Kat Hetico: Rockin' and Rowin' on the Mississippi

Katrina (Kat) Hetico (BGeoE, 2019) puts a priority on fun, so of course she would pursue geoengineering and women’s crew!

In addition to selecting a rigorous major in geoengineering, Kat Hetico is a Division 1 athlete competing on the UMN Women’s Crew Team.

Participating in a Division 1 sport is a big time commitment. The crew team practices six days a week: twice a day Monday through Friday and one longer practice on Saturdays. “Personally, I’m not happy if I am not working out. The endorphins are really good for me! Rowing has been a guarantee that I get a good workout every day with people I enjoy doing a sport that I like.”

Hetico says her parents played a big part in her motivation. Her mom trained as a nurse, and her Dad works in Christian publishing. For most of her growing up years the family lived in Madison, Wisconsin. They always encouraged her and her sister Emma to stay active, signing them up for every activity imaginable. She and her sister both turned out to be energetic high achievers, but they laugh now about how that happened. In high school Emma was “the athletic one” (she played soccer all through high school) and Kat “the smart one.” Emma ended up going to a 3-year, year-round program, graduating right away, and working as an ultrasound technician before she was 21. “And I,” laughs Kat, “have been doing a Division 1 sport and I’m staying around a 5th year for a master’s degree!”


“On the team, we joke that rowing is like a family—in that you cannot pick your family! Maybe none of us would have become friends otherwise, but now we are in this space together and have this shared thing to agonize over, to cry and smile about all the time, so we have gotten close. We all respect one other as teammates. It is a pretty tight group of people, a cool thing to be a part of. And to get up in the morning and row around the Mississippi is pretty awesome. I would not trade it! It’s pretty great!”

Getting onto the team is competitive. Assessments are based primarily on “erg scores,” ratings from an indoor rowing machine (an ergometer) that measures the amount of work performed in terms of strokes per minute. Those provide tangible measures for coaches. Most sports have videos that allow the coaches to see the athletes in action, but the NCAA has a rule that an athlete in any sport cannot be tested when on an official visit. The official visit is a time for the coaches to meet and talk with athletes to see who will fit into the team culture. “I guess I caught somebody’s attention!” said Hetico, who was voted Most Inspirational Novice on her high school team.

Crew is an old sport and boasts an interesting, esoteric vocabulary. There are about 40 rowers on the UMN varsity team. In competition, UMN races Eights and Fours (indicating the number of rowers in the boat for a race). The boat usually also includes a coxswain, a non-rowing member responsible for strategy and steering. Sculling is a style in which each rower has two oars; in sweep style rowing each rower handles one oar.

Hetico describes the set-up in an eight-seat sweep boat: “The stroke seat sets the rhythm and the seventh seat backs her up. The middle four are what we call the engine room, they basically haul butt all the time. The bow pair is normally smaller in size and they are pretty technically sound. Some people ride the same position, but I am what we jokingly call bisweptual,” she laughs, “which means that I can row on either side of the boat! I have literally sat in every seat in the boat. It gives me a unique outlook. I gain a little insight from each seat.”

Ask Hetico about her favorite race and you might expect to hear about a big win, but her favorite race story is about the challenge. It happened her first year on the UMN team competing at the Big Tens. “We were eight boats across and really dukin’ it out. We crossed the finish line, and we didn’t know if we’d gotten first, second, third, or fourth! At the end, it didn’t matter where we placed because we knew we had done as well as we could, which was an awesome feeling. We ended up getting 3rd, and that Big Ten medal that will always hang on my wall. Fighting that race was so much fun! Definitely my favorite race.”

“I do seek out challenges. Challenges are hard and they are not fun, but at the end of the day, you will be a stronger person because of the challenges you go through. That is what I tell myself, anyway, someday it will all pay off!”


Counter to many engineering stories, Hetico and math did not experience love-at-first-sine. “In elementary school, I was not very good at subtraction. So my parents started giving me worksheets. I did a bunch of math worksheets. Then, all of a sudden, I got good at it. Then I liked it!”

She also had to learn to love science. She remembers, “In middle school, I told my 7th grade science teacher that I did not like science. On my next test he wrote a note: ‘You might not like it, but you’re good at it.’ I’ve always remembered that! It took me a while to learn to like science, but I have definitely come to enjoy it. Geoengineering is a fun mix of science and math, which I now enjoy!”

When Hetico came to campus, she intended to major in biomedical engineering. Her goal was to help people by building prosthetics, but she found out that building prosthetics would require a four-year biomedical degree plus another four-year master’s program. And 24-hours a day in a lab sounded awful. It was the Introduction to Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering class that led Hetico to choose a geoengineering major. “I took it my first year; many professionals came in to talk about their work. One speaker talked about the 2014 landslide down at the Mississippi River where, as a rower, I spend a lot of my time. I thought, 'this is so cool!'”

The geoengineering major requires a blend of classes from engineering and earth sciences. “I take fun classes like mineralogy and petrology and went to Montana for a month-long geology camp. The civil engineering classes give me the knowledge that I need. I have gotten to spend time outside; that is part of what I wanted.”

Hetico is also completing a minor in leadership through the College of Education and Human Development. She met several friends including her roommate in her first leadership class. “That class helped me create a smaller community on campus, like my major did and like rowing. The leadership classes have taught me a lot of cool things that I can reflect on. They have been helpful when stepping into a classroom and into the boathouse. I think those ideas will be helpful this coming year when I am a captain on the rowing team, too. The athletic department is building some leadership programs that I have gotten to be a part of. Being able to mesh these ideas has been helpful so far, and I hope they will show to be helpful in the future, too!”


This summer, Hetico was an intern with Braun Intertec, a geotechnical engineering, environmental consulting, and testing firm. “I started with them in a 6-month co-op arrangement as a construction materials tester (CMT). Because I am a geoengineering major, last year they had me working with soils every day. My team evaluated soil compaction with a nuclear density gauge. We did mass grading of residential sites where they were grading to build a bunch of houses, checked for installation of utilities in a roadway, and made sure the soil was compacting as expected. We tested a lot of concrete, too. I trained under a full-time CMT for 1–2 weeks and in that time I got ACI certified. They taught us to use all the concrete equipment, the ‘nuc guage.’ Then we set off in our green Braun truck and went to job sites.”

One of the most enlightening aspects of the internships and co-op experiences has been visiting job sites. “It blew my mind to find out how many people are involved: I talk to the job superintendent, but also the foreman, the engineer that I call if there’s a problem, and sometimes there is another engineer to call. Personally, as a very outgoing person, one of my favorite parts was getting to talk to all the people on the job sites. It is interesting, thinking about how many people you have to communicate with on a job site.”

“Braun has been an amazing company to work for, and they are really respected for what they do. I have learned a lot from the people I’ve gotten an opportunity to work with.”


“I am a very outgoing person! I have definitely found classmates here who are just as outgoing and fun to hang out with. I picked geoengineering and I am definitely happy with that decision.”