Alumni Series: CCHS graduate making gains in chemical engineering

Dr. Sheila Goodman constructing composite smart paper with her advisor.
Dr. Sheila Goodman constructing composite smart paper with her advisor.

Meet Dr. Sheila Goodman. She is a 2011 graduate of Colonie Central High School and is currently pursuing career opportunities in sustainable polymer research in Seattle, Washington. After graduating from South Colonie, Ms. Goodman attended the Rochester Institute of Technology to pursue a chemical engineering degree. Afterward, she left the east coast and headed to the northwest to obtain her doctorate degree at the University of Washington. Today, she is currently working as a postgraduate research scientist helping to establish a start-up company based on the materials she developed during her Ph.D.

During her time at CCHS, she cited her experiences in the district’s ‘Project Lead the Way’ program for her interest in chemical engineering. As part of the Alumni Series, we introduce her story and share some of her insights into how she became involved in engineering and what her future might focus on.

At CCHS, what enabled you to first recognize your interest in chemical engineering?

Dr. Goodman in front of pilot scale production of cellulose.
Dr. Goodman in front of pilot scale production of cellulose.

The entire ‘Project Lead the Way’ series at CCHS was instrumental in sparking my interest in engineering in general. Mr. Witte, who taught most of the courses at the time, was adamant about making me feel welcome as one of only two women in the entire program, and helping me realize what I could do if I set my mind to it. He made me realize my potential and helped me to understand what kind of careers were out there for chemical engineers, and which college programs would help me get where I wanted to be! He reviewed my top applications and made me really figure out how to tailor my interests in chemical engineering to the careers I thought I wanted.

What class or program influenced that decision-making process?

It wasn’t until my final Senior Project course through the ‘Project Lead the Way’ series that I decided I wanted to pursue Chemical Engineering. Each team had to design a product to solve some ‘problem’ we were interested in and present a prototype at the end of the year. I loved the process of designing a new material from start to finish so much that I started exclusively looking into Chemical Engineering programs and fell in love with the newly established department at RIT. I was interested in the background in chemistry and processing operations that a degree in chemical engineering could give me, while helping me to learn how to use that knowledge to produce new materials and technologies. I learned how versatile the field of chemical engineering was, and never looked back!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to continue to be involved in the field of sustainable polymers and materials development. I spent my Ph.D. working to demonstrate the versatility and promise of bio-polymers, such as Cellulose, and hope to continue educating and advocating for their more widespread implementation. As humans, we’ve taken a lot for granted in how our actions affect our natural resources, and I hope that in five years, I’m helping to reverse some of this damage by introducing new and improved sustainably designed materials into the market. There is so much potential to use more natural polymers and materials, and I hope my continued research helps encourage others to get involved as well!

As a graduate, what key initiatives should today’s students take to maximize their potential?

My best advice would be to try new things and get as involved as you can! It can be scary to try and decide what you want to do with your life when you are still in high school, but the more you get involved with, the more likely you are to find what you like and what you’re good at! Take that extra course even if you only might be interested in it. Join that club you’ve been thinking about. Get involved in the community through volunteer work or other organizations. Never be afraid to change your mind if your interests change and don’t stay with something because others think you should. Take the time and initiative to find what you love and figure out what you want to do after you leave CCHS!

Finally, name a favorite memory from CCHS that makes you smile!

On my first day as a freshman at CCHSI was terrified. The school was so much bigger than my middle school and I was rushing around trying to find my next class. To make things worse, I was advanced a year in Spanish and was headed to my first class where I just knew I was going to be the only freshman in the entire class. As I was walking down the hallway to what I was sure was going to be the worst class period, a family friend/neighbor who happened to be another instructor at CCHS at the time, knew I was nervous and cheered me on as I came down the hallway, reminding me I was good at Spanish and to “not let those scary sophomores intimidate you! Show them what you can do!”. I was mortified that someone overheard and now everyone would know I was a freshman. As I rushed into class to grab a seat in the back, another girl quickly sat down next to me and whispered “Are you a freshman too? I was nervous I’d be the only one!” Luckily she did overhear that conversation in the hallway, because we spent every day together over the next four years in class, on the cross country team, and waitressed together after school. She is still one of my best friends and we are now planning for her wedding this fall!