Purdue Engineering joins in 2020 First-Generation College Celebration

Purdue Engineering will join other institutions around the country from November 8-13 to celebrate First-Generation College Awareness Week to honor the presence and experiences of this important population of first-generation college alums.

Purdue Engineering First Generation

This annual celebration, now in its fourth year nationally, will culminate on Nov. 13 to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. This act was a major victory during President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.

Purdue Engineering introduces you to those who graduated from our college and have pioneered as First-Generation College students and succeeded in their fields in spite of many challenges. You may be surprised to discover who they are.   

Featured Purdue Engineering First-Generation college graduates are:

Name: Lauren Bakalyar

Hometown: Indianapolis, IN

Degree: BSIE, 2005

Professional activities: I am the branch chief of the Mission Operations Planning and Integration Branch at NASA. I am responsible for a team of more than 100 people who are flight controllers for human spaceflight and who command and control the International Space Station, commercial crew missions, and NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions.

Advice: Always be willing to do THE WORK. In every job, no matter how glamorous sounding, there are some aspects that are not glamorous: tedious spreadsheets, long hours, learning details about complex systems, and tough conversations. The thing that will set you apart is when you are the one who steps up to do the work. Managers and leaders want those on their teams willing to do the work to propel the business forward, not just maintain the status quo. When you step up to do the work, you identify yourself as being the one who can be counted on, who produces, who follows through, and who the company values and cannot live without. When you do your first job well, the others will follow. Focus on the work in front of you, and the promotions, leadership positions, and fancy titles will follow.

Name: Jen Jewers Bowlin, P.E.

Hometown: Independence, KS

Degree: MSME, 2004

Professional activities: I am a refrigeration engineer, program manager, and team leader at Henderson Engineers, where I work with my team to provide solutions to refrigeration system design. Today, I co-lead a multidiscipline team of engineers working on building system design for grocery and warehouse projects ranging in size from 10,000 square feet to 1M square feet. I enjoy spending the day helping stakeholders solve problems and figure out how everything fits together to create the best possible solutions.

Advice: Get to know your professors. Ask questions and be attentive in class, show up to office hours, and say “hi” when you see them around campus. They want you to succeed and having a relationship with them is invaluable. They will provide letters of recommendation, class and career counseling, give advice, and more. I still check in with a couple of my favorite professors just to say “hi”, see how life is going for them, see if they have any students they’d recommend to fill new grad or intern openings at my employer, and swap kid news.

Name: Dr. Emma Brace

Hometown: Topeka, KS

Degrees: PhD (ABE), 2020; MS-ABE, 2016

Professional activities: Undergraduate research and faculty support helped me decide to go to graduate school. After completing my MS and PhD at Purdue, I started as a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, where I study the economics and sustainability of new bio-based products.

Advice: To First-Generation students: Learn to advocate for yourself! Identify your needs and tap into your network of friends, professors, and other support staff to help you get your needs met, whether it's help filling out the FAFSA, finding a tutor, and more. Never be afraid to ask for help and ask for what you need, and identify friends and mentors who you feel comfortable talking to!

Adriana Porter

Name: Kelly Hornsby-Clawson

Hometown: Noblesville, IN

Degree: BSChE, 1997

Professional activities: I currently work as the director of customer support at Roche Diabetes Care. I lead the teams that handle all customer inquiries, initial complaints, and product troubleshooting for Roche Diabetes Care products in North America. I started my career with Roche, nearly 16 years ago, as a process development engineer, developing and validating the processes that produce Accu-Chek® blood glucose test strips and have worked across multiple functions within Roche Diabetes care including manufacturing, finance, sales and marketing. Prior to joining Roche in 2004, I worked at National Starch and Chemical Company (now Ingredion) in Indianapolis for more than eight years. My first role was as a manufacturing engineer after which I was promoted to department supervisor responsible for the front-end processes of corn starch manufacturing. I have treasured the diversity of the roles I have had throughout my career, all enabled by the engineering degree I earned at Purdue.

Advice: Do you ever feel like you can't possibly belong in the engineering program, or in a particular class, or responsible for a job or task someone hires you for...and that at any point, someone is going to figure out what a fraud you really are and boot you out? Trust me, they are NOT going to do that, because you belong! Imposter Syndrome is real, but it doesn't need to hold you back. You and your uniqueness have earned you your spot in the program, your seat at the table, and your voice in the room - use them fearlessly and be bravely you!

Name: Jamie (Spaccarotelli) Johnson, PE, LEED AP

Hometown: Suburbs of Detroit, MI

Degree: BSCE, 2005

Professional activities: My work is in the public water/wastewater sector. It's not glamorous work; in fact it is down right stinky! But it is vitally important work, and I wouldn't change anything that has led me to where I'm at now. I didn't have a clear vision of what I wanted my career to look like when I was in college. Being a First-Generation college student, my focus was instead on doing my absolute best to make the most of my time on campus both academically and extracurricularly. Luckily, in the 15 years I've been in the workforce, I have found that my Purdue degree coupled with a strong work ethic have opened doors for me; leading me down paths I may not have otherwise taken.

Advice: My advice is to take pride in what you have already accomplished as a current or future First-Generation student. The adversity you have overcome just by applying to college will arm you with an inherent work ethic that if cultivated properly, will lead to exceptional opportunity. Follow the doors that open. And always trust your gut, as a First-Generation student you will find it to be your guiding light.

Name: Dr. Ying Chen Lou

Hometown: Shanghai, China

Degree: PhD (EE), 2010

Professional activities: I'm currently an engineering manager at Google working on Google Pixel Camera computational photography features. After I graduated from Purdue with a PhD degree in EE in 2010, I first worked at Qualcomm Inc. as a system engineer for five years. Then I joined Army Research Lab in the DC area and found that its culture didn't fit me. After half a year of struggle, I joined Google in 2015 and returned to my consumer product-oriented field. I became an engineering manager in 2018 and enjoyed my work.

Advice: 1) Don't be afraid of trying and failures; keep going 2) Be confident and speak up 3) Work hard and work smart.

Adriana Porter

Name: Adriana Porter

Hometown: Howe, IN

Degree: BSCE, 2011

Professional activities: After graduation, I started my career at Black & Veatch as a civil engineer and have been there since. My current role is as a proposal manager for the Global Transmission business. In this role, I lead a different cross-functional team for six to eight weeks with the intent to capture new business in the design-build space. It's been a big learning curve, but one of the great things about working at a large company is the different opportunities you have within the same company!

Advice: First of all, congratulations on making the decision to attend college! Being a First-Generation college student may come with many unknowns and/or pressures of being the first in your family to take on this challenge. My advice is to build your network and support system. My family continued to be my cheerleaders, but I also was able to meet so many great people along the way who helped me meet my goals. You got this!

Adriana Porter

Name: Ashley Noel Suarez (Vacchiano)

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Degree: BSChE, 2011

Professional activities: Although I am a chemical engineer by schooling, I have spent the last eight and a half years of my career focused on packaging, which is more mechanical/industrial engineering. My favorite part of working is coming in every day to solve a new problem, and I’ve even had to start two packaging lines after being shut down during a cyber event.

Advice: To First-Generation students, don’t be discouraged by your peers who can spout off all the degrees and places their family members have been. It’s not about anyone but YOU. When you get into industry or the research world, your peers there will be looking at how you interact with them and adapt to situations. Use the skills you learned about dealing with those who had a different upbringing than you to help influence how you can excel in your post-Purdue life.

Name: Dana Tiller

Hometown: Poseyville, IN

Degree: BSIE, 1993

Professional activities: My first job after Purdue was with Walmart Stores Inc. I was hired as an industrial engineer to conduct time studies of their store backend processes. When my manager found out that I had taken a C programming class during my studies at Purdue, I was made a software developer converting COBOL code into C code. This started a new path for my career in software. I have since moved into different positions within the software space. I currently implement eProcurement software for a consulting company, RiseNow. I am not in a traditional industrial engineering position, but I can say my education from Purdue University prepared me for a successful career.

Advice: With all that you do, be honest and kind, and you will do great things.


Related Links: Purdue Engineering First Generation website