On her passion for illustration and treating engineering as an artRita Chen is a current Berkeley MEng candidate in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Fluids & Oceans. She studied Environmental Engineering at Ohio State University for her undergraduate degree and has previous work experience at Illumina, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, BARK, RS&H. Here, she shares about her exploration of ocean engineering, her position as a recruitment assistant, and her passion in illustration.
Can you share a brief overview of your path to the Berkeley MEng program?I knew that I wanted to focus on ocean engineering for my graduate study, which is a pretty niche field that not many schools offer. When I saw that the MEng program is offering a brand new concentration in Fluids & Ocean, I knew I had to take the chance and apply. Initially, I had never even thought about ocean engineering or ocean science as a prospective career field until one day I saw an opportunity to apply for a research internship at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When I was given the chance to move to California for a summer, I immediately took it, and the program introduced me to a field of science that felt like a whole other world. My research in the program was very hands-on. Every day, I was either out in the field collecting data, working with different equipment, or moving about the lab. From these experiences, I realized that I thrive best in a working environment where I’m physically involved in creation, experimentation, and improvement. Combined with my affinity for the environment and going to the beach, I realized that studying ocean engineering is what I wanted to pursue next. After returning to school, I slowly realized that environmental engineering wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do post-grad, but I knew that my background in engineering and passion for the environment could very well still be cultivated in the field of ocean engineering.
What sort of challenges or aspects of ocean engineering make it distinct from other types of engineering?The ocean itself remains a large enigma and place of uncertainty. Despite covering about 70% of the Earth’s surface, only a tiny fraction of what’s beneath the surface has been explored. The inability to see what’s beneath the ocean surface makes it extremely difficult for exploration and deep-sea navigation. Personally, I would absolutely love to work on autonomous underwater vehicles or unmanned surface vehicles.
What is your capstone project?My capstone project is working with the SD CAL Desal team in Professor Reza Alam’s lab. Our project goal is to develop an easily transportable device that utilizes wave energy to desalinate ocean water in drinking water. The mobility of the device aims to provide freshwater in disaster situations or in isolated places. Working on a cool device that’s applied in the ocean is exactly what I wanted for my capstone experience, and I’m extremely lucky to be able to do this at one of the best engineering schools in the world.
What inspired you to become a recruitment student assistant?Even though I’m an engineer by education, I’ve always thought that being a university recruiter would be super fun. I had always enjoyed my conversations and experiences with university recruiters and program managers for my previous internships, and I thought the student assistant position would be the perfect chance for me to get a taste of what it’s like to be a recruiter.
As an illustrator and an engineer, do you find that your experiences and insights from one affect the other?I certainly believe so! Most people don’t really treat engineering as an art, and they usually leave the aesthetics up to architects, designers, etc. However, I think having the fine control of an artist allows me to be more precise and coordinated in my hands-on work. I’m extremely detailed and crafty in laboratory/workshop settings, and I would never turn in an ugly powerpoint presentation.
What are your professional goals?To be honest, I still have no idea what I really want to do! However, I do hope to help conserve the planet and beautify the environment with my future work. Maybe one day, I’ll have my own doggy daycare that generates renewable energy from dogs running around. Sometimes, it seems like everyone around you has their life figured out, but I have to remind myself that it’s ok to continue to explore different paths. For now, I know I would love to work hands-on with exploration technology, especially on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) or navigation vehicles. Connect with Rita Chen via LinkedIn and Instagram.
Fung Feature: Rita Chen, MEng ’21 (ME) was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.