Commencement 2024: Chemical engineering graduate met her goals by challenging herself

Wakefield’s Lauren Hubert to pursue Ph.D. at MIT this fall

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 16, 2024 – Lauren Hubert always wanted to be a doctor, but the type of doctor changed in high school when she decided to pursue engineering instead of medicine.

“I loved the idea of helping to combat the world’s most pressing medical issues,” said Hubert, of Wakefield, who graduates from the University of Rhode Island this weekend with a degree in chemical engineering and a minor in mathematics. “However, I realized I connected most with the problem-solving and research-based aspects of this dream; I loved the idea of being faced with a known disease and discovering a novel approach to diagnose or fight it. It was through a conversation with a friend that I learned I could achieve this through biomedical or chemical engineering.”

She distinctly remembers looking at the URI College of Engineering website as a junior in high school, going through the different faculty pages, clicking on links to their lab websites, and reading all the research topics that were being explored. “Most of the vocabulary surrounding the research aims were completely foreign to me, and I recall feeling incredibly excited that there were so many topics out there for me to learn,” she said.

Lauren Hubert

Aside from the work being done, she was intrigued by the brand-new engineering building.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t see myself studying in the Toray Commons or grabbing a coffee at the Gertz Café,” said Hubert.

Along with the research and building, was the long list of organizations that showed her this was a place where students were involved in passions outside of the classroom. “I loved seeing how many different clubs and professional organizations existed at URI,” said Hubert.

Hubert would go on to become a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers her sophomore year, where she designed the official merchandise for the club. She also joined the Society of Women Engineers. Hubert presented research at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers National Student Conference, where she won first place in her division. “This was also an amazing opportunity to explore potential graduate programs and attend professional development lectures,” she said.

 Throughout her time at URI, she was also a member of Theta Tau, the professional engineering fraternity. “I met some of my best friends through Theta Tau, and we had so many incredible brotherhood activities. My favorite would have to be when we all took the train to D.C. for the weekend. I also had the opportunity to serve on e-board as the corresponding secretary, and overall, my time as a member of Theta Tau is something I will never forget.”

Her transition to URI was tough because it was right in the middle of the pandemic. Hubert found it difficult to stay focused on classes when most were conducted online, and she was going through her own mental health struggle stemming from the challenges involved with a major life transition coinciding with COVID. She ended up reaching out to the URI Counselling Center to talk with someone about what she was going through.

“Deciding to seek help was incredibly tough, but I am so unbelievably glad I did. By working on my mental health, I was able to stay focused on my academic goals and push through to the end of the semester,” said Hubert.

She lived in Tucker Hall her first year. There were a lot of restrictions at the time due to COVID. The usual programming wasn’t in place, but she still found it comforting knowing that there were students available to help with first-year classes.

She believes these opportunities and the research being conducted within the chemical engineering department set her up for success. She decided to plunge into undergrad research as a sophomore and ended up working in professor Daniel Roxbury’s NanoBio Research Lab for the remainder of her undergraduate career.

“It was here that I truly got to witness and take part in the cutting-edge research going on in the department. My subsequent experiences—my National Science Foundation REU [Research Experience for Undergraduates] at Vanderbilt University, my internship with Bristol Myers Squibb—stemmed from my undergrad research because I used many translatable lab skills I had learned at URI.”

For her senior capstone project, she was tasked with designing a chemical production plant using Aspen Plus and Aspen Dynamics software. This was something completely new to her and mastering the software took some effort. “It was rewarding to get to apply the concepts we had learned in our traditional chemical engineering classes to a realistic project.” The capstone taught students how to effectively take an unknown piece of software and a problem to solve, and work as a team to figure out both simultaneously.

Although it is a bit tougher to fit in additional classes with an engineering schedule, Hubert loved the ability to take interdisciplinary courses, including multiple pharmacy classes as well as a graduate-level course in “bionanotechnology.”

Every semester, there were also opportunities to meet with companies spanning across multiple industries. “We have an extremely robust career services department here that is there to help you find internships, jobs, etc.,” said Hubert.

In the fall, Hubert will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. “I set myself up to meet my goals by challenging myself to explore opportunities outside of my comfort zone,” She said.

She applied to a research opportunity at Vanderbilt University for the summer between sophomore and junior year. When she first learned she had been accepted, the thought of spending the summer in an unknown city without knowing anyone scared her. However, it ended up being a pivotal moment in her undergrad career and personal journey. It was a similar experience when she took an industry internship with Bristol Myers Squibb, and when she decided to travel to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers National Conference by herself.

“All those moments have gotten me to where I am today: They’ve made me a confident student, researcher, and engineer.”

This story was written by Krysta Murray, writer for the URI College of Engineering.