As a freshman, Elouise “Elly” Filas joined the University of Toledo with a major career goal: to help people.
She was certain that meant a future in medicine. But it wasn’t until she was a junior – when she discovered her passion for environmental engineering – that her career path became clear.
Now 24, Filas graduates with her bachelor’s in environmental engineering May 7.
“I changed my major four times. I came in as nursing, started psychology pre-med, switched to biology pre-med and ended up in environmental engineering,” Filas said. “I took biology classes, business classes, art classes, engineering and so many more. I have almost 200 credit hours, and I don’t regret a single one. I learned so many different things, saw many different viewpoints and met the most amazing range of people.”
Some of those first courses in the College of Engineering led her to discover the field of environmental engineering.
“It was then that I knew that I wanted to incorporate that passion into my plans, and I ended up pursuing environmental engineering. It was in that first semester in my orientation class and sustainability problem solving that I knew I was in the right place because the problems we were working to find solutions for lined up with what I wanted to see myself doing.”
Filas is most interested in research leading to the clean-up of pollution in our waterways.
Through her participation in undergraduate research with Dr. Defne Apul, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, she worked with the city of Toledo on the Trash Free Waterways project, which involved placing “trash traps” in area rivers and streams that lead to Lake Erie.
The devices, which float at the water’s surface, collect litter as it streams by, allowing it to be removed from the waterway and analyzed to provide valuable data on what types of pollutants are present in specific waterways.
“This is opened my eyes to the world of research,” Filas said, “and allowed me to be a part of a project that has not only educated our UT community but Toledo about the issue of trash in our waterways. And it allowed me to meet many inspiring people.”
Among those inspiring people is Apul.
“Dr. Apul played a large part in my experience at UToledo. She was the professor who oversaw my first co-op, which, due to COVID-19, had to be virtual, but she worked with Hull and Associates to find a very worthwhile project for us,” Filas said. “She is constantly pushing me to succeed and to always try to better myself. I owe a lot of what my UT experience was to her and her support.”
Apul speaks highly of Filas, as well, saying she is the kind of student who gives her hope that it is possible to make the planet healthy again.
“Our environmental problems are only getting bigger and more complex but our future is bright with students like Elly, who go the extra mile in technical rigor, soft skills and service,” Apul said. “It has been very fun and rewarding to have worked with her on multiple projects.”
Filas has accepted an offer to work in the infrastructure department at Jones and Henry Engineers, the company she’s had a co-op and worked part time with for the last year and a half. She also plans to pursue a master’s degree at UToledo in civil engineering with a focus on environmental engineering.
But as her first journey at UToledo comes to an end, she is already remembering how much of an impact her experience as a student — and one who studied so many things — has had on her.
“At any point, you could be like, ‘Yeah, this switch isn’t for me’ and go back to the path you were on. Those credits are yours and you can always go back to whichever path you liked best, but at least you know you made the right decision then, and you expanded your horizons by pursuing other things.”