Chemical engineering student applies research to op-ed article

Lauren Blum
December 11, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Chemical engineering student Natalie Morrissey’s outlook on running in her free time corresponds to how the sophomore handles her time at Penn State: Making it to the end goal is great, but it is important to enjoy the journey along the way.

Recently, the Pittsburgh native and Schreyer Honors student’s research under the guidance of Darrell Velegol, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, in the Physics of Community research lab, led to an opportunity to have her work published as an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“It was really exciting to see it published, but it was also really fun to write,” Morrissey said. “With this article and many other things I do, I enjoy not just the final result, but also having fun and learning a lot along the way.”

Her piece, titled “Get creative in taxing gas,” discussed how giving gas companies tax incentives could help break the state budget impasse, as Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Legislature have not yet determined how to close a $2 billion budget deficit.

The idea sparked from her research in the lab that involves applying engineering principles such as thermodynamic concepts to economic principles like game theory and decision making.

She said Velegol encouraged the group early on in the semester to start setting goals for what the students in the lab want to achieve each week. The group followed his suggestion, and that is how Morrissey said she formed the idea to submit the pitch to the newspaper.

After a few follow-up emails, extensive research on the history of taxing natural gas in Pennsylvania, edits from her peers and professor, and review by the Post-Gazette, Morrissey’s article was published in November both online and in print.

She said the writing process was the best but most challenging part of the process because it was difficult finding a topic that was different from what was already being written. She said most articles she saw were either arguing for or against Wolf’s proposal, so she decided finding a middle ground where there is a win for both sides was the best way to craft a solution.

Since the piece was published, Morrissey said the group is working on background research and following along as the budget process continues. She said she hopes to write another op-ed and potentially make it a series.

Morrissey said she plans to focus on her current research and keep improving in her extracurricular activities as a Penn State Learning guided study group leader for organic chemistry. Each week she holds review sessions where she teaches up to 200 students at a time, she said.

“Organic chemistry was a subject I really liked, but I also know it is known as a ‘weed out class,’” Morrissey said. “I want to make sure students have the tools they need to succeed and that they can still pursue their major even if they have to overcome a tough class.”

In addition to teaching, she volunteers at the Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania in downtown State College and does outreach for Penn State’s chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. In both roles, she works with young children and helps spark their interest in STEM-related activities by doing demonstrations and experiments, she said.

This summer she will be interning at Dow Corning’s global headquarters in Michigan, where she will most likely work in process engineering. She said she hopes to explore more of the engineering manufacturing environment as a potential career path in the future. 

Morrissey’s op-ed is available on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.

  • Natalie Morrissey with research advisor, Darrell Velegol

    Natalie Morrissey with research advisor, Darrell Velegol

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 26, 2016