Dr. Sara Walton
- B.S. (Chemical Engineering) University of Maine, 2005
- Ph.D. (Chemical Engineering) University of Maine, 2009
How did you become an engineer?
I was a first generation college attendee from a low income family. Most of my family members worked in either factory jobs or custodial and maintenance work. I knew I wanted a job where I wouldn’t have to worry so much about money. For most of my high school years, I assumed I wouldn’t go to college because I didn’t think it would be affordable for me. My high school guidance counselor introduced me to the University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation in my junior year, and after attending their Consider Engineering summer camp, I knew that would be the right fit for me. I came to UMaine on two full tuition scholarships – one from Pulp and Paper and one for National Merit finalists.
Why Chemical Engineering?
In high school, chemistry was one of my favorite classes. In retrospect I think it was more the math aspects of chemistry that I liked, because I didn’t really like chemistry in college … but that was my thought process for picking chem-e. We had been given a tour of the Bucksport mill by a chemical engineering alumni at the Consider Engineering camp. It still took me the better part of my four years of undergrad to really understand what a chemical engineer could do, but I liked the idea that there were a lot of different job options – process engineering, business management, patent law, sales, med school, research and development, and so on.
What made you come to work at UMaine?
UMaine is home for me. I spent four years here in undergrad and another four years working on my PhD. After finishing the second degree, I went to University of Minnesota as a post-doc while my husband finished his graduate degree there. He wanted to go into academia as a faculty member and so I originally assumed we would never end up back in Maine … but a few years later, the perfect job opening for him came up. Shortly after we knew we would be moving back to Maine, another job opened that sounded like a good fit for me, teaching my favorite class (statistical process control). I didn’t initially have aspirations to teach, but pretty quickly got over my fear of public speaking and now I really like what I do.
What do you do now?
As a lecturer, I teach three classes a semester. In the fall, I teach a senior level chemical engineering economics class, unit ops lab – running the distillation column, and senior seminar. In the spring, I teach statistical process control, senior capstone, and another seminar. I also teach a process control lab in the summer.
Some useful advice to prospective students?
Do a co-op or a research experience. Join clubs. Actually talk to your professors and ask for help when you need it. Find study partners.