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Doctoral Student Sees Chemical Engineering as Part of Everything in Daily Life

In a increasingly competitive and technologically advanced world, Kevin Lyon stands out as a true Idaho gem. He has the drive and passion to do what’s needed in order to stay current and make an impact in his chosen field of chemical engineering.

After graduating from high school in eastern Idaho, he moved to Oregon for the independence and education that comes with college.

“I had no interest in STEM. None at all. Then I took calculus and the instructor sparked an interest in it.”

When asked why he selected Chemical Engineering as his area, he becomes quite animated and it’s easy to see that he is passionate about the discipline.

“Chemical Engineering is part of everything in daily life. It’s a piece of the gasoline in your car, the electricity in your home and the food that we consume. It has a wide breadth. Chemical Engineers work on cool, complex applied problems.”

He returned to Idaho to attend the University of Idaho and graduated with a bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from the Moscow campus in 2010.

“At that point, I was finished with school. I was not going to continue with a graduate degree.”

Life has a funny way of happening when you don’t expect it to. A friend of Kevin’s, his former roommate in Moscow, started a masters degree. His excitement about the masters and advanced education made Kevin take a pause and consider what going back to school could mean for him.

“I was living in Idaho Falls and wanted to stay in the area. University of Idaho’s Idaho Falls campus offers graduate programs in Chemical Engineering so I contacted the local office for assistance.”

That’s when he met his future Major Professor, Dr. Vivek Utgikar, who was the instructor of his first graduate class.

“Kevin is an ideal graduate student; one who is intellectually curious, eager to lean and motivated to accomplish objectives. Having been the outstanding student of his graduating baccalaureate class, he has strong technical and scientific fundamentals that enable him to grasp the complex concepts of advanced topics and build his skillset.”

Kevin started his masters degree in 2012 while working fulltime at Idaho National Lab where he is a Chemical Engineer in Aqueous Separations and Radiochemistry. He successfully completed his M.S. in the Spring 2016 semester and is now pursuing a Ph.D., also in Chemical Engineering.

A thoughtful scholar, Kevin shares that education has helped him to get a good job that is fulfilling and enjoyable. It has increased his professional reputation and afforded opportunities for career advancement. He has better means to provide a good life for himself and his family and has enhanced his everyday life.

“Education changes your outlook on how and where things come from and when you think about where things come from you become grateful and understand what it takes to have the life that we have.”

Balancing life, work and going to school, especially as a doctoral student is not easy or quick. It requires time management, goal setting and knowing your priorities.

“You need to commit to your studies for certain but you also need to commit to having a personal life and that can take even more of a commitment. I’ve seen non-traditional students try to burn the candle at both ends. You must manage your time well. Slow and steady progress, don’t overload, take one class at a time.”

Kevin’s choice to continue on to the Ph.D. program was done with careful consideration. He firmly believes in the value of gaining knowledge and expertise so that he can be more effective in his work. As a research and development scientist, the advanced degree lends credibility to the research and can bring in additional avenues for projects.

Dr. Utgikar describes it this way.

“Kevin is ever willing to listen and deliberate over the suggestions related to his research and is always looking to enhance the understanding of the field. Pursuit of an advanced degree while working full-time is a challenging task, but Kevin is right up to it, with his research having practical applicability in INL’s activities to advance the field of aqueous separations related to nuclear energy and critical materials.”

Kevin also credits the support from family and other people close to him for making it possible for him to do what he genuinely enjoys.

“Ask yourself what you want in life and commit to it. Remember that we are all human and none of us are perfect. Don’t lose sight of what’s important in your life along the way. Keep your priorities straight, buckle down, and do what’s right.”

Article by Alice Allen

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