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Sustainability Spotlight - Lauren Prudhomme

Blair Begnaud -- Mon, 06/17/2024 - 12:21pm

Meet Lauren Prudhomme

Lauren Prudhomme pursued her passion for sustainability as a student aid in the Office of Sustainability while she earned her degree in chemical engineering at UL Lafayette.

Lauren's interest in sustainability started when she traveled to a summer school in Belgium sponsored by VerTec, a coalition of francophone schools around the country centered around sustainability.

“My advisor was asked who would be great to send over there, so I was the undergrad student he thought of because I had been bothering him so much about recycling,” Lauren said.

“I’ve never been outside of Louisiana for an extended period of time, and I know things are run very differently everywhere else, but I had never seen it. So, we got to experience how a European country handles its waste disposal and city planning and clean water and infrastructure. It was really inspiring.”

Along with her friend Julia Pasch, Lauren prepared for the trip to Belgium by listening to podcasts, reading, and educating herself as much as possible. Through this preparation, both discovered their passion for sustainability.

“One of the podcasts we listened to was about how some students at Penn State started their own organization, and I was like, Julia, why don’t we do that?” Lauren explained. “So we really hit the ground running, recruiting people from around the community to educate our members and looking for volunteer opportunities. It’s really taken off more than I ever expected.”

Promoting Sustainability on Campus

With her enthusiasm from the conference, Lauren established the Ragin’ Cajun Sustainability Leaders,(now known as Students for Sustainability) a student organization on campus, and organized a lecture series called Sustainability Across Industries(now known as the Sustainability Seminar Series).

“Sustainability is not just reduce, reuse, recycle and plant trees,” she explained. “It takes a lot of people from a lot of different areas of interest to collaborate. We wanted to highlight those areas you don’t necessarily think of with sustainability.”

Some of those areas included engineering, architecture, and sustainable business practices.

“So many people on campus care about these things, they just don’t know that it’s called sustainability and that other people on campus care about it,” Lauren said. “We’re all about engaging and connecting.”

Some of the ways they engaged students was through volunteering for the Zero Waste Ragin’ Cajuns Game Days and collaborating with GLASS.

“We’re really trying to provide opportunities to not only do good work but also connect with people in the community,” Lauren said.

Research Opportunities in Sustainability

Lauren transferred to UL Lafayette from Tulane University at the end of her freshman year because she wanted more research experience.

“Over there, I asked about research and they said, ‘Maybe when you’re a junior or senior,’” she recalled. “I came over here and asked about research immediately, and they were like ‘Yeah, go ahead and work in the Energy Institute.’ I was super thankful that I made that decision because now my whole career is going to be research, so it helps to have a strong background in that.”

Lauren’s decision to major in chemical engineering was a combination of passion and encouragement.

“I really like chemistry, I really like math, I’m good at problem-solving and thinking on my feet,” she said. “Honestly, my high school chemistry teacher told me I’d be good at it and that’s all it took.”

As a student, she researched the protein characterization of biosolids (also known as human waste or sewage) to produce an all-natural glue under Dr. Mark Zappi in the Energy Institute. Although the original project utilized algae to produce the adhesive, it was not practical for public use.

“The public isn’t swimming in algae like we are, but what are we swimming in?” Lauren smirked. “Poop. There will never be a shortage of it.”

Lauren explained how, through a patented reaction, the researchers turn the pre-treated wastewater sludge into the glue.

“I’m taking those same biosolids and I’m extracting the proteins because it’s the proteins that are being modified through this reaction,” she continued. “Turns out it’s very difficult to take the proteins out of poop.”

Being a Woman in STEM

Despite her achievements in her studies, Lauren has encountered obstacles in her field, including being respected as a woman in STEM.

“It was little things that, after a while, you start to notice,” she recalled. “Whenever a guy asks a question and you answer it, then they’ll ask a guy next to them the same exact question. Sometimes whenever you’re questioning a guy, instead of hearing your actual question, he’ll just automatically assume you don’t understand the fundamentals.”

To combat this obstacle, Lauren partnered with engineering major Kyle Zappi to establish a STEM summer camp for Holy Family School in Lafayette to introduce underrepresented minorities to STEM. The summer camp eventually turned into weekly practices for a nearly all-girl Science Olympiad team at Holy Family.

“We cover every area of science and engineering and we teach them the fundamentals, but it’s mainly about just coming back week after week and saying, ‘Hey, you’re really good at this and you would make a great mechanical engineer one day. You’re going to be a great doctor one day,” Lauren explained. “The whole idea is reinforcing that these young girls, even with the socioeconomic struggles they face, are still capable of doing anything.”

From Lafayette to New York

Lauren’s favorite thing about UL Lafayette is the culture and friendly environment.

“Whenever I transferred here, (my program’s) administrative assistant called me and set up a day for me to come in and take a tour,” Lauren said. “She’s like, ‘I’m everybody’s mama, you can come to me for everything,’ and I truly have. Everyone has been like that: so welcoming and positive and loving.

"I don’t know if that happens anywhere else. It’s unique, I think, to Lafayette.”

Lauren's now working on her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the City College of New York. Although she said she will miss UL Lafayette and the community, she feels she is highly prepared to make this leap in her career.

“There’s so much opportunity for me here that I never would have thought would be here,” she said. “It’s been one door after another being opened for me. It’s turned me into a completely different person that I never would have expected.”

Source: UL Lafayette News