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Meet Laura Pelaez Medina

After pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo, I started working as part of the logistics team in a food and beverage manufacturing company in Dominican Republic. There are many options for Industrial Engineers to insert themselves in almost any industry. Recognizing that everything should be addressed as a process, I realized that I could do and learn so much more outside being mostly behind a desk.

During my first work experience, I was able to support inventory planning, audits and monthly inspections that allowed me to learn how different areas in the company operate, as well as, interact with many employees. Being in a small country where operations rarely use clean energy as a source, seeing biomass used to generate heat for production really got my attention. So I started to do some research, and that’s when I found the perfect master’s program that fit with my interests.

I wanted to learn all the science without losing sight of business and management knowledge. The Illinois Professional Science Master’s, offered in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provided me the best of these two aspects. During my studies in the Bioprocessing and Bioenergy program, I took interesting courses related to renewable energy, biofuels, environmental law, as well as supply chain and project management. Moreover, the U of I Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory is an excellent facility that allowed me to experience bioprocessing products research between learning from the pilot plant equipment and running samples in the laboratory.

As a required internship for the master’s degree, I got the opportunity to be part of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in the Division of Laboratories thanks to my previous experience working in the U of I pilot plant. At the Illinois EPA laboratories, I performed data analytics, supported testing procedures and calibration of lab equipment, and assisted in the laboratory warehouse logistics.

Currently, I work in the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory after graduating in December 2019. As a pilot plant assistant, I support the pilot plant research projects from initiation to completion including fed-batch fermentation, corn fiber pretreatment and downstream processes, as well as perform quality tests to ensure the desired project specifications. This facility have been part of my professional development since I started my master’s program and I genuinely believe that it’s a perfect educational scenario; each day is a different learning experience and diverse backgrounds are useful resources to complete innovative research projects including value-added bioproducts and biofuels.