Melanie Laberge, '13

Hometown: Manchester, NH

Degree: BS, Chemical Engineering and Professional Writing

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
I chose to attend WPI because it had a great engineering program that was heavily project-based, an orchestra, a class schedule that allowed me to focus on the course material of fewer classes in more depth, was situated close to Boston, and because it acknowledged my academic success by supporting my future with generous scholarships.

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 has allowed me to not only learn the fundamental concepts behind engineering and communication, particularly those of rhetoric, but also to gain a deeper understanding of these concepts by applying them in project work. A lot of my project work has involved teamwork, which has allowed me to strengthen my ability to work with others and exposed me to the multitude of ways people think and work. My project work has helped prepare me for group projects in my own career and has taught me to consider a problem from multiple angles.

What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
WPI’s greatest strengths are its engineering program and its Interdisciplinary & Global Studies Division (IGSD) program. The Theory and Practice model and emphasis on teamwork really help prepare students for careers in engineering, and the IGSD program adds to that by allowing students to also gain real world experience, international or otherwise.

How have the professors in your department impacted your studies and your life?
Professor deWinter changed the course of my academic career when I took Elements of Writing with her during my freshman year. I was so interested in the material and felt so challenged, that I wanted to learn more from her. I took two other rhetoric classes she was teaching later in the year, Digital and Visual. They were excellent classes that challenged me and intrigued me, and I feel I gained a lot from them, as I have from all her classes. She also advised me to take Peer Tutoring in Writing with Professor Higgins. It was a tough course to overload with, especially in D term, but the hard work paid off when I was hired on to the tutoring staff of the WPI Writing Center.

Although I only tutor a few hours a week, I love the challenge and satisfaction of my job. The students have different assignments they need help with, and they all require a different approach to help them succeed. I love knowing they walk out of the writing center not only with a writing assignment they can be more proud of, but also as better writers.

Professor deWinter’s influence did not stop there. She also told me about the Professional Writing major that WPI offers, convinced me to double major, and has helped me fit it into my schedule every step of the way. She specifically created a rhetoric-based seminar course for a fellow classmate and me for a term that we could take it. She has also helped me edit my four-year course plan consistently over the past three years, and helped me choose the electives I’d need to complete the major.

Last, but certainly not least, she agreed to advise my Writing MQP, which would not have existed without her guidance, as I might have stayed on campus and done a 4/3 MQP instead of two separate projects. Separating my projects will allow me to complete a more focused, more beneficial writing project, as well as gain some international experience in France for my Chemical Engineering MQP.

Professor deWinter is my favorite professor on campus. I feel that I have perhaps grown more as a student from each of her separate classes than I have from any other single course I have taken at WPI. She has not only been extremely influential in my academic career, she has also been extremely helpful. She has gone out of her way to help me succeed, as shown by my recent success as the winner of the Communicator’s Club annual scholarship, which she pushed me to apply for, and by her commitment to advise my project over the summer in her free time.

What are your research projects?
For my Humanities Seminar, I conducted a rhetorical criticism of the Disney movie Tangled, examining it through four different rhetorical ‘lenses’ in order to illuminate its ideological underpinnings.

For my IQP, I analyzed the prediction software and historical data of a public bus company in Montgomery County, Maryland and interviewed its bus drivers in order to create an algorithm in Excel that could improve the predicted arrival time of a bus at any given stop along one of approximately 45 routes.

For my Writing MQP, I am analyzing scientific writing in academic journals and newspapers in order to define the genre of scientific writing in engineering trade journals, an area sorely overlooked by academics. This categorization will then be strengthened by an analysis of several trade journals. The information learned will be applied to the choices made when writing my own article on rare earth elements for publishing in Chemical Engineering Progress, an engineering trade journal published by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

What do you hope to do when you graduate? What would be your ideal job?
When I graduate, I want to use my advanced communication skills to become a successful chemical engineer. My ideal job would probably be in a management position in some area of the Energy sector where I can work with others to help develop economical, environmentally-friendly solutions to the energy crisis.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:

  • WPI Orchestra
  • Alpha Phi Omega, the co-ed community service fraternity
  • Peer Tutor for the Writing Center

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • Communicator’s Club Scholarship (previously the Society of Professional Communicators)
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