Alumna Andrea Lin Envisions A Happier Environment

Andrea Lin

Andrea Lin graduated from Northwestern in 2021 with a major in environmental engineering and a minor in architectural and engineering design. Since graduating, she has worked for Kipnis Architecture and Planning with a focus on sustainable residential construction. Bolstered by her AED minor, she had a robust knowledge of architectural study, but she still possessed an endless drive to learn more about the "what and whys" of architectural process and design. Letting her curiosity guide her, she has since gone on to share her knowledge with the firm's latest hires and interns in order to make every environment she's a part of just a little better. 

Why did you choose Northwestern to pursue your undergraduate degree? 

For me, the campus and location was a major factor in my decision to choose Northwestern. I loved being met with the greenery and the view of Lake Michigan. The walkability of campus has always remained one of my favorite things and I have often come back to visit just to enjoy the stroll along the lake.  

Why did you decide to major in environmental engineering? 

Originally, I was accepted to Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences to pursue a degree in Environmental Science because of my interest in sustainable living. I ended up wanting to take a class that first year engineering students typically take called "Design Thinking & Communication," a course where students work in teams and learn to digest a real life design problem and develop a solution. I switched from Environmental Science to Environmental Engineering because of the interest in problem solving through design. 

Through the Civil & Environmental Engineering introductory seminar, I learned about the Architectural & Engineering Design sequence offered by the department. The courses soon became the ones I looked forward to the most, and I took every opportunity I could find to pursue the topic at Northwestern.  

Can you recall a moment from your time at Northwestern that impacted or inspired you?   

One of the most significant moments from my time at Northwestern was participating in the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge in my final year. Classes and activities had been forced online as a co-leader of the NU chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable world, our project groups were looking for ways to continue to engage in projects remotely.

As we began to explore one of my interests of "what would it take to design a house to have a built-in garden to sustain a family?" we recognized that we didn't really know where to begin or how to outline where we were headed. A fellow engineering student, Taylor Miyamoto-Kim (Class of 2023), was the one who initially found the design competition, suggesting it as a guideline we could follow as a structure. Eventually, we considered entering the competition and found other students interested in being part of the team.

At times it definitely felt like we bit off more than we could chew, diving into a competition for the first time, working entirely remotely, on a subject that team members had little to no prior experience with.

Many of the other teams entering the competition do so as part of their coursework in architecture or engineering, whereas our team stumbled through everything for the first time. Throughout the process, there were many times that I doubted how we were possibly going to get the project done.

Even more impressive was how their efforts paid off – the team won first in the Urban Single-Family Housing Division as well as the year’s Grand Winner in the Residential Category. From the perspective of a manager, my primary focus was pulling the deliverables together; it was the rest of the team’s will and determination that pulled in the award recognition.

I will always be grateful to the team that stepped up to such a daunting competition without fully knowing what they were getting themselves into. They taught me a lot about what's possible when you see a project through to the end.

What advice would you give to prospective students? 

Even though it’s intimidating, take a chance on reaching out to upperclassmen, alumni, and recent graduates that are doing work or have experience in something that interests you. It may feel like a one-sided benefit when asking to listen to someone else’s experiences, but the people sharing their stories and journey are gaining just as much from recounting what they’ve been through. 

If you come across opportunities to attend talks, make time to go to them. You can sit in the back, doodle while you listen - whatever it may take to get you in the audience. When I backtrack on the most influential experiences I was fortunate to have, they all began from learning about opportunities I didn’t know existed and discovered by chance; discoveries made possible because I set out to learn about new topics. 

How do you feel that the CEE program prepared you for the professional world? 

Through my studies at Northwestern, I learned about countless pressing issues from consumable water shortages to clean energy generation, increasing intensity of natural disasters and access to food. At times, I found the number of problems to solve to be overwhelming. One of my biggest takeaways from the program was that no profession that seeks to have large scale impacts can ever work independently or in solitude. This curriculum brings together students who share a passion for a safer, healthier world – my peers are all people with different specialized interests related to the environment. There is value in understanding the issues with enough depth to know which colleague, teammate, or professional to consult.  

What is your current career/how have you impacted your company? 

Most recently, I am working as a Junior Designer at an architectural firm focused on sustainable residential construction. My typical work consisted of site analysis and zoning, drafting space layouts, researching products and materials, and detailing documents for construction. Since I did not have the standard background in architecture, I asked a lot of questions (of my endlessly patient coworkers) about the what and whys of both the process and designs.  

As I was learning so much through the work, there were many moments of new understanding that felt really satisfying. For two summers I took on the role of training the new intern because I was so excited to help build others’ confidence in gaining new skills and creating a comfortable environment to be curious. The impact that I found most fulfilling from my work was the gratitude expressed by the most recent intern for my guidance, feedback, and presence as another woman in the field not much older than her. 

What would you say is the biggest challenge you faced after graduating, and how did you overcome it?  

A major challenge that I've faced is the inner struggle of feeling that I’m “not where I should be.” Although I can’t say that it’s something I’ve concisely overcome, I have become better at wrangling in the imposter syndrome. I am practicing the habits of focusing on where I am rather than where I am not and doing simple things to put a little bit of light into the lives of people I’m connected to. It helps me put the perceptions of inadequacy aside, and reiterate that wherever I am now is the right starting point for wherever I’d like to be. 

What is one thing you are passionate about?  

I am passionate about how the design of our physical environments impacts how we think, feel, and approach the world. There are very few places in the US that have been designed at the human scale. At the moment, one aspect of this in particular that I've been learning about is the relationship between walkability and happiness. For example, how a 5 minute walk along a series of small shops can put us in a lighter mood versus a 5 minute walk through a parking lot can put us mentally on edge. The paths we have access to provide the groundwork for our perceptions: a person who is accustomed to walking through parking lots or along busy streets without safe sidewalks will have a more negative view of walking anywhere. 

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