Outstanding Senior award recipient Abby Obert was born and raised in the Columbus area and is graduating this spring from The Ohio State University with her degree in food, agricultural and biological engineering. Abby specializes in ecological engineering and minors in humanitarian engineering, which has led her to several unique opportunities.
While Abby is from the area, she didn’t necessarily know she wanted to attend Ohio State. Abby knew she wanted to be in engineering, and that she loved the environment, so she originally was looking into environmental engineering. While on at tour at Ohio State, Abby’s tour guide explained that she was studying in ecological engineering in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE).
“It was meant to be. I looked to my mom and was like ‘I’ve never heard that before, I need to know more’. I talked to the tour guide after, and it was settled.”
Abby is currently interning at the Drainage Department in the Franklin County Engineer’s Office. Through her role, Abby visits different sites in the county to develop action plans which will minimize flooding, prevent erosion and promote water quality. Abby is also working to create a geo database of the current petition ditches in Franklin County, using ArcGIS Pro.
Additionally, Abby has the opportunity to design her own pipe system in Hilliard. Using the design software AutoCAD, Abby is mapping out a system to update the current one, which will benefit the community greatly.
“It’s different seeing it on paper and then going to the site. You almost expect it to look a certain way, and then you get there and realize things on your plan need to be moved around. It is a long but rewarding process.”
Last summer, Abby held an internship with Allen Soil and Water Conservation District as a water resources intern. Abby, along with the other intern, spent the summer dressed in waders, treading through the Ottawa River. Their job was to walk the river and GPS the exact location of the pipes, the sizes, types and direction of the pipes. If there was flowing water, they would collect a sample to test for nitrates, phosphorus, chlorine and the pH. Several times, Abby and the other intern would have to collect water samples to send to the EPA for discoloring.
“It wasn’t exactly engineering related, but I think it was really beneficial to see how a government agency works. I also gained a lot of knowledge with the water resource side, dealing with all of the pipe’s systems.”
In the classroom, Abby has been involved in a variety of projects, which have all acted as stepping stones for her future. In the spring of 2020, Abby and 23 other students traveled to Guatemala to assist in fixing the rainwater harvesting system of a preschool. Due to circumstances out of their control, the group was unable to visit the sight and collect data, but they did end up passing along their research and ideas for future groups.
Despite the change of plans, Abby and the rest of the group were still able to make an immediate impact on the area. After they had lunch and did a variety of activities at a local elder adult community center, the group split up and traveled to install cookstoves and water filters in homes.
“We spent half a semester studying this region of Guatemala, and for the first couple days, it almost seemed unreal that we were there.”
Also in the spring of 2020, Abby took a service-learning course with Dr. Chris Ratcliff. This was the first semester FABENG 3200-S Engineering and Community Development was offered at Ohio State, which allowed Abby to gain valuable experience making relationships for future projects the course would be completing.
After taking both courses, Abby realized she wanted to minor in humanitarian engineering.
“I ended up really liking both of those classes, and after talking to the minor advisor and realizing they both counted toward the minor, it just clicked. I realized social justice and water security are so intertwined, you really can’t have one without the other. They just complement each other so well.”
For incoming students, Abby suggests finding opportunities early. “Don’t stress about your path, not everybody has a straight line to where they are going to end up. Try to get an internship or research position really early on and that will open a lot of doors. Even if you don’t like every experience, you can then start crossing things of your list and get a type of gauge of where you want to end up and the kind of work you want to do.”
When it comes to her placement after college, Abby has recently accepted a position as the drainage project engineer in training at the Franklin County Engineers Office.
by Eryn Oldham