KINGSTON, R.I. – April 26, 2011 – Like many high school students, Patricia Coutts had difficulty deciding what college to attend and what subject to study. But when she finally decided on the University of Rhode Island, she said “everything seemed to fall into place.”
When she graduates on May 22 with degrees in chemical engineering and German, she will depart with research experience, memories of a year spent abroad, and best of all – an excellent job in her field.
“I really enjoyed math and science in high school, and my dad and sister are engineers, but I couldn’t decide on a major,” said the Staatsburg, N.Y., native. “I really wanted to challenge myself and set a high goal, so I finally settled on engineering. And I took German as an elective and loved it, especially since it’s very structured and works well with my math and science mind.”
Coutts enrolled in the URI International Engineering Program, which meant she would spend a year studying in Germany and interning at a global company.
“I had never been abroad before – I haven’t even traveled much in the U.S. – so I was nervous to be far from home in a foreign country where they don’t speak English,” said Coutts, who played varsity field hockey at URI and joined the rugby team before leaving for Germany. “I was skeptical about how well I would do speaking German, but you learn small phrases really fast and you learn to think quickly.”
Her internship was spent outside Munich at Osram Opto Semiconductors, which manufactures semiconductors for the lighting and sensor industries. Her job was to help formulate and test a new chemical coating on the company’s products so they aren’t damaged by the lasers used in the production process.
“It was great to get out of the U.S. and learn in a foreign environment,” she said. “As a native English speaker, I was somewhat of a novelty there, so I was asked to edit scientific papers and emails that had to be in English. It was also a good personal learning experience to live on my own and know that I would have to do everything myself.”
Coutts’ internship wasn’t her only experience conducting engineering research. As a sophomore she worked with Professor Stanley Barnett on a project to build a microbial fuel cell that uses bacteria and the waste stream from the production of biodiesel to generate renewable energy. It was a project she used, in part, to gain experience and confidence in a laboratory environment before her internship in Germany.
With just weeks to go before graduation, Coutts has no worries about finding a job in a challenging economic climate. She was offered a job months ago at Praxair, a Fortune 300 company that supplies gases to a wide variety of industries.
“I went to Houston for the interview, and just a few weeks later they offered me the job,” she said with enthusiasm. “I’ll be going through their year-long training program based in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, where I’ll gain the qualifications necessary for future placement in the company. It’s the fast track for a good position.”
While she said she has no firm plan in mind for her career and family aspirations, Coutts is looking forward to hitting the ground running.
“Like my year abroad, this is going to be a big growing period for me,” she said.