Scientists and engineers at WPI are helping the world adapt to the inevitable changes that a warming climate is bringing to the planet.Read Story
Hannah Schulz ’21
Near the end of the 2019–20 academic year, a year upended by COVID-19, Hannah Schulz ’21 learned to walk a slackline. Day by day, her confidence grew. Remembering her early struggles, she sees an analogy to the challenges she and other students faced as they navigated an unfamiliar academic landscape.
“At times, you’re shaking uncontrollably, really not sure how you’re even still standing upright,” she says, “but with repeated practice and time things begin to settle and it gets easier to move forward.”
How to move forward was the challenge Schulz faced in March 2020 when the Interactive Qualifying Project she’d planned to complete in Thessaloniki, Greece, was called off when WPI cancelled international travel. “It was incredibly disappointing,” she says, noting that the opportunity to have a global experience was what had most excited her about attending WPI.
With guidance from their advisors, she and other students who were to work in Greece instead completed a project that looked at how people were coping with the pandemic. Schulz wrote a chapter of the final report called “Mindfulness amid Madness: Finding Nature from Home.”
“I focused on the ways the outdoors can be a place of renewal and escape, especially in a world filled with social distancing and quarantining,” says the Berlin, Conn., native.
Schulz’s own love of the outdoors led her to pursue a double major at WPI, in civil engineering (CE) and environmental and sustainability studies (ESS), located in the School of Arts & Sciences. The choice reflects her interest in the engineering of the built environment and in pursuing a career in environmental protection. “I grew up hearing about the effects of climate change and I’ve always wanted to make sure that wherever I land after graduation that I’m helping work toward a solution to reverse those effects.”
For her Major Qualifying Project (which had to fulfill the requirements of both of her majors), she and a team of CE majors worked with engineers from Stantec to assess how climate change–fueled coastal flooding might affect a small East Boston neighborhood between now and 2070. In the final phase of her project, Schulz planned to work with GreenRoots, a community-based organization in Chelsea, Mass., to conduct a workshop to better understand the community’s perceptions and needs with regard to sea-level rise and flooding.
Among Schulz’s many extracurricular activities at WPI (she played club soccer, she is vice president of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority chapter, and she is a member of the Outing Club and a building manager in the Makerspace in the Foisie Innovation Studio), her work with the Engineering Ambassadors has been especially meaningful, she says. Through presentations and hands-on activities at K-12 schools, the group helps students gain a better understanding of STEM careers and how they can make the world a better place. Schulz says she hadn’t contemplated an engineering career, herself, until she first toured the WPI campus. “It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to change that for so many different students.”
“This past year has been incredibly challenging. But I’ve really been kept afloat by the kindness and attentiveness of my friends.”
She also found personal rewards as president of the Food Recovery Network, which delivered food from WPI’s residence halls to Friendly House, and as a tutor at Worcester’s Elm Park Elementary School. An essay she wrote at the end of her first year that conveyed all she had gained from her community service work, her first-year Great Problems Seminar project (on the design and construction of humanitarian shelters for refugee camps), and her extracurricular pursuits, won her the distinction of being named Outstanding Member of the Class of 2021.
As she prepares to start her job as an engineer in the Community Development and Land Use Department of Woodard & Curran, a water and environmental engineering firm in Portland, Maine, Schulz says she is excited to start a career that will allow her to build on what she learned through her two majors and what she is taking away from her many activities and personal connections.
She says she is also grateful for the many people who helped keep her on firm footing—even she found herself losing her balance at times. “This past year has been incredibly challenging,” she says. “But I’ve really been kept afloat by the kindness and attentiveness of my friends.”