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'I love the atmosphere of a lab'


Unni Kurumbail at the entrance to Gavett Hall, home of  the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Unni Kurumbail ’18 of Chemical Engineering was originally “not that interested” in attending the University of Rochester – until an interviewer at the school said something that made him take a second look.

“He described the student body as being engaged and passionate about what they are doing, but also interesting to talk to. People who are not so focused that you can’t experience the sense of community I was looking for,” Kurumbail explained.

“When I attended student acceptance day, I found those kinds of students.”

Open curriculum was also attractive

He also liked the University’s open curriculum,  which allows engineering students to choose a cluster of related courses in an area of the humanities or social sciences that actually interests them, rather than requiring them to take what would be called “general education requirements” at other colleges.

Kurumbail says he hasn’t regretted his decision to attend Rochester. Neither has the University. Kurumbail is one of 16 recipients of the Iota Book Award for 2015-2016. Co-sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa and the College of Arts, Science and Engineering, the award recognizes excellence at the very beginning of a student's college experience. Awardees are selected for their scholarly achievement, humanistic values, co-curricular activity, and leadership potential.

Kurumbail, who comes from Connecticut, originally contemplated majoring in mechanical engineering, but switched to chemical engineering after taking an introductory course in process analysis with Prof. David Wu.  “I could see how what we were learning was applicable to problems I find interesting, such as dealing with chemical reactions and working with new materials,” he said.

During his freshman year he participated in the Debate Club and the Symphony Orchestra; more recently he has focused his extracurricular time on the Students for a Democratic Society, and would like to get involved in tutoring Rochester city school students or other volunteer activities to help hard-pressed neighborhoods.

Really good classes, passionate professors

After spending a summer working in a university research lab back home, he’s also looking forward to the same experience at UR.

“I love the atmosphere of a lab,” he said.  “The people are really dedicated to their research questions and really want to do rigorous research and want to critique each other’s work. It is a really supportive atmosphere that is also very intense,” he said.

Ten to 15 years from now?

“It would be really cool to be working in a small chemical engineering company designing some sort of new product,” Kurumbail said.

In the meantime he’s making the most of the opportunities available at Rochester. “I enjoy it here. “They have really good classes and passionate professors, which makes it an interesting learning experience.”