For chemical engineer Aria M. Perkins ’17, Columbia has been a combination of everything she wanted out of her undergraduate education: a leafy campus in the midst of one of the world’s busiest cities; a dual focus on technical problem solving and fluent storytelling; and tight-knit communities among expansive interdisciplinary opportunities.
The Bostonian had always loved math and science, and engineering offered an even broader palette for taking on complex challenges across industries and interest areas. Chemical Engineering gave her the tools to pursue her passion for sustainable energy, particularly clean hydrogen fuels, while the entire university experience helped cultivate her analytical and leadership skills.
“As an engineer you get to use not only science ability but also writing, analyzing situations, and making decisions, and that mix between the hard science and the communication spoke to me,” Perkins said. “I’ve been able to develop the skills to really break into any industry and make a difference.”
Among the “so many amazing professors” she met over the past four years, she credits Sanat Kumar, Bykhovsky Professor of Chemical Engineering, with instilling a systematic method for breaking down and solving problems, and English and Comparative Literature Professor Molly Murphy with inspiring new ways of approaching and writing stories.
Outside of the classroom and lab, Perkins has been a leader in the Columbia chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), serving this year as president and last year as treasurer. The chapter was recently named Regional Chapter of the Year at the NSBE’s national convention for their work supporting minority engineers on campus as well as community service and mentorship to get young talent excited about STEM fields.
Looking ahead, Perkins plans to travel the world before working on new ways to mitigate greenhouse gases and climate change. In the long term, she hopes to help develop feasible hydrogen energy and perhaps start her own company offering fuel for which water vapor would be the only chemical byproduct. As she gets ready to graduate, she says she’ll most miss her cohort of chemical engineers, the 40-member “ChemE Squad,” and all the hours of learning and discovery at Mudd Hall.
“The best part of being an engineer, other than solving problems in the real world, is how multifaceted you can become,” Perkins said. “There are so many options.”