Lerner Graduate Student Stories: Sarah Oswald

photo of Sarah Oswald

Sarah Oswald works as a chemical engineer and quality manager and is an MBA candidate at the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. Oswald, who plans to graduate in 2022, shared her experience choosing her Lerner graduate programs and how it has impacted her both personally and professionally.

Lerner: Why did you go back to pursue your graduate degree? Why did you choose the Lerner College for your studies?

Oswald: I went back to pursue my graduate degree as a pre-requisite to the next steps in my career. If I want to continue advancing myself as a manager, there are tools from the MBA program that I need to learn to do a good job. I chose the Lerner College because it is the best program in the area.

Lerner: What did you learn through this opportunity that you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?

Oswald: Through the MBA program at the Lerner College, I’ve learned a lot!

Lerner: What is an example of a course or concept that you were able to apply directly to your life and/or career?

Oswald: Professor Wendy Smith taught us to try to make a big impact in a small amount of time. I’ll expand on that below.

Lerner: Can you describe an important connection you have made through your graduate program?

Oswald: Professor Wendy Smith has been great to connect with outside of class. She has been very helpful in continuing my connections network and encouraging me to go forth and do more! I’ve made friends with a wonderful peer named Harpreet Dhillon. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I think we would be seeing each other much more often. I am looking forward to the day when we can sit down together outside of class and have a meal with our families!

Lerner: If you were to describe your classmates in one word, what would that be?

Oswald: Hard Working. I am used to being the most motivated person on a team but my classmates have been giving me a run for my money these past few years!

Lerner: How do you balance your career with your studies?

Oswald: I am taking my studies at a reasonable pace. I only take max two classes per semester and since COVID-19, I am taking one class at a time, no overlap. My husband is instrumental in helping to ensure that I have the time I need to perform well in my classes.

Lerner: Fill in this sentence: “My graduate program helped me become…”

Oswald: More confident. I am learning through these classes that I have learned a lot in my career to date. I’ve been able to apply a lot from my career to my classes. It has helped me realize that my education never ended, even after I left college.

Lerner: What was the most impactful hands-on project or case competition that you were able to participate in?

Oswald:  Professor Wendy Smith gave us an ambitious project in the BUAD 874 course that would only last a couple of weeks. She encouraged us to come up with a plan to make a significant, meaningful impact by the end of the course. At first, all of us were daunted. By the end of that course, I was very impressed by the work we had all managed to do.

I took on that challenge again! This time for work. My company Solvay ran a worldwide initiative called “Citizens Day”. In 2019, the theme was “Environment” and our site planted trees and picked up trash in the area. Last year, the theme was “Education”. The goal was to engage students as well as educate the community about sustainable projects that Solvay is working on.

My colleagues and I were able to put all of this together within a five-week window of time.  I don’t think I would have considered such an ambitious project in such a short window of time if it weren’t for Professor Smith’s class. She showed us ways to stop ourselves from being artificially limited. I appreciate the lessons we learned in her unconventional class.

  1. Reusables vs Disposables: Plastic Bag Drive
  • We did a single-use plastic bag drive at the West Deptford Solvay site, at Newark Solvay site, Sanford Lower School (DE), Salesianum (DE) and Boys and Girls clubs in Gl0ucester county (NJ).
  • We exchanged plastic bags for one re-usable bag per person who donated. Inside each re-usable bag was a pamphlet that detailed some of the sustainable items our local sites have participated in recently. Parallel Point: we have been making film for re-usable COVID face shields to replace the disposable face shields. So just as this one reusable bag might replace several disposable bags, our face shields are replacing several disposable ones.
  • We used some of the bags in a small art installation as well. We recycled some of the bags into a Jellyfish sculpture made by a sculpture student, Jeffrey Churchman, at the University of Delaware to bring awareness to the issue of single-use plastics and their effects on marine wildlife. I was connected to Jeffrey through people I have met at the school, including Gregg Shelnutt.
  • The rest of the collected bags from all of our collection points were then given to Lowes, who will recycle the bags into products such as deck furniture.

2. Lightweighting:  Drexel AICHE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers)

  • We created a cost-benefit math problem for the AICHE students at Drexel University.
  • The students were each given different roles and different pieces of information.
  • They had to work together to do some fun math and compare two projects: make an airplane out of High-Performance Light Weight Materials or make it out of metal alloys.
  • In the project, they were comparing price and carbon footprint over time. Fun detail: While the carbon footprint looks worse for the polymers (far higher than mining metal) at first, over the life of the airplane, (saving 20% of the weight by using plastics) the carbon footprint is far less using our polymers!

3. Solar Energy: West Deptford Solar Farm

  • This year, West Deptford has installed a Solar Farm to help power their plant
  • Our engineers sent small solar cars to Salesianum, Sanford and the Boys and Girls Club. Over Zoom, our sites taught the students how to assemble the solar cars and about solar energy along the way.

Lerner: What are your plans or next steps for the future?

Oswald: Finish my MBA program. Successfully manage people and projects for the rest of my life! Advance my career, either in Quality or Operations. Rule the world 😉

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