Christina Michaels | Chemical Engineering | Senior

Christina Michaels (Photo by Jeffrey Schifman)

For Christina Michaels, an engineering education is the engine that can power almost any career path.

Michaels spent the summer interning for PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the cybersecurity and privacy group, where she worked on a third-party risk assessment, evaluating a client’s third-party relationships and the risk they pose to the client. Though that may not sound like a natural next step, she said, the job was actually a natural outgrowth of her chemical engineering studies.

“You might be wondering why, as a chemical engineering major, I’m working on cybersecurity,” she admitted with a laugh. “But in terms of cybersecurity, PricewaterhouseCoopers is growing the division, and it’s an exciting time to be with them—now’s a good time to get into the industry.”

And while her previous internship—at a nuclear power plant, where she worked on risk stratification—was a more traditional choice, Michaels said she’s happy to have both experiences under her belt.

“When I was venturing away from chemical engineering I was nervous, but I’m a lot more comfortable now—and the more diverse of a background you can have, the better,” she noted.

Back on campus, Michaels will still be working with Res.Inc., the Columbia Engineering residential entrepreneurship incubator where she lived and worked beginning freshman year (and last year served as the student coordinator), although she won’t be living on its floor.

“I still want to be a part of the program, and Res.Inc. likes to bring back former students, even if they haven’t graduated yet,” she said.

Above, top: Christina Michaels with her sister and fellow Res.Inc. student, Stephanie Michaels
(left); center and bottom: with
fellow Res.Inc. students (Photos
by Timothy Lee Photographers)

And, after a year of successes—Res.Inc. members took first and second prize at Columbia’s Fast Pitch competition last November, and another team made it to the final round in the Columbia Venture Competition last April—the program is “really blossoming,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of interest from prospective students.”

(Michaels has an even stronger tie to Res.Inc. to motivate her—her sister, Stephanie Michaels ’18SEAS, is an event manager for the program this year.)

Michaels said she’s going to spend her senior year shoring up her newly declared applied mathematics minor, as well as enjoying the chance to move beyond the chemical engineering requirements.

“I’ve been asking people what are the most useful skills you can gain from the last college year, and the answer seems to be that any coding experience you can gain is important, and that statistics is valuable too,” she shared. “So I’m excited to diversify within engineering.”

Michaels is also looking forward to the publication of research she worked on last summer at the University of Maryland under Professor L. J. Martinez-Miranda, whom Michaels met through SEAS Associate Dean Leora Brovman. “Modified Coffee Rings for Quasi 1D Interconnects,” on the self-assembly and conductivity of silver nanowires on glass gratings, is under consideration by a peer-reviewed journal.

Keeping the connection to her summer internship is another item on the to-do list, she said.

“I know that PricewaterhouseCoopers doesn’t currently have the biggest presence on campus, so I want to approach both PwC and Columbia about being a student ambassador, and for them to be more present at career fairs and for general information,” she said. “Having had this experience, I think a lot of engineers would really enjoy it here.”

Michaels noted that her internship proved to her the value of an engineering education for her—or anyone else—in almost any field.

“I’ve been able to apply the skills I use in my engineering classes,” she said. “Engineering provides you with a logical, problem-solving methodology that can be applied to any professional situation.”

—by Jennifer Ernst Beaudry