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Madeline DuBois, E’20, Combines Engineering with Her Passion for the Environment

January 31, 2018

To third-year College of Engineering student Madeline DuBois, Northeastern’s new environmental engineering major made perfect sense when she decided to declare it during the fall of her sophomore year. Her upbringing — in an outdoorsy area of upstate New York where there were more people living in her freshman dorm than in her childhood town of Poolville — instilled an affection for the environment, and the burgeoning new program gave her an outlet to make it her life’s work.

“I spent a lot of time outside growing up,” DuBois said. “I love hiking and outdoors stuff. So I’ve always cared about the environment.”

Though she was undeclared during her first year at Northeastern, a talk with an environmental engineering professor, Loretta Fernandez, sold her.

“I thought about doing chemistry, graphic design, communications or environmental science,” she said. My dad is an engineer, so I was kind of determined not to do engineering. But that talk changed my mind. [Environmental engineering] combines my interest in being outside and actually making solutions through engineering.”

There are many angles to take in the subject and many areas to focus on; renewable energy sources, clean water infrastructure and clean manufacturing technology are a few. DuBois has taken a special interest in using science to help people who don't have the skills or knowledge to help themselves.

In her involvement with Engineers Without Borders — an organization of volunteer engineers tasked with creating solutions for water, shelter and energy for impoverished people worldwide — she’s contributed to the Northeastern chapter’s drinking water distribution systems for developing countries.

“I think it would be really cool to implement solutions to meet people’s needs for water or energy, solutions that are sustainable and environmentally friendly,” she said. “It’s important that they meet all three of those criteria, and that’s a big challenge.”

DuBois also works in a research lab with CEE Associate Teaching Professor Annalisa Onnis-Hayden, where work is being done on a tidal wetland wastewater treatment system — a system that treats water for reuse using just bacteria and plants.

A class that DuBois is particularly excited about, “Climate science, engineering adaptation and policy,” could lend a window into another important aspect of the environmental engineering field: Policy could take on a crucial role in the field in the coming years. In these days of political turmoil and environmental uncertainty, informed scientists are sure to play a vital role in informing the public and shaping policy.

“I’m also interested in the policy side,” DuBois said. “I don’t know as much about it, but I’d definitely like to learn about it.”

Interest is growing in the new major, which was only available as a concentration and not a formal degree before, she said. Many younger students are switching into environmental engineering classes, and those who are in them are passionate about their area of study.”

This new program is brimming with excitement on the whole, she said, and it seems to be creating a legion of young engineers eager to make a difference.

Learn more about the new BS in Environmental Engineering program.