When she graduates May 19, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student Farrah Scears will begin a career in a high-demand field in which only 23 percent are women.
As a chemical engineer, she will work as a chemical vendor for Buckman Laboratories of Charlotte, North Carolina, specializing in tissue manufacturing. Double majoring in chemical engineering and paper science and engineering at UW-Stevens Point gave her the advantage of a broad-based academic background, and working on the campus’ paper machine gave her first-hand experiences.
“I really do love paper,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have found my passion so young.”
According to UW-Stevens Point Professor Karyn Biasca, the growing field of chemical engineering has 100 percent placement for UW-Stevens Point graduates, as does paper science and engineering. Those who major in both take many of the same core courses then have a specialized senior design course for each major. Chemical engineering has been offered at the university since January 2016.
While paper science and engineering is a specialized field, chemical engineering is more broad based and focuses on the processes for large-scale chemical manufacturing, Biasca said. In both fields, these engineers help choose a product’s makeup and design process, creating products that package food to keep it from spoiling, keep powders from clumping or make paper towels more absorbent.
“They are basically problem solvers,” Biasca said. “They find ways to optimize the manufacturing process to become more efficient, less expensive and more sustainable to create a valuable product while increasing the profit margin.”
Scears has always loved chemistry and learning what everything was made of, she said. A native of Michigan, her academic journey started at Kellogg Community College then she went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
While interning at Kimberly Clark in Appleton, she met a UW-Stevens Point student, who told her about the school’s smaller classes and more personalized program. After speaking with Biasca and visiting the campus, she decided to transfer.
“I fit in at UW-Stevens Point so well,” she said. “The focus on sustainability, the genuine people – I felt so at home here.”
In Biasca, Scears found a mentor who helped her transfer credits, drove her to classes when she broke her leg at the beginning of the semester, and worked closely with her as she made decisions about her career choices.
“What she saw in me was more than I saw in myself,” said Scears. “I’m happy with who I am because of what I learned at UW-Stevens Point.”
“Her presence has made a tremendous difference for the programs,” said Biasca. “Farrah has consistently been among the first students to step up and volunteer to help or participate in any activity. The sky’s the limit for this young woman.”
In just two years on campus, Scears formed a chapter of the Society of Women Engineers at UW-Stevens Point, and worked for the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST). She was a member of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) and the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
She earned high honors, the Outstanding Chemical Engineering and Paper Science and Engineering Award, the Chancellor’s Leadership Award and the Albertson Medallion, the university’s highest student honor.
Both Biasca and Scears say there is a long-term need for chemical engineers. Students interested in math and science, as well as machines, gadgets and chemistry may enjoy chemical engineering. At UW-Stevens Point, they can expect hands-on learning, personal attention and several internship experiences.
“Chemical engineering is a great field,” Scears said. “It gives you a big responsibility and is very rewarding. It is the best feeling knowing you are making the world a better place — even if it is through better toilet paper.”