Study Abroad at Princeton University Civil & Environmental Engineering

by Rina Umeda

I am currently 30,000ft high in the sky during Christmas looking back at all the photos that encapsulate the countless experiences I had at Princeton. My interim report was written based on a poetic color palette metaphor, and whilst it would probably be most logical to continue my final report using that same metaphor, my motto “avoid regretting not doing” has persuaded me to try a different style – to share my experiences based on a recent addiction gained at Princeton also known as “almond milk latte”. To give some background information about myself, I am an absolute coffee lover, but in the form of a latte with whole milk as my sweet tooth has not been able to withstand the bitterness of coffee itself. Essentially, studying abroad at Princeton has allowed me to discover a new way of enjoying coffee (my daily life) from a stronger espresso shot accompanied by a distinct flavor of almond milk.

The stronger espresso shot comes from none other than the significant academic component of my life at Princeton. The lab components in my classes started in the latter half of the semester, such as building a capacitor from activated carbon using a Swagelok cell to investigate the ability of the activated carbon electrode to store charge at different scan rates. In another class, I investigated the different microbes existing in a nearby pond at Princeton as well as constructing a microbial fuel cell using my daily food waste. In my materials science class, I was able to learn the different mechanisms, technologies, and materials used to substitute heavy CO2-emitting industries such as replacing construction materials like Portland cement with alkali-activated cement using fly ash, slag, and metakaolin. Learning these concepts at Princeton has allowed me to consider a wider range of choices for my senior thesis research, as all of them ultimately contribute to designing a carbon-neutral society whether it is by reducing emissions, valorizing emissions, and capturing emissions.

Other than academics revolving inside of the classroom, I joined the Princeton University Energy Association as an ambassador, where I helped with the annual Fall Conference. We invited professionals and experts from different fields in the energy sector such as fusion and distributed energy resources.

Specifically, one of the panels was on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), where the director of the Federal Aviation Administration came to talk as one of the panelists. My final project for a resource recovery class was a business and engineering proposal based on algae biofuel processed by hydrothermal liquefaction, where my connection with the director through the conference allowed me to include insights from technical engineers working in the algae SAF industry.

These aforementioned academic experiences have built up on my prior knowledge gained at the University of Tokyo, hence why I believe the espresso shot in my almond milk latte has become “stronger” than it was before studying abroad at Princeton.

Princeton University Energy Association (PUEA) Ambassador 2022-2023

That being said, my almond milk latte would be far from complete with the strong espresso shot alone. Therefore, it highlights the irreplaceable importance of the distinct flavor that almond milk has brought to my life. To be more specific, almond milk comprises “professionalism”.

Other than inquiries on the class content, I visited office hours for my materials science class twice a week to receive some career choice advice in regards to pursuing graduate school as well. My resource

recovery class invited a guest lecturer, who built her own environmental consulting firm after working in multiple oil/gas companies. During the lecture, she mentioned how her career change was representative of realizing the significance of directly approaching companies to reach the carbon-neutral goal within the private sector. What was more impactful to me, was my conversation with her, where she then said “It’s absolutely okay to change your career vector at the start, halfway through, or toward the end of your path. Instead, what you should despise is changing your vector against your will”. At first, this may sound like another mundane line from a professional working in the field, but this was definitely eye-opening for me. My motto is “avoid regretting not doing”, but not once had I considered unwrapping what “doing” truly means. Doing for what purpose, doing for who, doing when? Hence, is why my motto has now transformed to “avoid regretting not doing for yourself”. “For yourself” does not simply equate to becoming more selfish, or using up resources without considering the next generation. Instead, it includes the notion of directing my vectors upon my own will, not running away from the obstacles that I will surely face at every new challenge, and essentially following through with my passion. This is what I believe “professionalism” would be defined as. The new motto may look like a small change in print, but the meaning it holds is a completely new taste, just like how normal whole milk and almond milk may still be in the same milk category, but the flavor is far from being similar.

I thought I’d also share some photos aside from classrooms that I really enjoyed as well!

As I wrap up this final report, I look outside the plane window and see a beautiful orange sunset (You may have imagined a perfect grand finale with a cup of almond milk latte in my hand right now… but I’m sorry, all I have is the bottle of water served on the plane (;・ェ・)). Although I am not looking forward to the jet lag I will experience for the next few days, I am absolutely looking forward to bringing my rich Princeton experiences and updated motto back to use in Japan and for my future career. On a final note, I would like to show my greatest gratitude to the Ito Foundation U.S.A. and Friends of UTokyo, Inc. for the support on my journey at Princeton that I will cherish forever!