Undergrad

How and Why I Chose to Be a Chemical Engineering Major at Clarkson

Greetings readers,

My name is Michael Sehn ‘22, and I am a chemical engineering major from Chenango Forks, New York with minors in mathematics and chemistry. I wish to share with you some insights as to why I chose chemical engineering as my major, why Clarkson University was the right place to pursue this major, and some of the unique experiences I’ve had as a student here. I hope my recount helps you understand what chemical engineering and Clarkson as a whole can provide you with in the future.

Why major in chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering has many admirable qualities, but I find its interdisciplinary qualities to be the most attractive. A chemical engineer draws from virtually all fields of engineering in some regards, as well as from the sciences (e.g. chemistry, biology). This aspect of well-roundedness appeals to me directly, as I personally strive to be as knowledgeable as I can about these aforementioned fields of study.

Essentially, I am very fond of chemical engineering due to its potential for collaboration with the other engineering disciplines on projects and other such tasks (and because it matches my personality extremely well).

Here I am performing a reaction in my research lab.

On a personal level, I primarily chose to enter chemical engineering due to my experiences in AP Chemistry during my Sophomore year of high school.

For context, I had never taken a chemistry course prior, so I was blindly jumping into a very rigorous course. As you can imagine, I did not get the grades I was expecting to get; this disheartened me and turned me away from chemistry entirely for a fair bit of time. It was only until the following year in my college physics class that I had the hindsight to realize my less-than-ideal grades were a sign that I was actually challenged. I had always sought out challenging courses in school but was never truly faced with one until AP Chemistry.

The realization that AP Chemistry had challenged me and my academic abilities brought me back to chemistry in its entirety, and my love for math combined with that love for chemistry merged into my aspirations to become a chemical engineer.

Why Clarkson?

I chose Clarkson University due to my acceptance into The Clarkson School, an early college program on campus that lets you circumvent your senior year of high school. My acceptance into The Clarkson School had meant I was already accepted into the university as a full-fledged student and, given that I had enjoyed my first year on campus both socially and academically, I felt no reason to leave. 

This is me receiving my Clarkson School diploma in 2019; I am pictured on the right with Geography Professor Jon Goss on my left.

Clarkson is a great place to study chemical engineering due to the capable nature of our faculty and the interconnectedness of our courses. Regarding the former, all of the professors at Clarkson are very knowledgeable in their fields, and many have the insight available to tell if you’d truly be happy with the major you’ve chosen. They do not shy away from asking you difficult questions and will make you question whether or not you truly want to pursue your chosen major. While this may seem intimidating, it will always put you on the right path if you remain truthful to yourself: if you don’t like math, then you shouldn’t be an engineer; if you like math, then maybe you should be an engineer.

Note that being an engineer isn’t exclusively math, but the point is that Clarkson makes sure you want to do what you say you do before you get too far into your major and realize it was a mistake. This circles back to the interconnectedness of our courses, for if you decide that a certain field of engineering isn’t for you then you can switch to another field with (relatively) minimal distress.

Additionally, the entire first year of study for all engineering majors is fundamentally identical, so even undecided or engineering studies majors have a small grace period to make their choice.

In short, Clarkson goes through great lengths to make sure you’re making the right choices for yourself and, if you decide that you are, it enables you to fully dive into your chosen major and excel in what you have chosen. 

Being a chemical engineer at Clarkson also opens up certain unique opportunities due to its aforementioned interdisciplinary qualities. By being a major which incorporates knowledge from multiple engineering disciplines and general sciences, the only limit to what opportunities are offered to you are those set in place by what you decide to specialize in.

For me, my focus on the chemical side of chemical engineering allowed me the opportunity to enter the Wriedt MOF Group laboratory and develop my research aptitude. Given that I want to be a research and development specialist in industry, having the opportunity to join the lab was of crucial importance — one that I attribute to the fluid yet academically balanced nature of chemical engineering.

The ChemE Car Team

One way I’m able to get involved in chemical engineering outside of my classes is by being a member of the ChemE Car SPEED team. The focus of our team is to create a shoebox-sized car powered and stopped exclusively by chemical reactions.

This is me and the ChemE Car team at the 2019 Clarkson Parents Weekend demonstrating our car and what it does; I am pictured farthest to the right, with the loose bun and glasses.

Despite the namesake, our team consists of chemical, electrical, mechanical, and computer/software engineers; each engineering discipline plays a crucial role in the successful development of the car, showcasing once more the interdisciplinary nature of chemical engineering. Aside from the car, the underlying purpose of the team is to allow students the ability to apply the concepts they learn in lectures to something tangible and meaningful.

Knowledge without action simply stays idle in the mind and withers away, so actively using that knowledge helps keep it alive and thriving while also developing your own skills and aptitude in your major. (This development is something that employers absolutely love to see from newly-graduated applicants.)

Our team has won the regional ChemE Car competition two out of the past three years, and this year we took third place in the national competition. These recent successes are (in my opinion) primarily due to the efficiency and devotion of our members, the positive community which they create, and the wisdom and guidance of the elder members.

These factors make up the atmosphere of success that Clarkson’s ChemE Car team has come to enjoy; they form the backbone of what our team stands for and what our goals are. While there may be many more attributors to our recent successes, the aforementioned three are the cornerstones of what and who we are as a team. 

My favorite part of being on the ChemE Car SPEED team is the ability to develop both my hard and soft skills as a chemical engineer. The opportunity to test and experiment with learned concepts can often aid in your understanding of said concepts, which is something I have personally experienced regarding my education at Clarkson University.

While affirming and solidifying knowledge is a core aspect of ChemE Car, learning how to work in a team and consider everyone’s opinion or input is an important yet oft-forgotten skill that can define what kind of chemical engineer you will become.

For me, the experiences and opportunities I’ve had on my team have given me great insight as to how to better myself and how to interact with others in positive and productive manners. Ultimately, being on a SPEED team can adequately prepare you academically and socially for your professional future, assuming you take the initiative to develop those skillsets.

I feel that being in ChemE Car has better prepared me for entering the world of industry as an effective and efficient worker, and that my future and I are far better off for having joined ChemE Car.

As a personal aside, I am not exclusively a member of ChemE Car: I am also involved in ACS, MUN, CUGI, and Golden Knotes. Respectively, these are Clarkson’s American Chemical Society chapter, Model United Nations club, video gaming society, and A cappella group. Note that I am on the electoral board for all but one of these clubs, so my activity in them is prominent and fairly regular. As such, don’t worry about ChemE Car taking up too much of your time: you will still have time to tend to your other hobbies and interests (and coursework).

Final Thoughts

If you choose Clarkson, you are choosing one of the greatest opportunities for your growth as an industry professional and as an academic. Note that Clarkson will never lead you by the hand to your diploma, but it will point out a path by which you may travel to get your diploma.

Clarkson is full of opportunities for the driven and spirited, so any who lack drive or spirit should choose a different university. However, if you are passionate about your future and want the best chance to achieve your ultimate potential, Clarkson should definitely be a primary option for you! 

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2 Comments

  1. After reading this insightful and informative article I cannot find any reason why I would not want to attend this university. I am nearing my 70th birthday but other than that SIGN ME UP.

  2. Michael you never cease to amaze me. You have given me such insight to what you do, So very proud of all you do and have done,

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