Erin Feryo, a Chemical Engineering senior at Villanova University, participated in the SPARK Innovation Competition during her junior year. The 24-hour think-tank style competition allows students to work alongside industry representatives to develop solutions to real-world problems. Thomas Nowlan ’84 ChE, ’95 MSChE , senior vice president of O’Brien & Gere (OBG), was among several Villanova alumni that Erin met during the event. Impressed with her performance in the competition, Erin was encouraged to apply for an internship, which she held last summer with OBG’s environmental remediation group.
Erin worked in the area of per- and poly-fluorinated compounds, which are man-made, toxic chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled as “very persistent in the environment and in the human body.” A byproduct of manufacturing, the contaminants do not break down and can accumulate to harmful levels, leading to the contamination of soil, water, food, animals and commercial products. OBG is dedicated to resolving environmental issues and Erin’s internship responsibilities included helping to design remediation projects with clients and organizing historical database information .
During her summer with the company, Erin was asked to participate in a related research project that OBG would sponsor in the coming academic year for the Chemical Engineering department’s new Senior Project Studio. She explains, “We are investigating the root cause of per- and poly-fluorinated contaminants, understanding the chemistry involved with them, and researching current remediation treatment methods.”
Erin and her team—which includes classmates Katherine Shannon and Kristen Aune—have read a variety of journal articles about possible treatments and generated a summary sheet of methods. She adds, “We are now applying the information we gathered to capture and destroy these compounds at a real-life site given to us by Dr. Dorothy Skaf, our faculty advisor, and the representatives at OBG. Our final deliverable will be recommending a site treatment method to the OBG team.” The five-member O’Brien & Gere team includes three Villanova Engineering graduates: Brian Hickel, PE, ’09 MSChE; Dimitri Sokolik ’00 ChE, ’03 MSChE; and Matthew Hencken ’14 ChE.
As graduation quickly approaches, Erin looks forward to applying her knowledge and skills to a position with FMC Corporation, where she’ll begin her career as a technical engineer in the company’s engineering development program.