Argonne sponsors aspiring green energy researcher through Society of Women Engineers program

By Diana AndersonJuly 17, 2013

Argonne National Laboratory is sponsoring Priyanka Ketkar as one of the 2013 Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Chicago Regional Section Scholarship winners. Argonne has been involved with SWE’s regional scholarship program since 2009. Scholarship winners are incoming freshmen, enrolled in engineering or computer science. They receive an academic tuition scholarship to help further their scientific and engineering career pursuits.

In addition to sponsoring the scholarship, Argonne hosted Ketkar at the laboratory for a tour of the facilities and discussions with preeminent scientists and engineers. Among those scientists was Chemical Engineer Diane Graziano, who has been involved with SWE for a number of years.

“I’m impressed by Priyanka’s achievements,” Graziano said. “I look forward to keeping in touch with her and seeing her excel in her broader pursuits. This is a wonderful scholarship program that Argonne’s involved in, encouraging smart young scholars to pursue careers in engineering.”

Ketkar took time to answer a few questions about her studies, her visit to Argonne and other topics:

What areas of research are you interested in?

Chemical engineering, biofuels, nuclear engineering, nanotechnology – anything related to green alternative energy. I’ll be studying at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities this fall.

How could you see your research impacting our nation’s energy or environmental issues?

I’m not sure what venue I’d like to go into just yet, but I would like to do new research that would produce cost-effective or more-efficient energy solutions. Argonne and I have that in common.

What elements of your visit to Argonne were most exciting or helpful to you?

Everyone was nice and informative. Argonne scientists and engineers are passionate about their work. They were all willing to answer my questions and they provided me with a new perspective on what my areas of scientific research interests involve. I also got some names and phone numbers to add to my networking portfolio.

What sorts of mentoring, formal or informal, helped form your decision to go into scientific and engineering research?

I’ve done a lot of science-related activities including an engineering workshop at Northwestern University. I participated and mentored at the workshop. The two-way experience gave me a good perspective of what it’s like to be on both ends of the mentoring circle. I like the collegiality of the science and engineering culture.

I’ve also participated in a NASA program for high school students. It was an online community that gave me direct exposure to scientific experts who were able to answer my questions. This was quite inspiring for me.

What sorts of career development opportunities do you anticipate this scholarship having for you?

Because I have the financial assistance, I feel that I can pursue my scientific passions, unfettered by logistical worries. By receiving this scholarship, I also feel that I’m wanted in the field and that I can make a difference. I’m looking into internship opportunities at Argonne since the laboratory’s been so welcoming.

How do you anticipate your relationship with Argonne and its scientists helping you in your academic and career pursuits?

I’d definitely like to give back, either through an internship or even working at Argonne. Whether or not I end up working for the laboratory, I would like to collaborate with them. I’m inspired by their application-based environmental research.

What challenges have you faced and overcome in your chosen scientific career path to get you where you’re at today?

For a long time, I was indecisive. I knew I liked engineering and science, but I didn’t know how I was going to translate that into a career path. Getting more involved in scientific programs, like the one at NASA and another I participated in at Northern Illinois University, gave me a better realization of how I could apply my interests practically.

What would you say to encourage our nation’s students to get involved in science and engineering careers?

Students should try out science fairs and outreach programs to learn more about scientific and engineering fields so they know what’s available to them out there. They might not necessarily go into a career in science and engineering, but they’ll certainly gain a skill set that translates well in other career areas. In fact, I would encourage all students to get involved in science no matter what career they choose because it’s important to be educated on what’s going on in science and engineering, a building block of our future.