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Student Success Stories - Stephanie Yum

Stephanie YumStephanie Yum, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and an honors student from Buxton, Maine

Vice President of the UMaine Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers

UMaine Top Scholar Award, Pulp and Paper Foundation Scholarship

Member of Sophomore Eagles and Tau Beta Pi honor societies

Enjoys distance running and contra dancing

Why chemical engineering?

I decided to be a chemical engineer after I took basic high school chemistry. I felt comfortable doing chemistry; it was like a calling. From then on, I knew I wanted a career in which I applied chemistry. I thanked my high school chemistry teacher, Helen Steele, for teaching in a way that really showed me how important chemistry is to everyday life and made it incredibly interesting.

Why UMaine?

A lot of reasons. It’s like home. When I first came here I felt welcome and comfortable. It also offers a great engineering education. And then there’s instate tuition. All around, it was the best choice for me.

Tell us about your involvement in UMaine’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

I joined SWE immediately when I came to college. I am very passionate about being a woman in engineering and science. When I decided to be a chemical engineer, I knew I was going to spend my life in science. To me, it’s absurd to think that women are put off by science for any reason and I want them to see it in a different manner. That’s why I and other SWE members are involved in outreach to girls through the Engineering Expo and Girl Scout Badge Day. Events like these are important because they get girls thinking about science and engineering. I want them to put down the dolls and Easy-Bake Ovens and play with circuits and chemistry sets so they can see that they’re really fun and interesting.

What’s your advice to girls thinking about engineering?

Engineering is a great career choice. There’s so much need for engineers. We’re like the modern inventor — we develop the things people need to use every day. If you’re a problem-solver, engineering is the best field to pursue.

You’ve been in leadership roles in the UMaine chapter of SWE, first as treasurer and now vice president. Tell us how you and the other young women in the chapter have helped get the word out about UMaine engineering.

SWE members go to regional conferences every year, but one of the greatest moments in the chapter’s history was our first national conference in Long Beach, Calif., in 2009. The UMaine chapter has grown so much, and our ability to send four students to nationals is testimony to that. We marketed UMaine there and networked with members from other universities across the country.

What were the milestones in your first three years at UMaine?

The first was finishing my first semester — being on my own for the first time, managing my own time, chores and new social life, and trying to keep my grades up.  That first semester, I aced my classes. I have to thank my high school for preparing me for the rigors of college. The second milestone: the enormous honor of being selected for Sophomore Eagles honor society. It was important because it showed me I was being a productive member of the UMaine community: I was more than just a GPA. The third milestone was working at SAPPI Fine Paper, Westbrook, Maine.

What was it like interning at SAPPI Fine Paper’s Westbrook mill in summer 2009 and spring 2010?

As an intern, I applied my theoretical academic background and got practical knowledge. I’m a much better engineer as a result of my six months there. I learned so much. I shadowed a technical engineer and worked on projects with many of the engineers in the company. They made me feel I was an engineer, thinking on my own. I also was encouraged to find my own projects and follow through with my ideas.

Tell me about one of your projects at SAPPI.

One project looked at the mix of hardwood and softwood in papermaking. Unrefined softwood adds strength, but makes for a poor surface. I worked on getting rid of the softwood while maintaining strength by developing a new formula for the base sheet. I also worked on a coating losses project by using my knowledge of unit operations to design an improved tank system that could save as much as 350 gallons per run.

You’ve had other internship offers?

I was offered a process engineering internship with Frito-Lay in Connecticut and I interviewed with Kimberly-Clark in California. But I couldn’t take any more internships because I need to finish my coursework to graduate on time.

Where are you headed after graduation this May?

I’m considering either graduate school or the working world. Working in manufacturing is interesting and dynamic. Every problem and day is different, and you have to be on your toes. I want a career in process engineering that is very fast-paced and involves problem solving.

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