Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Amanda Engler is among the engineers we will honor in 2019 at an Oct. 11 banquet.
As a graduate student at MIT, Amanda interned at General Mills, working on the company’s Cocoa Puffs cereal line. That—on the heels of an internship with Switzerland-based global pharmaceutical company Novartis—provided the roots for her highly successful career in the chemical engineering industry.
The focus of her PhD at MIT narrowed and built her expertise in synthesizing polymeric materials for biological applications, a challenging and crucial skill set for the materials industry. Since then, she has been a prolific scientist, co-authoring 19 granted patents and 33 publications. She began her professional career at IBM Almaden Research Center, where she designed degradable polymeric systems for drug delivery and antimicrobial applications and worked with clients throughout Europe, Asia and North America to develop partnerships with the company’s nanomedicine program. Today, she focuses her expertise and creativity on developing medical adhesive products as product development specialist with 3M.
We are honoring Amanda for the outstanding technical and creative contributions she has made in synthesizing novel polymeric materials for antimicrobial applications and delivering bioactive compounds.
Recently, we chatted with her about everything from her memories as a student at UW-Madison to her career and hobbies. Here are her responses to some of our questions.
Why did you choose to major in engineering?
I originally went to college wanting a math major, but I liked the idea of applying math rather than studying all of the proofs. The higher-level math didn’t interest me as much as the application of math, and engineering was really the way to go. I preferred chemistry to physics, and I realized that as a chemical engineer there were so many different types of jobs I could have.
What did you do beyond the classroom?
I was a housefellow in Ogg Hall and spent a lot of time working with my students there. I did research in Howard Zimmerman’s lab in the chemistry department and Professor Tom Kuech’s lab in chemical engineering. I was very involved in the Wisconsin Engineer magazine. I managed the finances and also attempted some ad sales.
What were some of your favorite classes?
I took a one-credit class from Professor Thatcher Root where each week two students presented on something that applied to chemical engineering. I presented on the importance of safety in chemical and manufacturing plants. At the time, there had been an explosion in a chemical plant that had ended up costing lives. The class made a difference in how I think of everything I do as an engineer: what I design, how it can impact the consumer, and what I’m doing with it. And the second big experience was summer lab. You do five textbook lab experiments—anything the professors can think of. I found the impact there to be the freedom of how to design an experiment, how to organize my thoughts, and improve as a writer as I was writing about all of the different things I had done. How did your experience in the College of Engineering influence your career path?
My biggest influence was the professors I had. Professor David Lynn was my academic advisor. When I was looking at graduate schools, I spent a lot of time in his office debating where I should go and what I should study. And I’ll never forget what Professor Tom Kuech told me. He said, “Any school in the Midwest will be a great choice. But I recommend you go to one of the coasts to experience what life is like on a coast.” I really took that to heart.
I went to MIT on the East Coast for graduate school. Then, after graduation, I had the opportunity to go to the West Coast and work. Now I’m back in the Midwest, but those experiences really shaped who I am.
How do you spend your free time?
When I was in graduate school, I started playing water polo, and so swimming and water polo have been great interests. In graduate school, I also danced on MIT’s dance troupe, and since then, I’ve taken up yoga.
My husband, Curtis; son, Cato; and daughter, Maraike.