Lawton eager to share her own ‘exciting journey’ in engineering

February 27, 2020
Melodie Lawton
Melodie Lawton, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering

Last year’s senior class at Bucknell University chose Melodie Lawton as the faculty member “most likely to boost your confidence.”

That should come as no surprise.

Lawton, now an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Rochester, has demonstrated the importance of self-motivation and confidence since an early age.

“I come from a non-STEM background, so I think I always had to be self-motivating,” says Lawton, who discovered she “had a propensity for taking things apart and seeing how they work” while growing up in New York City.

Her parents were supportive, but since they were non-technical, she was pretty much on her own when it came to figuring out what kind of engineering she wanted to do, and how to pursue it. “But I just kept going,” she says.

She participated in every science fair in grade school. She joined a science club in high school. She got excited about circuits, then about civil engineering, then about chemistry. She went to college, made friends, and together learned what it means to navigate a campus and earn a degree.

In the end it turned out be an “exciting journey,” she says. And now, as an instructional faculty member in charge of the department’s undergraduate labs, she is looking forward to helping her Rochester students along that same journey.

A wide range of experience

After getting a BS in chemical engineering at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn in 2004, Lawton worked for Bausch and Lomb in Rochester as a process engineer. During seven years with the vision care company she gained a wide range of experiences in mentoring and training lab personnel, supervising daily process engineering lab activities, troubleshooting inconsistencies between different manufacturing sites, and worked on the development of new opththalmic medical devices.

While at Bausch and Lomb, she earned a master’s degree in materials science and engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2011, she left B&L to earn a PhD in bioengineering at Syracuse University, where she worked with Prof. Patrick Mather on development of smart shape memory polymer composites.

She then spent one year as a visiting assistant professor at Bucknell University, teaching undergraduate courses in Fabrication and Experimental Design, Introduction to Biomedical Engineering, Biotransport, and a biopolymers course she introduced. All but the biopolymers course had weekly lab sections that she also taught. And she served as an advisor for senior capstone design projects.

“I have found that my professional experience as an engineer provides me with a broad perspective that is useful in helping students with assignments, professional development and instilling concepts that will be useful in their careers,” said Lawton.

Connecting to students

Lawton is glad to be back in Rochester. She likes hiking at Bristol and at Letchworth State Park and biking on the canal trails. “I’m actually a cold weather person,” she adds.

Above all, she’s excited to be connecting to students in classrooms and labs. This semester, Lawton is teaching Chemical Engineering Practice to juniors, and she will also direct the undergraduate labs. Next year, she will teach both chemical engineering senior undergraduate labs and Chemical Process Analysis.

“The challenge is taking really complicated physics and chemistry and repackaging it so someone can not only understand it but be excited enough to want to learn on their own in the future, or do something with it,” Lawton says.

“I find that really satisfying.”