Andrew Rojnuckarin ’23 enjoys UR’s smaller size

May 22, 2022

Andrew Rojnuckarin on the Eastman Quad with Rush Rhees Library in the background.
Andrew Rojnuckarin on the Eastman Quad with Rush Rhees Library in the background.

The University of Rochester is ranked R1 for its very high research activity. It  is also relatively small compared to its peers and boasts a 10:1 student to faculty ratio.

Andrew Rojnuckarin ’23, a chemical engineering major, didn’t understand how important those factors would be when he enrolled at Rochester. But he does now.

“It’s really awesome being able to reach out to professors, and they know your name,” says Rojnuckarin. “And also, small class sizes give you a great opportunity to really know the people in your classes, which is much harder at a school that has 10 times as many students.”

Rochester’s smaller size made it easier for Rojnuckarin to participate in student leadership roles. He is president of the University’s Engineers Without Borders student chapter, for example.

“I think the biggest advantage for me was the access to research opportunities,” Rojnuckarin adds. “I found it really easy to reach out to professors and get research experience, starting my sophomore year, which was really great.”

Rojnuckarin, who is also pursuing a minor in computer science, has thrived academically. He is the 2022 recipient of the Department of Chemical Engineering’s Donald F. Othmer Sophomore Academic Excellence Award and the department’s Albert K. Ackoff Award for academic achievement as a junior.

‘Everybody should learn computer science’

Rojnuckarin grew up in Lexington, MA, where the first shots of the American Revolutionary War were exchanged, about 15 minutes northeast of Boston.

His parents are both chemical engineers. “I see the things they do, and it’s pretty cool. So, I definitely took some inspiration from them when I picked my major,” Rojnuckarin says.

His passion for playing saxophone involved him in numerous jazz performances during high school. Rojnuckarin’s favorite courses were in math and sciences. He also took advanced placement computer science.

“It’s very satisfying when you can program something. Everyone should learn computer science, because it is a really awesome tool, especially in the job market that exists today,” Rojnuckarin says.

The computer science complements his chemical engineering studies. “A lot of what you learn in chemical engineering involves models,” Rojnuckarin says. “There are a lot of factors involved in chemical engineering, so you have to determine which are most important, and make assumptions based on that. It’s very similar to the use of abstraction in computer science.”

Internships, research spark his interest in pharmaceuticals

Rojnuckarin did not waste time taking advantage of the opportunities the University of Rochester offers students. 

He learned about Engineers Without Borders his first year on campus. The student chapter undertakes projects that address the needs of communities in under-developed countries.

Rojnuckarin, whose term as president continues through fall semester, is closely involved with the chapter’s budding relationship with Naramat, a rural community in Tanzania. “They have really poor access to water, and in the dry season they have to walk hours a day just to collect water and lug it all the way back to their village,” Rojnuckarin says. “That would be an insane story in this country where access to water is not something that we even have to think about. So, hearing their story was very impactful.”

COVID travel restrictions have prevented students from visiting the village firsthand, but the chapter has contracted with a hydrogeologist to survey the site, so students can begin designing a water well to serve the village. Rojnuckarin is hopeful EWB student members can visit the village during winter break.

Eager to learn more about what chemical engineers do, Rojnuckarin worked as a global manufacturing and technical operations intern for Biogen the summer after this first year at Rochester. An internship with Bristol Meyers Squibb the following summer was especially valuable, he says.

“They make a lot of small molecule drugs, and I learned there’s an upstream process where the drug is created, and then a downstream process where they purify the drug, filtering out byproducts,” Rojnuckarin says. “I learned a lot about how that filtration works.”

Specifically, he assisted on-site engineers with downstream chromatography experiments. In many biopharmaceutical companies, chromatographic purification in downstream processing is a key focus for optimization studies.

This summer, as an Eisenberg Summer Research Fellow, he will devote full time to a project he has been working on in the lab of David Foster, associate professor of chemical engineering. The project involves another approach to downstream processing, modifying the scaffolding used in packed bed reactors to increase the surface area for enzymes to filter unwanted materials. Computational fluid dynamics will be used to optimize the design of the individual modifications, then scale them up for use throughout a packed bed reactor.

 “It’s been interesting to see how the things I’ve learned from the internship and my research project are related to each other,” Rojnuckarin says.

This has solidified his interest in pursuing a career in biotech or pharmaceuticals.

Keeping his options open

After graduating next spring, Rojnuckarin plans to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering. Though he has been leaning toward a career in industry, he is keeping his options open.

Especially after another interesting experience at the University. Last fall, he served as a teaching assistant, leading a workshop for a course on chemical process analysis. The course gives sophomores an overview of mass and energy conservation, equilibrium, thermodynamics, and methodology and problem-solving as applied in chemical engineering.

“I learned that I really liked teaching,” Rojnuckarin says. “It was a lot of fun, working with students, explaining different ways to come at a problem.”

So, he’s not ruling out a career in academia, either.

Whatever he ends up doing, Rojnuckarin is determined to give it his best effort. “You are only here once,” he says. “It would a shame if I wasn’t as good as I could possibly be during my life.”