Renee Lanza, '13

Hometown: Waterford, CT

Degree: BS, Environmental Engineering

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
At first I really didn't want to go to a tech school. I had all sorts of preconceived ideas of what a tech school would be like. I thought I wanted to enter biology or environmental science. Then my dad, who went to Florida Institute of Technology, really pointed my thinking toward engineering and made me realize that it wasn't just hashing out math problems. We visited the WPI campus, and I met with Jeanine Plummer to discuss what the Environmental Engineering program entailed. I knew then that this was where I wanted to go.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, been beneficial to you during your time at WPI?
WPI's philosophy of Theory and Practice is what really sets it apart from other schools. When students go away on IQP and take part in internships, employers and supervisors really notice that WPI students and graduates understand how things should work and the hands-on applications. I also think it is great that in a lot of the classes like wastewater and water treatment, there are design projects that make you use the information you've learned and put it all into a project to get a better idea of what you could be doing once you graduate. This philosophy helped me really thrive at my summer internship in the wastewater field, because I had that hands-on experience from my studies at WPI.

What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
WPI has many strengths. One is that, no matter what program you are in, you are working hard. All of the students can relate to each other, and this helps a lot when working together on projects. However, the project system that WPI operates on is definitely its greatest strength. It gives engineers an opportunity to go away, something unheard of at other schools. It teaches you how to write proposals, do valuable research, solve real-life problems, and work in a professional setting. All of those things really prepared me for working in my field at a professional internship.

How have the professors in your department impacted your studies and your life?
I've had amazing experiences with all of the professors in the Environmental Engineering department. However, I had loved my experiences through my undergraduate career with Professor Plummer. Starting from my first advising meeting with her as a freshman, Professor Plummer has always been incredibly enthusiastic about the field. She is always willing to be a reference, write a recommendation letter, answer questions, and do anything to help her students and advisees. I've had her as a professor and as an advisor, and I think my undergraduate experience has been significantly better as a result. Professor Plummer is an energetic professor who is excited about what she teaches, like most professors in the Environmental Engineering department. The greatest part about this department is that almost all the professors are amazing, able to teach the material in an engaging manner and care about the interests of the students. Their first and foremost priority is that the students are learning the material—and interested in what they are learning.

What are your research projects?
I am currently working on my Major Qualifying Project (MQP) with Sarah Connors (Chemical Engineering, '13), Alexander Sirocki (Environmental Engineering, '13), and Professor John Bergendahl. Our project will be a treatability study looking at a specific common chemicals emerging in our waters.

What do you hope to do when you graduate? What would be your ideal job?
When I graduate, I will be continuing graduate school at WPI, pursuing an MS in Civil Engineering. I am looking to join an environmental consulting firm when I graduate with my master’s. I am very interested in all areas of environmental engineering and want to be able to work in an area where I can do all of it.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:
I have been heavily involved in our Greek community here at WPI, as a sister of Phi Sigma Sigma, Panhellenic Council Fundraising Chair (’11–’12), Interim Panhellenic President (D ’12), and currently as Panhellenic Vice President Judicial (’12–’13). I'm a member of several honor societies, including Rho Lambda, Order of Omega, and Omicron Delta Kappa. In addition, I serve as president of the campus's alcohol awareness and peer education group (PASS—Promoting Alcohol & Substance Safety) that helps with campus risk management programs and freshman alcohol education programs. I am also a coxswain for the Men's Varsity Crew team at WPI and have been a varsity athlete all four years of college.

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • Aldo Valentini Environmental Engineering Scholarship, 2009
  • Dean’s List, 2010–2012)
  • Received the Department of Homeland Security United States Coast Guard Certificate of Merit, 2012, for notable services during our IQP at United States Coast Guard HQ

Research Project Title:
Environmental Compliance: Acquisition, Storage, and Analysis of Waste Oil Data

Describe this project (and results if available).
In 2007, the United States Coast Guard in conjunction with the Department of Justice began implementing a Special Waste Oil Monitoring System on vessels that have repeatedly violated environmental regulations regarding oil-waste. Until now, the process for analyzing this data has been both slow and laborious. To address this, a system for data acquisition, storage and analysis was created. If implemented, this system will reduce analysis time from three months down to two weeks. As a result of the efforts of this project, all members received a Department of Homeland Security United States Coast Guard Certificate of Merit for notable services aiding in the Coast Guard's mission.

Describe your approach to this project (cognitive psychology, computer science, math, etc.).
To address the problem in the project, we had to sit down and evaluate the current process for collecting data from noncompliant vessels. This included understanding what processes that oil is involved in on these vessels. To do this, we visited an oil tanker in East Providence, RI and received a tour from United States Coast Guard ship inspectors. We also interviewed several auditors and professionals that aid in large scale investigations of non-compliant vessels. Then once we decided how we needed to change the process, we developed a database that would store the data and provide an analysis of the data determining whether a vessel was in compliance with regulations.

What did you learn from this research that influences you now?
This research on environmental compliance plans and practices on optimizing processes are two things that have greatly helped me since. For my summer internship at Woodard & Curran, the majority of my job was focused on optimizing data collection at wastewater treatment collections. My experience on my IQP really helped me with my job this summer focusing on steps on optimizing data collection.

If your project is available online, please include a URL here.

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