The Many Benefits of Studying Chemical Engineering: Meet Stephanie Monteiro

Stephanie Monteiro, NCE's Outstanding Senior

Each member of Stephanie Monteiro’s family was born in a different country: her   mother in Portugal; her father in Angola; her sister in Mozambique and she in America. 

Stephanie’s parents, who are Portuguese, eventually settled in America, the country they believed offered them the best opportunities.  It was also the country that offered their daughters the best chance to achieve good educations.

“My parents didn’t have an opportunity to go to college,” says Stephanie. “After my father came to America he took a job working at a textile company in Passaic.  Both he and my mother stressed education for me and my older sister.  They knew how important education was and what effect it could have on your life.”

Her parents were right:  Stephanie, now a senior at NJIT, has lived out her parents dreams.  On May 17, she’ll graduate from NJIT with at the top of her class with a host of honors.  Most recently, she was named the Newark College of Engineering’s Outstanding Senior in her major, chemical engineering.  The college gives that award annually to an academically accomplished student whose volunteer work and leadership has enhanced the university.  Stephanie did all of that and more, says Angela Perna, a professor of chemical engineering who has taught here for 41 years. 

“Stephanie is an outstanding student and a natural leader,” Perna adds.  “She’s personable and energetic, organized and mature.  She’s the kind of student -- first-generation and eager to learn -- that the Newark College of Engineering has long prided itself on educating.   I’ve taught here for 41 years and to my thinking that’s always been the colleges’ main mission: To take these hard-working first-generation kids, give them a sound engineering education and send them out into the world, where they become leaders in their fields.

In her four years at NJIT, Stephanie has accomplished much.   She has a 3.75 grade point average and is a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College.  This past year alone, she was president of Omega Chi Epsilon; the senior representative for the Albert Dorman Honors College Council; and vice-president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineer’s student chapter.  She’s also a member of Tau Beta Pi and Omega Chi Epsilon and, over the course of her academic career, has been awarded nine scholarships, including the Schering-Plough Annual Chemical Engineering Scholarship and the McGowan Family Endowed Scholarship. 

She worked two coveted internships at Schering Plough, the global pharmaceutical company.  And at the end of her second internship, her superiors were so impressed with her work that they offered her a top job.  

In the below interview, Stephanie talks about her time at NJIT, her love of chemical engineering and the fantastic career that awaits her.

Did NJIT help you get the internship at Schering Plough?
NJIT definitely helped me get my first internship by giving me the chance to meet with a member of the Albert Dorman Honors College Board of Visitors who also happens to be Senior Vice President of Global Quality Services for Schering Plough.  He was a great person to meet and I’m very thankful to NJIT for giving me that opportunity.  It had a huge impact on my future career.

Can you talk about the work you did during that internship?
My first internship was in the Global Quality Services Analytical Sciences department at Schering Plough.  My first two weeks I was taught how to work in the laboratory and how to use a high-tech device that separates chemicals.  I then started organizing and conducting experiments on certain therapeutic steroids that are used in drugs. I liked the internship, but it also showed me that I didn’t want to focus exclusively on research. 

And what about your second internship? 
Schering Plough called me in early March of 2007 and asked if I'd like to do a second internship. They told me I could interview for a few different internships.  I took a risk by choosing to interview for the Project Management internship -- a risk because it wasn't an engineering-focused job. It was more on the management side of pharmaceuticals.  I choose this internship because I was considering, after I graduate, pursuing an MBA degree. And the internship confirmed my interest in business and management. It was great.  The managerial work I did that summer included creating and distributing meeting agendas, facilitating meetings when the project manager was unavailable, updating and managing an integrated project timeline and following up with the team members on their status with certain action items.  I also helped the team by continuing to improve some of their databases.  Overall, I really enjoyed the fast-paced environment and learned a lot about corporate culture.

Did these internships lead to a full-time job?
After doing the second internship, I was interviewed for a full time job and was offered a fantastic job, which I eagerly accepted.  So the internships led the way for me to obtain full-time employment at Schering.

And what will your job be? Your title, your duties?
I will start my career at Schering Plough, in its Summit campus, working as an Associate Technical Analyst.  I’ll be part of a two-year rotational program that the company uses to train future leaders.  During those two years, I’ll work on various projects and get an overview of drug production and of how medications are made. I’ll travel to plants throughout the state and in other countries. That’s great for me because I love to travel.  I want to see the world and learn about other cultures. I want to see how this huge and fascinating pharmaceutical company operates on a global scale.  The rotational program is a great opportunity to learn about the production processes as well as gain the experience and knowledge I’ll need to assume a leadership role at Schering.  

Did you always like math and science?
Ever since I could remember, my favorite subject has always been math. What I love about math is that there’s always a right answer. When you write an essay, for instance, there’s a gray area in which a teacher uses his or her judgment to evaluate your writing. With math you are either right or wrong.

I was born and raised in Newark and attended the Ann Street Elementary School. When I was in seventh grade, recruiters from the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth visited my school to recruit students for its gifted and talented program.  I took a test and was admitted on full scholarship.  I was one of the first students from Newark to attend.  The first summer I took an algebra course and the second summer I did a reasoning and logic course. This experience only increased my love of math.  It was also a great to live away from home for a few weeks both summers and to see what college life was like. Later, in high school, I continued to take the highest level math and science courses.  I knew then that I’d pursue a career that involved those subjects.

And how did you first take an interest in chemical engineering?
During my junior year in high school, my biology teacher took a group of us to Newark College of Engineering’s Career Day.  I went to an all-girl’s high school and most of us were not exposed to engineering.  I had taken chemistry, which I liked, and I loved math. So when we were given a tour of the chemical engineering labs, I was taken by what I saw there and what the professors said about chemical engineering.  Afterwards, I did research on chemical engineering and saw what great career opportunities the field offers. You can get a degree in four years and have many options afterward such as med school or grad school or full-time employment.  If you work as a chemical engineer for a global firm, you’ll not only have a well paying job but also travel often and see much of the world. So when I entered NJIT I majored in chemical engineering. And it was a great decision

Can you talk about how you won nine scholarships?  That’s quite an accomplishment.
My sister went to a public high school in Newark. Once she entered college, she realized she wasn't well prepared.  Due to this, my sister always encouraged my parents to send me to a private high school, so that I could get a better education.  Since my parents were paying a lot of money for me to go to a private school, I considered it my job to do the best I could, so that maybe in the future they’d pay little or possibly nothing for my college education.  Fortunately, my hard work paid off:  I received scholarships from the state and NJIT that significantly reduced my tuition.  And as I progressed through NJIT, I was awarded nine scholarships, including the Honors College scholarship. That was a huge financial relief to my family and again I’m very grateful to NJIT.    

Like many NJIT students, you’re a first-generation college student.  How did that influence your approach to education?
I consider myself fortunate to have my parents because they have always encouraged me and my sister to do our best in school to pursue careers that will make us happy.  My parents moved around when they were young, living in Portugal’s former colonies: Angola and Mozambique. My father immigrated here from Portugal when he was 26.  Six years later I was born. When I was growing up my family lived in Newark’s Ironbound section, in a Portuguese neighborhood.  I attended elementary school there.  I later went to an all-girl’s catholic high school in Clark, where my parents now live.  They worked very hard and tried to give us the best they could, including living in this nice suburban town.

While I was growing up my dad always told me, "look at your sister, see how she has a job and she's doing well."  My sister is ten years older than me, so while I was young I saw her going through college and later begin her career, and I never questioned the idea of pursuing a college degree.  I am close to my family and they are proud of me because I've worked hard for my accomplishments.  After my sister I’ll be the second in my family to graduate from college, but I’m the first engineer in my family.  And that makes my parents very proud of me. 

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)