Hannah Sullivan: Pursuing Her Dreams In Science, Life

SOCORRO, N.M. April 30, 2012– Hannah Sullivan fits the mold for a Macey Scholar – even if she didn’t come to Tech with the same pedigree that many students bring.

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 Hannah Sullivan -- chemical engineer, world traveler, leader and Macey Scholar.

She went to school in tiny Capitan, N.M. – a school district that doesn’t offer Science Olympiad or Science Fair opportunities. She grew up on the family farm, where her parents, Pat and Cheryl, always encouraged her to pursue her dreams.

“I thank my parents for that,” she said. “They have always encouraged me to do what I wanted. They’ve traveled a lot and that showed me that you can do it and it’s not that difficult.”

Since arriving at Tech, Sullivan has built a spectacular track record in the classroom, the laboratory and the community. She also has had multicultural experiences to broaden her horizons. When she was a senior in high school, her parents sold their farm near Capitan and traveled through South America for the duration of the school year.

“We had a good time and learned the language,” she said.

Sullivan also enrolled in the International Student Exchange Program for the fall 2011 semester, studying at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden.

“I got some engineering courses done, but the main reason I went was to see another country,” she said. “I met many other exchange students from all over the world and now have friends in Europe.”

Her experience in Sweden helped her appreciate the education she is receiving at New Mexico Tech. In Luleå, she had very little homework and most of her grade was based on one large exam.

“That made me realize that I learn much more here from the way we teach at Tech,” she said. “I did learn a lot, but I’m happy to be back at Tech.”

As a high school student, Sullivan knew she wanted to come to New Mexico Tech, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to study.

During her first semester, she looked through the course catalog and started eliminating the disciplines she did not want to pursue. Eventually, only one course of study remained: Chemical Engineering. And it didn’t take her long to realize she made the right choice.

Sullivan started working in the department’s labs as a freshman with Leclerc.

“During my first semester, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “But the grad students got me introduced to the lab. In my second semester, I did a research project.”

Much of her research work has related to the processing of ethanol and butanol into hydrogen. For her junior design project, she and her teammates are working on building a photobioreactor to produce microalgae. Those experiences have led her to an interest in launching a career in renewable energy.

In addition to a stellar GPA and research results, Sullivan has also been involved in several campus clubs and outreach efforts. She is active in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers student chapter and was welcomed into Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. She has also volunteered for Science Fair. She has volunteered for fundraisers and outreach activities, such as a dog wash and the Community Arts Party.

As secretary of the AIChE club, Sullivan got the department’s newsletter off the ground. Leclerc wrote in his nomination letter that Sullivan didn’t wait for instructions; she tackled the tasks one by one and got approval from faculty and department staff.

This summer, she will work as an intern with Bend Research in Bend, Ore., where she will be working on the chemical engineering side of pharmaceutical research.

Sullivan said she was surprised to find that she was selected to be a Macey Scholar.

“This is a great honor to be chosen,” Sullivan said. “I read the interviews with last year’s Macey Scholars and I didn’t know if I was up to the qualifications. So, I’m really honored.”

Two of her professors – Dr. Michaelann Tartis and Dr. Corey Leclerc – weren’t too surprised. They both nominated Sullivan with glowing recommendations.

Tartis wrote that, “Hannah has exuded enthusiasm, self-reliance and leadership … She is eager to learn and makes good use of her resources to ensure that her understanding of engineering is solid.”

Her peers have also given her high marks. In anonymous surveys after team exercises, Sullivan’s teammates indicated that they’d all seek her out as a team member in future exercises.

Leclerc praised Sullivan’s academic abilities and research acumen, saying that she pushes graduate students and post-docs to help her get the experimental results complete. He also mentioned what he called “a more telling anecdote.” While in Sweden, Sullivan missed a thermodynamics class, which is a prerequisite for two other classes. The department allowed her to take those next two courses – and she is earning A’s in both.

“This is something that could be achieved … by having the intellectual ability to understand these two courses with only a self-taught understanding of the underlying fundamentals,” Leclerc said.

After she graduates next year, Sullivan plans on entering the workforce. She may pursue a graduate degree some day, but only after she starts a career and has a better idea of what sort of graduate research project she’d like to pursue.

“I’m just looking for experiences at this point,” she said. “I don’t have enough experience to know everything that’s out there yet.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech