At the end of the day you only need to say “yes” to a few opportunities, do the work the right way, and show the absolute best quality of work you can do.
Originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, environmental engineering student Andrew Alleman has long been intrigued by science. He has been exploring the interconnections between the environment and engineering—cultivating research experience in the laboratories of Texas Tech civil and environmental engineering Professor Audra Morse, and soil and environmental microbiology Professor Jennifer Moore-Kucera. Yet Alleman began his undergraduate career on a slightly different path at another university. Although his interests lay in the environmental sciences, Alleman says he became fascinated by the positive societal impact accomplished through engineering. To incorporate his flourishing appreciation of engineering, Alleman decided to redirect the course of his education, changing majors and schools. He notes that Texas Tech’s strong environmental engineering program drew him to the university and has kept him here, as well as allowed him to study abroad in Brazil. Whether he will continue on to graduate school or enter the workforce without further ado after completing his bachelor’s degree, Alleman says he would ultimately like to make coastal system restoration the focus of his professional life. Fortunately, he will have a strong start as an intern for the Environmental Protection Agency in Oregon this summer.
Learn more about Student of Integrated Scholarship Andrew Alleman in this question-and-answer session.
What got you interested in your major?
I am a senior studying environmental engineering originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. When I left high school I had two big interests in my life: science and cooking. As I was trying to decide whether to go to culinary school or a university, I realized that I could always come back to cooking as my hobby even if not being formally trained, and that I had this one opportunity to dive into the sciences. Therefore, I took the science route and decided to study environmental science at the University of Houston my freshman year. During this first year, I had a lot of interactions with engineering students. I saw the ambition and love that these students had for engineering. They would talk about all this cool technology and ideas they had in order to make the world a better place. Over time I realized that engineers have a huge impact on society through the technology, structures, and processes that they design. I wanted to become that impact on the world, and it was very simple for me to move from the world of environmental science into environmental engineering. Since I have changed majors (and universities), I have become more passionate for the field of environmental engineering.
What courses are you taking this semester?
I am taking Treatment of Water, Wastewater, and Air for Public and Environmental Health. One direct way the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering incorporates service learning into our curriculum is our trips to the Lubbock Water Reclamation Plant. We see how the designs of these water reclamation plants directly impact the community of Lubbock. All of Lubbock’s wastewater has to go somewhere, and we learn how Lubbock is taking what most people consider a waste product and turning this waste into a fertilizer. On a larger scale, these types of classes all involve service learning because these are direct services all people need around the world. I have learned processes that could be used to provide clean water to giant cities, such as Houston. However, these same concepts can be applied to provide clean drinking water to a rural village in Africa.
What is the most challenging course you've taken? How has it affected you?
The most challenging course I have ever taken was a geotechnical engineering course while I was in Brazil. I took the course in Brazil’s native language, Portuguese, which did not help as I was still learning it as I arrived. Also, the professor really pushed the class to understand the concepts from the bottom up, instead of memorizing equations and facts. These two factors created exactly the challenge I would need to be able to succeed in the rest of my courses in Brazil. I learned very quickly how to ask for help from my peers and traverse the language barrier. There was no room or time to simply memorize a word. I truly had to understand it. This class also was a test of my ability to self-learn without too much help from a professor. The professor would not give out practice or homework to do, which is very uncommon in engineering, and we were still expected to be able to solve difficult problems on the test. This is when I realized that it was my responsibility for my education, and I was not entitled to help from a professor beyond the classroom. I would pore over various textbooks to find old problems on my own to practice. This forced me to develop my own learning style without a professor.
Have you completed internships or had other work experience applicable to your field of study?
I will be performing my first internship this summer with the Environmental Protection Agency. I am hoping to be able to work on a project concerning wetlands on the Oregon coast and how they react to wastewater discharge from rivers. However, I have had other experience in my field of study. One of my favorite experiences was when I attended the University of Houston my first year and essentially started a waste management program for the cafeterias. I was able to work with the university to help get rid of their food scraps from the cafeterias on campus in a sustainable way. Our team collected the food scraps from the cafeterias and composted them. At the peak of the program we were diverting over a hundred pounds of waste per day from the landfill, or one car’s worth of weight in waste every month. This experience was invaluable; as it helped me learn how to manage people, organize data, and most importantly, learn how to spread an idea. Spreading and selling ideas to people has been a tool I used constantly while carving my own path at Texas Tech.
Have you participated in research?
I have participated in two research projects. The first was with Dr. Moore-Kucera in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. In this project I looked at an agricultural company's product in helping turfgrass grow. I looked at the microbial community that grew with their product and saw how it compared to traditional methods when planting turfgrass. My second research project was with Dr. Morse in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. I looked at Biological Sand Filters (BSFs) that people commonly use in developing countries as their water treatment systems. In these water filtration systems microbes do a large part of the cleaning. I wanted to understand what kind of microbes were in the system.
What service projects (volunteering, community service, etc.) have you been involved in?
My favorite service project that I worked on was with Limitless Vistas in New Orleans, LA. Over one of my breaks from school I decided to visit some of my family in New Orleans and found this organization to help in my spare time. Limitless Vistas is a group that is training young adults (ages 18-28) that are from at-risk areas in New Orleans to become environmental technicians. I was able to help this group design and construct a rain barrel system that would be able to collect water to water a garden in a local park. This process was a learning experience for me as I have never designed a rainwater system even though I have been trained at Tech to design a water system for a city. It was a really interesting experience for me to apply my knowledge and skills of a city water design and then scale them down to this level. I was even able to give presentations on my experience and knowledge that I have learned at Texas Tech. While at Limitless Vistas I could see that they were really trying to make a positive change in the city of New Orleans, and this feeling made all of my seconds volunteering well worth the time.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to be a Student of Integrated Scholarship? Students of Integrated Scholarship balance academics with additional activities, such as research, internships, service learning, and study abroad.
The hard part about the balancing act is saying “no.” There are many opportunities that exist at Texas Tech, sometimes too many. It is important to know when you are on the straight and narrow path to your goals, and when you are taking an attractive side road. The truth is that there is an abundance of research, internships, work, and academic opportunities at Texas Tech if you look for them. At the end of the day you only need to say “yes” to a few opportunities, do the work the right way, and show the absolute best quality of work you can do.
What are your plans after graduation?
After I graduate, I hope to be able to work on restoring coastal systems around the world, whether that is going to graduate school first and specializing or going straight into the workforce. I really enjoy the coastline, oceans, and especially the seafood! I want to ensure that the development along our coasts is done in a way that the generations that come after me will be able to enjoy the sea more than I have.
What experiences do you value most as a student at Texas Tech?
The broad answer to that question is the difficult ones. The easy tasks that are simply completed and checked off the to-do list, do not compare to the challenges that define a person for the rest of their life. When I was about to study abroad in Brazil, I had a lot of people doubt that I could do “it.” “It” being: go to a new country, learn the language, attend a university, and come back with my sanity. However, I decided to go on a whim and jump off the cliff into this experience. “It” was nothing like I expected. I was able to learn the language, do well in my classes, and fit in perfectly with the people of Brazil. An experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you expected. This experience, without a doubt, is described perfectly by this simple phrase. Now after my Brazillian challenge, very little seems impossible.