Senior Spotlight: Noor Freiha, Finding the Optimal Solution

Growing up in Beirut, long before she knew she wanted to be a chemical engineer, Noor Freiha '16SEAS already dreamed of coming to Columbia. Her father had attended the Journalism School, and spoke glowingly of life and learning in Morningside Heights. Displaced by war at age 11, she abruptly relocated to London and later Dubai, soaking up diverse cultures and beginning to think a lot about how to help solve world problems. Then, reaching Columbia at last for a high school summer program, she studied engineering, working to convert shipping containers to emergency disaster relief shelters, and discovered her calling.

“Engineers are the most creative people I know,” she says, “constantly creating, building, designing, and thinking outside the box to solve problems. It isn’t policy or politics that will tackle big problems like global climate change, but engineering and science.”

During her first year at SEAS, Freiha was captivated by Professor Sanat Kumar's Art of Engineering course examining the chemical engineering behind alternative energy sources for automobiles, and was inspired to take his course in thermodynamics.

“Professor Kumar is the reason I became a chemical engineer,” she says, “He’s the definition of an excellent professor, passionate and motivating and fostering an environment of constant questioning and digging deeper, in addition to having the funkiest collection of eyeglasses I have ever seen.”

In Summer 2014 Freiha served as a research assistant working on carbon capture, utilization, and storage in Professor Alissa Park's Sustainable Energy and Environment and Particle Technology Lab. Collaborating with PhD students and research staff, Freiha surveyed scientific literature and analyzed data to help tailor experiments in mineral carbonation, a method to capture and convert carbon dioxide to form solid carbonates that can be stored permanently.

At Columbia, Freiha says she’s “evolved” to become more analytical and has learned to “structure her thoughts.” She has pursued interests in technology, fashion, food, and the arts on campus and across New York City. Surrounded by entrepreneurs she’s become a budding businessperson herself, hoping to eventually earn an MBA and one day build a successful company, perhaps finding the next disruptive technology for the fashion marketplace. After graduation, she will join Strategy&, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global strategy consultants, as an associate in tech strategy focusing on retailers and consumers.

“Engineers see problems and know how to begin to solve them,” Freiha says. “It makes life so much easier when you can think clearly and come up with an optimal solution.”

—by Jesse Adams

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