She Made Her Parent's Proud, and That's a Great Achievement

Vanessa Casteblanco will work as a Field Engineer for FM Global

Vanessa Casteblanco has reason to be happy. She was chosen to be the student speaker during NJIT’s commencement ceremony. She’s graduating with a host of honors and achievements.  She has a great job lined up working as a field engineer and, most importantly, she’s making her parents proud.

When Vanessa was a girl, her parents, immigrants from Colombia, lived in an attic apartment. Both worked two and sometimes three blue collar jobs to support Vanessa and her two brothers.  Her mother worked in a cosmetic’s factory where she had to lift heavy boxes in the heat. She also worked folding clothes in a laundromat and, on Saturdays and Sundays, as a cleaning woman at the Lincoln Motel in Newark.

Her father’s lot was no better. His first job in America was at a factory where he pulverized plastic. He'd come home from work so enveloped in dust that only his eyes would show. Later, he worked part-time delivering newspapers while also working as a landscaper. He then worked full time as a laminator of credit cards and part time as waiter.  Her parents always told her that they’d do anything to help her get a good education, a good job and a life free from toil.

“I saw the struggle my parents went through to give my brothers and me a place to live and an education,” says Vanessa, “so I always did my best to make them proud. My parents have been waiting a long time for this moment – to see me graduate from college. They can't stop talking about it, especially my dad. I even have family from Colombia who will attend my graduation.”

Vanessa’s accomplishments at NJIT are myriad.  She's a Chemical Engineering major with a minor in Business Management; her GPA is 3.5.  She’s the Senior Class President and is an Educational Opportunity Program student who has three named scholarships: the McGowan Family Endowed Honors Scholarship; the Doris and Seymour Greenberg Scholarship and the Anna and Johann Spatz Memorial Scholarship

Her awards include the Outstanding Freshman Class, Sophomore Class, and Junior Class awards and recently received the Outstanding Senior class award.  She’s served on the Student Senate since she was a freshman, and she was active in groups such as the Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Council of Community Students. She worked two internships (Procter & Gamble and General Electric) and one co-op (Johnson & Johnson) She's also belongs to the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority. 

And on June 3, she’ll start work as a field engineer at FM Global, a commercial property insurance company that uses engineering analysis to evaluate possible hazards at large corporations. In this interview, Vanessa talks about her family, her studies at NJIT, her internships and her future job as a field engineer.

What will you do at FM Global?

I will be a Consultant Engineer/Field Engineer, which is going to be amazing learning experience. My job will be to analyze property risks at client facilities and tell them about those risks. I’ll report those risks to underwriters and work with clients to reduce them. I’ll help some of the world’s largest companies protect their property against fire, explosions, earth quakes, windstorms and many other hazards. And if I am helping a business stay away from danger, I am also helping employees and people stay safe. Since I eventually want move into the management, FM Global is a great first job since there’s plenty of room to move up on the management side.

Talk more about your interest in business management.

Throughout my years at NJIT, and throughout my few experiences in the industry, I realized that though I liked the theories taught in engineering, my true passion is to work more in the business side. I wanted to use the analytical and problem solving skills I have acquired in the classroom and apply them in a business setting. This is why my role at FM Global will be PERFECT...I will be an active business woman and engineer in my role. I will be working with clients to protect their businesses, employees and assets. I never saw myself as sitting in a lab all day or working in a chemical plant -- just not my thing. I need to be around people, working in teams, working with clients.

Why did you major in chemical engineering? What do you like about it?

I like ChE because you learn about everything!! And for a person, like me that takes an interest in a lot of things, this was a perfect major. You learn about chemistry, math, biotechnology, materials science, structures, economics, safety, programming, management...and that’s only to name a few! You can do just about anything with this engineering degree -- it's really amazing. Like one of my great professors, Dr. Perna, once told me, "Chemical Engineers walk on water.”

You are an Educational Opportunity Program student. Did that program help you succeed?

EOP served as my guidance through college. They were a support system for me. They gave me the courage to initially get involved on campus, seek internships, and do great in school. Everyone involved in that program is just amazing.

And you want to one day found your own company?

I also chose chemical engineering because I thought it would be a great foundation for my dream, which is to start my own cosmetic’s line. I've always loved make up.  Since I was a little girl I would always take my mom’s perfumes, nail polishes, eye shadows and mix them to make new colors or scents. I loved playing scientist with my mom’s make up. This was also one of the things that always got me in trouble as a kid...a little scientist always leaves a mess behind.

What do students need to do to get internships?

Well, since I began at NJIT as a freshman, I started attending the career fair. I got rejected several times because I was a freshman and because, at the time, I did not have a GPA. But eventually employers kept seeing me every semester at both the career fairs and conferences. And by the time I was a sophomore they started looking for me for a change. And that’s how I landed my first internship at Proctor & Gamble.

Can you discuss that internship?

I worked at their paper making plant and I was an intern in Stock Prep, which is essentially the beginning of the paper-making process. I was given two projects. My first project was to analyze the cause of a chemical build up in one of the paper lines and work on a solution. My second project was to work on an ergonomic issue regarding the design of the hitch on the fork trucks. My job was to design a new hitch that would eliminate a fork truck operator having to manually open the hitch affixed to metal carts.

You also interned for General Electric?

Then the next summer, I worked for General Electric, Energy in Schenectady, NY. This was an AMAZING experience. I learned about Steam Turbines, Gas Turbines, and Generators, which were all things I learned about in Thermodynamics I and II classes. I worked with a team of engineers to understand the components and accessories that make up their products, and I was taking this data and compiling it into a new software program. I love that I was working with engineers, but I was also managing a specific project. Of course, I also liked that I could dress normal to work and be in an office setting and could go out into the manufacturing floor when I needed to.

And you worked a co-op job at Johnson & Johnson?

After finishing up at GE in August, I right away started working for Johnson & Johnson in Skillman, NJ. This was another great experience. I worked on the business side of J&J, in Indirect Procurement for Operations. I completed work in process optimization, request for proposals, supplier relationship management, benchmarking, analytics, and even did my first business negotiation. I learned how a big company functions and learned how a successful company is structured. I also learned a lot about Information Technology and managing distribution centers. A lot of the stuff I learned there I never really learned in the classroom, so it was a completely new experience.

Did that work experience help you get your full-time job? 

Of course all my internship/co op experiences helped me land a job at FM Global.  The things you learn in the real world, or when working with real people, are the things that will set you apart when applying for jobs. Experience makes you marketable and a player in the competitive job market. I actually got this job from the NJIT career fair, so I’m grateful to our Career Center for helping students get interns and co-ops and full time jobs. 

What kind of nonprofit company would you like to start? 

I would like to start a nonprofit that helps villages in third world countries get clean drinking systems. I want to help the poor. I have traveled to many countries in my life and have seen people in dire need of food and water and it tears me up inside, especially when children who are suffering. My plan is to go to these places and build new water drinking systems for them.

Talk a bit about your family.

My family is from Bogota, Colombia. My parents immigrated to the United States in hopes that they could live better here; better then in Colombia, where they could not afford college or find a job.  Here in the US, my two brothers and I were born. My older brother and I were born at the time my parents were living in an attic and each working 2-3 jobs to eventually find a new home. My parents always pushed us to get good grades. Cs were NEVER accepted. The ability to understand science and math has been a gene passed to my siblings and me by my father who could have been a mechanical engineer had he been able to go to college. My older brother, Fabian, was always my role model; he too did his undergraduate chemical engineering degree at NJIT. He graduated in 2010 and is now working at DOW Chemical in Kankakee, Illinois, as a production engineer. He loves his job. We just always wanted to make sure that our parent’s struggles paid off. We just always wanted to make them proud.  

By Robert Florida