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Fall 2016: Kayla Sprenger

Kayla Sprenger is a 5th year PhD student working in the Pfaendtner Research Group. She has always had a passion for chemistry and math (as well as a good, tough challenge!), but has also always been a technical problem solver. Choosing chemical engineering was a no-brainer for her since it was the perfect way to combine her interests and skill sets.

Kayla’s experience is unique in that few people receive their undergraduate degree and pursue their graduate degree at the same institution. However, the decision came easy for Kayla, who was already doing work she loved at UW in the Pfaendtner Reasearch Group and enjoyed the supportive community within the UW Chemical Engineering department. On top of the rigorous senior year coursework, Kayla managed to also plan a wedding. Her husband, who she met in Chem 152, had also already secured a job in Seattle. She hopes that her story shows that “it is not impossible to stay at the same place for both undergraduate and graduate degrees”, despite what the traditional trajectory towards an academic career is.

She received her BS from UW in 2012 and joined the graduate program in ChemE the following quarter. She is extremely driven by her research, which focuses on “the use of classical molecular simulation methods to study biomolecules at interfaces”. In fact, “work” is not work at all for Kayla, as she always looks forward to the two hours of the day that she routinely sets aside for writing manuscripts!

When she is not researching, travelling internationally for collaborations, or presenting at conferences, Kayla is a dedicated mentor to her undergraduate researchers and to young girls. She spearheads and participates in outreach events for young girls, including Time to Invent and Expanding Your Horizons. After completing her PhD, Kayla plans to seek and acquire a postdoc position that focuses on “using computational modeling tools to address current world problems in immunology and health”. Ultimately, she is aiming for a career in academia as a tenured faculty member at an R1 university where she can mentor her own computational research group and teach the next generation of chemical engineers. When asked for advice for young women interested in chemical engineering, Kayla said “it is a great field to go into, regardless of gender,” because the technical concepts that we learn are applicable across industries, which opens so many doors.

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