CSE student Katherine Tomaska collecting Zooplankton for her internship with Barr Engineering

After studying ‘dirt’ and living abroad, CSE student pursues career in natural resources engineering

Katherine Tomaska never shies away from an opportunity to learn

When College of Science and Engineering student Katherine Tomaska landed a water resources internship at Young Environmental Consulting Group the summer after her sophomore year, she wasn’t sure if she would be interested in studying erosion.

“At first I wondered, ‘Will I just be looking at dirt all summer?’” said Tomaska, now a senior majoring in bioproducts and biosystems engineering (BBE). “But, the fieldwork was actually super fascinating and much more involved than I had anticipated. I loved learning about the natural processes that happen and how that impacts human development and residential areas. That solidified for me that I wanted to go into water and natural resources.” 

Tomaska learned about the company after its founder, and University of Minnesota alumna, Della Young, came to speak to her CSE 1001 freshman orientation class. As an intern, Tomaska mapped gullies and erosion throughout the Lower Minnesota River watershed district. Now, she has a job lined up as water resources engineer at Barr Engineering, an environmental consulting company headquartered in Minneapolis where she interned last summer. She’ll start after she graduates this May.

Growing up in Elmhurst, Illinois, Tomaska started becoming interested in STEM and the environment in high school. She chose the University of Minnesota Twin Cities because CSE is a nationally ranked college—and because her brother is a graduate of CSE. But, she originally began as a biomedical engineering major. 

“When I came to freshman orientation, I told my advisor that I was interested in environmental science and biology,” said Tomaska, a recipient of the DLMC Foundation Scholarship.

“She told me about a lab in the BBE department where they made a sponge with gold nanoparticles on it to absorb lead from lakes. I just thought that was the coolest thing, so I switched majors.”

Since then, Tomaska has had a wide variety of experiences at the University. She joined the student running club on the Twin Cities campus, conducted research at CSE’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory focused on the cyanobacteria that causes harmful algae blooms, and studied abroad for a semester at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Tomaska's semester abroad was funded in part by the University's Edwin H. and Houghton Lee Study Abroad Scholarship. As a self-proclaimed introvert who hadn’t traveled outside the U.S., Tomaska said meeting people from different foreign countries in Hong Kong helped her gain a new perspective.

“It made me less nervous about putting myself out there and taking chances,” she explained.

“Being able to connect with so many people made me realize that whatever path you take, you can find people and form a community.”

Tomaska said the biggest thing she’ll take away from her experiences in CSE is to never stop trying new things, whether it’s spending three months halfway across the world or studying dirt for a summer.

“Something I’ve learned throughout college is to not shut myself off from any specific projects,” she said. “There are so many random experiences that might pop up, and being in CSE has shown me that, even if I wouldn't immediately think a project or skill sounds applicable or interesting, giving it a chance usually allows me to learn a lot more and maybe gain a new interest that I didn't have before.”

Story by Olivia Hultgren


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