## 09 Aug Jobs That Use Math – Saving the World Through Math & Engineering: An Interview with a Chemical Engineer

JR Mueller, a chemical engineer in Texas, knew when she was a kid that she wanted to build things and save the world, but she didn’t always love math. She said, “In third grade I was afraid of math.” and in college she had trouble passing calculus. However, she didn’t let that stop her. She received great advice on math and perseverance as she was growing up, and now she uses math every day. She said, **“I’m saving the world through math & engineering as a chemical engineer; I get to do magic every day.”**

**I asked what she likes best about her job?**

“First – Any kind of engineering is fun! I build things and invent stuff.” She added “Pick a science that you love: chemistry, biology, astronomy… put the word engineering after it – and you can do magic. All magic is just science plus engineering.”

**How Did You Get Started in Math and Science? **

“I liked science and was ok at math in high school – not exceptional, and I knew I wanted to invent stuff and save the world.” She continued, “A chemical engineer makes magic potions.” She had seen the Disney movie Snow White, where the evil queen was making potions, and thought it was kinda cool. She said, “That’s what I do now, but for good.”

**Math Quote: **Even at times when JR hated math, she reminded herself, “I know it’s really useful and will let me do all the fun stuff.” She added, “If you want something badly enough, you can figure it out.”

**What Types of Things Has She Been Involved in or Invented?**

“At one job I took a process that nature invented, how to turn CO2 back into methane, but I figured out how we can do it on an industrial scale. At another job I created a hydrogen fuel cell that was later picked up by NASA for the lunar space station for refueling rockets for return to Earth. I currently make batteries for electric vehicles – pioneering new tech to create more efficient energy storage.” That’s a cool way to save the planet!

**Did You Have Any Idea When You Were a Kid That This Type of Job Existed?**

“I knew I wanted to do something fun and inventive like scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and rocket scientists do – but I didn’t know difference between them.” So, she searched the internet for jobs like that.

She first thought about waste management, she knew there were big problems that needed to be solved. She researched government websites for what degree was needed: chemistry, engineering, or civil engineering. Then she looked up which ones made the most money and had the most flexibility. She also found that chemistry was also 50% women. This led to chemistry classes in college and an internship in a chemistry lab. While there, a chemist said, “If I had known that chemical engineers have all the fun… chemists do same thing day in day out, chemical engineers apply it; they invent and build stuff that solves problems.” JR added, **“I switched to chemical engineering. I’ve never regretted it; it was the best choice in my life.”**

**Did you Ever struggle with Math, and How Did you Overcome It?**

“In third grade I was afraid of math; I had trouble memorizing math times table. Luckily, someone told her, “**Memorizing the times table is NOT the same thing as understanding math. It is a building block, but that’s all it is.”** Getting positive comments like that helped her be less stressed about it. She added “Grades 3-4 can be hard for some of us; don’t let it put you off of math for the rest of your life.”

Later on, when she was struggling with math in high school, she got more good advice, “**All math is cumulative. It’s like climbing a staircase. If you are struggling, go backwards to relearn it**; then you can move forward. It is not failure unless you give up. If you *are* struggling – find a tutor, find a program*, find a different teacher, ask your parents for help.”

**And in college she got great advice from her father**. She had tested out of the basic math classes and had gotten into calculus. Then she failed calculus three times – but she didn’t give up. Her professor said your high school skipped trigonometry. Her dad said a friend had similar issues, and although he had tested out of the math courses, he went and took the college math classes from the beginning. So that’s what JR did. She noted, “In college, you can be more motivated, you know how you learn better, and you are beginning to know it is important.” She took all the college math courses at the university level from algebra on up THEN took calculus and did fine.

**How Do You Use Math in Your Job as a Chemical Engineer? **

She said she mostly uses high school and college math – but elementary school math is a foundation. “I use a lot of elementary/middle school math – calculating the area or volume of something, estimates, and more.” She also uses more complex math like mathematical modeling, equations to analyze and design chemical processes, and statistics. “We often use software to do the hard math – but to use software – **you need to know which equation to start with, **for example, for fluid flow, **and you need an understanding of how it works, and which equations come next**.”

**Very Important** **Math** **Tip:** A*fter* you graduate from college **you can open the book** – look up the equations, that’s how it is supposed to work. However,” JR said, “If I use a specific equation, I need to know *why** this is the right equation. So, I have to understand how it works. *So, open your textbooks. Google and chat GPT get it wrong all the time. They are pulling from the general internet, not the best sources like a validated textbook.”

**Advice and Tips for Parents about Math, Science and Children**

“If your child is advanced in math and is set in a corner, because they are ahead of the class,” as JR was in middle school where she fell behind, “find a tutor, enroll your child in an extracurricular math program*, or see if an advanced class is available. If your child is in this situation advocate for them; help them find a way,” she added.

Jr said for parents to, “Think of yourself as the wind blowing the boat.” Things in science change all the time – someone invented typewriters, then personal computers made them obsolete. Engineers often pioneer new technologies. “Blow them towards a type of engineering if they show an interest.” If they love to dream, invent, build, and they like math, she added, “There are good jobs, that make good money, and are interesting in all forms of engineering.”

***After School Math Enrichment Programs Can Help your Child Succeed**

**If your child is ahead of the class in math, but not being challenged, or is struggling, try an after-school math program like ****ALOHA Mind Math**** offers. **ALOHA’s teacher-led math programs can help boost student confidence and keep an accelerated-learner interested. Look for **an ALOHA Center near you**. ALOHA Mind Math’s classes meet your child’s needs at their age group and learning level: from ALOHA’s Tiny Thinkers (3-5 year olds) to ALOHA Champ & Mind Math Junior (for 5-7 year olds) to Core Math and Mind Math Senior (7-12 year olds). ALOHA also has reading and writing programs.

**Any Last Words as a Chemical Engineer Students Reading This?**

**Advice to a child – “**Think about if you could magically change the world in some way – **come up with 10 ways to change world** – then think, how could you use math or engineering (biology, astronomy, chemistry etc) to change it. Then let that lead you in your schooling and career choices in engineering.” She also said, “**math is like a sport…** keep practicing and you will improve.” When math seemed hard, she persisted, “If you love it, you will find a way to do it.” Love of saving the world helped motivate her. Also, she had researched and found that chemical engineers invent things AND make a lot of money – that didn’t hurt! As she said, she gets to **save the world through math and engineering.**

Written by Cathy Larkin, a freelance writer and social media coordinator, who has been a part of the ALOHA Mind Math team for several years.

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