given me the resources and opportunities to grow into someone my younger self would look up to. Clarkson provides the perfect mix of large-scale opportunities with a close-knit community feel that helped me get where I am today.”

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