Engineering Graduate Turns Disappointment as Student-Athlete Into Steely Optimism

November 30, 2021 | Graduate News, News, Student Success, UToday, Alumni, Engineering
By Diana Van Winkle

In just a few weeks, Kayla Chapman will graduate with her bachelor of science in chemical engineering and then join the J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville as a process engineer.

But as smooth as her departure from The University of Toledo will be, her beginning as a student wasn’t so easy.

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CELEBRATING SUCCESS: UToledo recognizes the Class of 2021 with a series of stories featuring students receiving their degrees at fall commencement.

As a graduate from Jackson High School in Canton, Chapman joined UToledo as a student-athlete, but was medically disqualified from track and field because of too many injuries.

Far from creating a dark cloud of disappointment, the whole experience, she said, has proven beneficial, providing her with a steely optimistic resolve.

“I will say that being a student-athlete has taught me many valuable lessons over the years,” Chapman said, “such as maintaining a positive attitude and being able to see the good in any situation, in addition to recognizing that comparison is the thief of joy and that I am ‘running my own race’ not someone else’s.

“Along with this, I have developed great perseverance, determination and time management skills to strive to be the best engineering student I can be, as well as a different perspective on teamwork and leadership. I am extremely grateful for my experiences as a rocket student-athlete.”

As with most of The College of Engineering’s graduates, Chapman is also proud of her vast variety of co-op experiences.

She spent a semester with Plastic Technologies Inc. in Holland as a project engineer co-op, two semesters with Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. in Findlay as a test development engineer co-op and a manufacturing process engineer co-op, and one semester with Folgers in New Orleans as a technical services organization process engineer intern.

“I have been fortunate to have four total co-ops with four different job titles, and three different companies in three different industries. Each unique experience has shaped me into the passionate engineer I am today,” Chapman said. “Additionally, I have met many influential employees at each co-op. I am glad I branched out of my comfort zone to travel to new places and experience different work environments because I greatly enjoyed each experience.”

Kayla Chapman was medically disqualified from UToledo track and field because of injuries. The experience helped shape her positive outlook and ability to see the good in any situation.

Chapman’s research is focused in engineering education, specifically analyzing big data trends from the use of auto-graded homework questions within an interactive chemical engineering textbook. The findings are then used to continually optimize homework questions and develop new content to positively impact student engagement and learning.

She presented her research at The American Institute of Chemical Engineers Regional and National Conferences as well as the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference.

Dr. Matthew Liberatore, professor of chemical engineering, who taught her favorite chemical engineering class, Material and Energy Balances, served as Chapman’s research advisor.

He’s also had the most impact on her UToledo engineering experience.

“As a part of his engineering education research team, I have been able to co-author three published journal articles along with many conference proceedings, and I have grown as a public speaker through presenting my research at various virtual and in-person conferences,” she said. “Through researching engineering education, I have a greater appreciation for college professors and their passion to teach students to the best of their ability. I then became passionate about teaching and tutoring chemical engineering students.

“I want to thank Dr. Liberatore for encouraging me to continue to work hard, be innovative and pursue my dream of being a chemical engineer.”

Liberatore said he also thinks highly of Chapman.

“Kayla is an outstanding student in the classroom, a focused and productive researcher and an incredible asset to our chemical engineering program through her tutoring activities,” he said. “While data analytics is not part of our chemical engineering curriculum right now, Kayla has led our engineering education research in this area by learning new skills from statistics to aggregating and visualizing large data sets generated by students using an interactive textbook that I authored.

And as his soon-to-be former student prepares to graduate from UToledo, he predicts a successful career ahead for her.

“Kayla’s industriousness and ability to grow will garner success in her life as a process engineer or whatever job and life roles that she pursues.”

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