My name is Catherine Nowakowski but I go by Catrina, and I am a sophomore in Environmental Engineering. I attended Ella T. Grasso Technical High School and was in the Bio-Science Environmental Tech shop where I learned about maintaining environments and lead projects such as building a composting water heating system for Lemelson MIT Invent Teams.
Sophomore year of high school my shop started working with a UConn graduate student, Jason White, who was a mentor in UConn’s GK-12 Program. He came to the school weekly and would assist in my math classes as well as help instruct my shop. He presented a competition to me and my classmates, Keep Connecticut Cool. We had to implement “Green” practices with in our school and give a presentation as a group to a board of judges. Some of our projects where to collect empty milk cartons during lunch and used them as pots for plants in our green house and maintaining a compost bucket in the kitchens. We went to Eastern Connecticut College to present and won $1000 for collaboration to put towards making our school a greener environment.
After our success sophomore year Jason presented us with another project for junior and senior year. We had to come up with an invention and write a proposal for a grant to fund it. The program was called Lemelson MIT Invent Teams, and if we won the grant we would get to construct our invention and present it at a three day program called EurekaFest. We came up with a system that used compost to heat water and I took the lead of the project. I worked with Jason to write our proposal and after a tedious summer we heard back from the judges that we were receiving the grant!
Going through the invention process was invaluable to me. I learned group dynamics, ran in to many design issues, had to work with a budget and create and expense report. We also had to document the entire process with videos, monthly reports, photos and even a blog. Presenting our invention was much different from Keep it Cool this time too. It was done convention style with a dozen other teams and we were constantly talking, explaining, and demonstrating our invention to a variety of people. There where peers from other teams, MIT professors, teachers from other schools, and random everyday people. One man I talked to was from Africa and was very excited about the concept of our invention and thought it was a great solution for the people in his village.
While I was working on these projects I was also being exposed to another aspect of my shop, the water treatment industry. I toured treatment plants and saw what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to our sinks and toilets. Sophomore year I completed the course work for Sacramento’s Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants and junior year I completed the Water Treatment Plant Operation course. I received CEU’s and a certificate for each program. Then in my junior year I interviewed for a summer internship at a local waste water treatment plant. Working at the plant was a very solid introduction to the technical work force. I was the only girl and the youngest by nearly thirty years. I often worked with the plant operators assisting in running test and monitoring the plant, but once or twice a week I would get to go in to the field with the mechanics!