Heather Reed

  • Hometown: East Taunton, Mass.
  • Civil Engineering

Heather Reed chose Cornell because she plans to go to graduate school and stay in academia. "Cornell is an amazing research school," she says. "There's a lot of great opportunities to get involved in research with your professors."

Reed almost chose another university, but is glad she didn't. "I really like Ithaca. I wouldn't have wanted to be in a city," she says. "There's a lot to do in the summer that people don't know about. It's fun here."

Reed has spent her summers in Ithaca doing research with AguaClara, a student group that designs drinking water treatment plants for communities in Honduras. "I thought it would be a good way to get involved, learn about the technology, and help out people who don't have clean drinking water," she says.

She worked at a pilot facility at the Cornell water treatment plant, testing different aspects of the project. "Other groups were doing research within laboratories and we were taking what they were doing and testing it on a larger scale," she says.

Over winter break, Reed and other AguaClara members traveled to Honduras, where they toured water treatment plants, including some designed by the group. They stayed with local families, who were thankful the students had designed a low-cost treatment system that operates without electricity. "They were mostly appreciative to have clean water because during the rainy season they would open the tap and it would just be brown," she says. "That's motivation for us to come back and work as hard as we can to make those plants more efficient and inexpensive."

Wanting to specialize in structural mechanics, Reed plans to work this summer with Associate Professor Christopher Earls, writing a finite element code in C. "Right now it just takes static loads and I'm going to be responsible for adding a dynamic component to it, which is nice because I'm taking earthquake dynamics in engineering right now," she says.

Reed credits Cornell's diverse engineering program for allowing her to study such varied topics. "There are a lot of different concentrations and it's nice because you can pick and choose from each of them what interests you, which is great," she says. "Other schools that I looked at had very specific course sequences that you had to follow."

Like about a third of Cornell undergraduates, Reed is involved in Greek life. She says her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, does a lot of philanthropy work. "We do one really big event during the beginning of the school year called Tip-a-canoe," she says. "We donate all the money we make to Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Her coursework can be demanding, says Reed, but that's what she's here for. "I'm always being challenged, which is a good thing," she says. "In high school sometimes I felt bored with classes and work, but here I feel like I'm always learning something new."

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