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June 19, 2024

Student Highlight: Katy Foss

A Student's Experience Becoming an Environmental Engineer

Katy Foss has a broader outlook these days on how to achieve sustainability.

She graduated from Michigan State University in April 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and a minor in sustainable agriculture and food systems. While in the classroom, she learned the technicalities of her major and the bigger lesson of valuing distinct viewpoints.

“You need so many different perspectives to truly be able to do your job right,” Foss said. “If you just have one person saying, ‘this is how we can be sustainable,’ you're not getting the different aspects. It isn't just about helping the environment, it's about making sure that we're sustainable in the environment, economically and socially.”

Foss plans to stay at Michigan State to complete a master's degree in environmental engineering, with a concentration in hydrology. She started her master’s this spring through the College of Engineering’s dual B.S. and M.S. degree program. It allows undergraduates to enroll in graduate-level classes and conduct research for credit toward their graduate degree.

“When I learned you could complete a master's with that extra year, I knew I wanted to further myself and decided that I would try to get another degree under my belt,” she said.

As part of the program, she will do research in France this summer under the direction of Volodymyr Tarabara, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. He researches separation processes with applications that include water treatment, industrial pollution control, and biosafety monitoring. The joint U.S.-France project is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation through its International Research Experiences for Students program.

Their research will look at how different substances stick to fruit and vegetables depending on the kind of water they have been irrigated with and on further processing.

“It’s about measuring contact angles on the fruits and vegetables and using such data to quantify how things stick to produce,” said Foss. “While there, we will also compare the agricultural practices of France to that in Michigan and the United States.”

How she got to MSU

Foss choosing to study environmental engineering may not have occurred if it hadn’t been for her teacher at Tecumseh High School, William Ramsell.

William Ramsell and Katy Foss
William Ramsell and Katy Foss

Ramsell taught Foss in his pre-calculus and AP calculus classes. When she told her teacher she was interested in something related to environmental sciences, he had an important suggestion.

“He said, ‘Well, you're really good at math and as your calculus teacher, I think you should try environmental engineering. You have a knack for it, and I feel like you will do well in the engineering field.’”

Ramsell was correct. In gratitude for the influence he had on her life, Foss nominated him for the MSU College of Engineering Green Apple Teaching Award. Each year since 2006, MSU Engineering has honored a K-12 teacher who inspires students to pursue engineering, math, and science. Ramsell was selected this year and accepted the award during the 2024 Alumni Awards celebration in April.

“Being able to catch up with him at the awards ceremony was great,” Foss said. “He updated me on all the different things he was implementing into the school’s math program and how well our school's equations team has been doing. He's just so proud of being a teacher, it reminded me why I nominated him.”

Written by Maggie Dillon, a student writer and public relations assistant in the MSU College of Engineering Marketing and Communications office.