An Dang ’24: A chemical engineer who helped pull off a big student conference

Published: May 21, 2024

Woman wearing a UMBC Retrievers T-shirt smile at camera. Brick building with large glass windows in background.
An Dang (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

An Dang ’24, chemical engineering, an international student from Vietnam, arrived at UMBC in 2021 as a transfer student from Montgomery College. When switching colleges, she also switched majors: from biology to chemical engineering. She quickly became involved in activities in the Department of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering and this year helped the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) pull together a major student conference for the first time. 

Q: What drew you to UMBC?

A: I talked to Mark Marten, the chair of the Department of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering (CBEE), and I got the sense that the department is small and they really support their students. That caring environment is what I wanted. It’s also, honestly, an affordable option.

Q: Who were some of your mentors?

A: I’m working in the lab of Lee Blaney, one of the environmental engineering professors. He’s my research advisor and really helped me navigate the process of applying to grad school. In the fall, I’m going to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to pursue my Ph.D. And Neha Raikar, a senior lecturer in the department, devotes so much of her time to making sure students are supported. She’s like a motherly figure for a lot of us.

14 people sit or stand near a AICHE, Orlando sign
An Dang (seated second from left) and other UMBC AIChE student chapter members with advisor Neha Raikar at the AIChE Annual Meeting in Orlando in November. (Photo courtesy of An Dang.)

Q: What clubs and activities were you involved in?

A: I was a CBEE student ambassador. We went to high schools and community colleges to advertise the department and answer student questions. I’m also involved in the AIChE student chapter. At first I was the service chair and I mostly helped with planning K-12 outreach events. This year, we hosted the AIChE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference and I was on the planning committee. I was in charge of corporate and university relations—I helped secure sponsors for the conference, and made sure we had funding.

Q: What were some of the skills you developed serving in these roles?

A: I’m not an extrovert, and being in these roles forced me to go out of my comfort zone. I learned how to speak professionally with people in higher positions, so they take me seriously, and maybe even want to give us money. The other big thing I realized is that no matter how well I prepare, sometimes things will go wrong, and that’s okay. We all need to give ourselves grace.

Q: How did it feel to host a big conference?

A: It was a lot of hard work! The student organizers spent a lot of time together, and we really got to know each other well and develop close relationships. There are only 28 people from the department in my graduating class, and many of them are in AIChE. When the conference went well, it felt great!

Large group of people, many wearing yellow AIChE shirts, gather on stage and pose for camera.
Volunteers, including An Dang (second from right) gather for a photo after the successful hosting of the AIChE Mid-Atlantic Student Regional Conference at UMBC. (Photo courtesy of An Dang)

Q: What other places did you find community at UMBC?

A: I am an international student, and I worked for International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). I got to know some of the staff in the office really well. One problem that I ran into while I was here is that I lost my social security card. I had a lot of challenges getting a new one because there was a mix-up in the social security office with my middle and first name. ISSS helped me write a very good letter to justify my case, and I finally got my card. I’m very grateful that I got that help from them because it’s an important piece of documentation.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I’m continuing in chemical engineering and plan to go to grad school to study catalysis engineering, which is studying how to speed up chemical reactions. I’d like to work in industry, particularly in the field of renewable energy. Anything that helps with the environment—that’s what I want to focus on.

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