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An unusual path to an engineering degree

By July 29, 2022September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Lauren Stach

Lauren Stach

Taking a year away from her University of Minnesota program to work at a pulp and paper mill benefitted Biosystems Engineering student Lauren Stach. The former University Libraries student worker now is glad she took an unusual path.

“It’s okay to take a few left turns in college,” says the senior, who has just a few credits left until she officially completes her degree requirements.

Among the benefits of the “co-op” year she took as a sophomore: she has friends from three years of her small, competitive program. One of them, Maddi Johnson, says: “She’s just going to be very successful.” Johnson notes that Stach also has work experience from this summer at Sun-Opta to add to her job-seeking resume.

Before Stach graduates at the end of fall semester 2022, some U entities still will be able to bask in the glow of this committed student for a few months. The University of Minnesota Libraries is one of those places.

Eccentric path

Like an asteroid taking an eccentric path, Stach attracted some attention along the way. The first time she worked for the Libraries, her supervisor was Molly Bostrom, who has since earned her MLIS and moved to Magrath Library as a librarian.

Stach contacted Bostom when she was planning to come back to campus, and found out she’d made a good impression and should apply again. She came back to work shortly before the then-new Dean, Lisa German, began in February 2020. “There are so many great people” in the Dean’s Office, Stach says.

As a student, Stach has used the Natural Resources Library, also on the St. Paul campus, as well as Magrath. She had to: The program is heavy with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

“Outside of working there, the Libraries were always my favorite part of the U of M so I was thrilled to be able to help out in any capacity,” Stach says. “The librarians were always super helpful. I spent a lot of late nights in the various libraries on campus (mostly Wilson, Magrath, and Walter).”

She also worked as a TA for Ulrike Tschirner, a Professor in her Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering program. She says that Stach’s bioproducts engineering track included some chemical engineering components but focuses on renewables: “algae, soybean oil, garbage — anything we can convert to fuels, energy, and materials.”

Tschirner greatly appreciated Stach’s work ethic. She’s a self-starter: When Tschirner gave students in her orientation class a survey, Stach volunteered to compile the results — a pleasant surprise for her professor.

While the professor says her student is on the quiet side, she is by no means shy. When she was offered two internships, the one she wanted paid less — and so Stach negotiated for a better salary for her preferred job.

Visionary focus

“She is very focused,” Tschirner says. When Stach began her college years, she had planned to enter an engineering program. At a College of Science and Engineering event, the gravitational pull of sustainability moved her in the direction of Biosystems Engineering.

Her focus also is demonstrated by a “Be Here Now” attitude. A hockey player in high school, she has taken up rock climbing as her sport in college.

“School is super stressful,” says her rock-climbing buddy Johnson. With rock climbing, “we can take a break and relax. And she can focus on the next task — a climbing problem.” She seems to be completely absorbed and present while climbing, Johnson says, not distracted by upcoming tests or other challenges.

She now has an internship at a local manufacturer of non-dairy beverages, scuh as almond milk. Minnesota is a hub for the food industry, which is where she wishes to work. She also works at the Raptor Center this summer and is developing her skills as a bird sketch artist.

Johnson extols Stach and her collaborative skills. “We’re smart, we’re capable, and we’re a mutual support system,” Johnson says. “I can’t imagine that I would have gotten through with her.”

Looking ahead, Johnson will be working in the Bay Area. And Stach, who used to create tight 5-year plans, will see what the future holds. “I try to keep my mind open.” And growing and glowing, whether in the Libraries’ front office, in the classroom or on the rocks.


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