UNL Students Broaden Their Community Impact

UNL's AIChE Student Chapter

Expectations of finding an engineering student may drop off exponentially as you move further away from a college campus, but if you wander away from the lecture halls and libraries at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL), you may spot chemical engineering undergrads at nearby parks, food pantries, and elementary schools. The UNL AIChE Student Chapter not only tightens the bond among students who have grown close through shared curriculum, but it also builds connections between students and members of the greater community.

Building ties with academia, industry, and beyond

To kick off the academic year, the UNL AIChE Student Chapter holds a barbecue at a local park and invites students, professors, alumni, and industry representatives. An annual tradition, this year’s barbecue is set for the first week of September. While enjoying potato salad and a nice step-away from campus, undergrads will be able to socialize both with members of the chemical engineering department and with people who have left the academic sphere.

Other opportunities to mingle with faculty include monthly lunches that the chapter organizes. Students can chat with professors during their break between classes and realize that they are more than the people who heap projects and exams onto students’ schedules. To develop more industry knowledge, the UNL student chapter invites representatives from various companies to hold meetings on campus. Alumni often return, showing undergraduates what opportunities may lie ahead for them.

Building relationships among the approximately 200 chemical engineering undergraduates, the UNL student chapter organizes senior panels, game nights, and other activities. Senior panels are a chance for underclassmen to talk with senior chemical engineering students and learn from their experience. Game nights take place in classrooms and may include many types of games, from Smash Bros to a few informative rounds of Chemical Engineering Jeopardy. The chapter competes in Chemical Engineering Jeopardy and Chem-E-Car competitions at Midwest Regional Conferences, giving the students more experiences through which they can build camaraderie around common goals. The chapter’s events are open to all chemical engineering students at UNL and are publicized by emails to the department’s mailing lists.

Outreach to the community

Off-campus, the chapter volunteers with the local community around UNL. This past year, they “put beds to bed,” covering flowerbeds with mulch and removing certain plants to prepare local gardens for winter. At a local food pantry, UNL AIChE will often organize donations and help check in donation recipients. The motivation behind these service events is to let students realize their potential to leave a positive impact.

“It’s an important perspective for a lot of engineers to realize — to know that whatever you do as an engineer will impact the community,” Andy Mason, president of the UNL AIChE Student Chapter, said in an interview.

Furthermore, two of UNL’s outreach officers organize several events with local elementary, middle, and high schools where students will teach general engineering or chemical engineering lessons to kids. Around a dozen of these classes are organized each academic year, and a number of chemical engineering undergrads volunteer. They leave from campus around noon to drive to a school and teach a lesson as part of the regular school day. Recently, they taught high-schoolers about Bernoulli’s principle using a water bucket with a cork at the bottom, and at an elementary school, they let kids explore the concept of buoyancy as they tried to make a ball of clay float in water.

Hosting 2020 Mid-America Student Regional Conference

This spring, UNL will be inviting the Midwest AIChE community to their campus for the 2020 Mid-America Student Regional Conference. This will be the first time that UNL has hosted the conference, and they are striving to make it a success. Over the summer, they have already begun to reserve rooms, coordinate events, and contact sponsors. This regional conference will be further proof of how UNL AIChE makes it a priority to bring the community together.