A Chemistry Degree Twice as Valuable

As a high school student, Charlie Lien loved to mix things to create something new. She especially enjoyed seeing the reactions when she combined chemicals in her chemistry class.

She thought those interests would lead to her pursuing a teaching degree. She imagined teaching science.

Then someone encouraged her to look into the field of chemical engineering. This field captured her attention in a way that other jobs didn’t.

“It uses science in a way I hadn’t seen before,” she says. “Chemical engineers use science to build, create and design. They use science to make the world better.”

Lien graduated in the spring of 2022 – the first graduate of a chemical engineering dual degree program with MSUM and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. She has a bachelor’s degree from both institutions.

She started at MSUM taking chemistry and math courses, plus general education courses like business and economics. At MSUM, her classes were smaller and she says that professors encouraged students to work together to study and solve problems.

“I had so much support at MSUM,” she says. “My professors were so accessible.”

Those experiences helped her succeed at UND, where her studies focused on engineering and included a capstone project where she and her peers had to design an industrial plant from scratch.

Even after she had moved on to UND, her MSUM advisor, Dr. Landon Bladow, checked in periodically to offer encouragement.

“Nobody had done this before and everyone was willing to help me make it happen,” she says. “I was never afraid to ask for help.”

Thanks to the partnership, she graduated with a chemistry degree from MSUM and an engineering degree from UND. She also secured a semester-long co-op with American Crystal Sugar that led to a full-time job as a factory engineer. Lien is on a team that will increase the capacity of the factory in Drayton, N.D., to process sugar beets.

Lien praises the dual degree program because it allowed her to start at a smaller college before moving into a larger program. It also gave her an opportunity to explore different options in chemistry before committing fully to engineering.

“Having two degrees is so helpful,” she says. “It opens so many doors, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do at first.”

Now, she can’t imagine doing anything different.

“I get a chance to be creative,” she says. “My work is challenging, but it’s also fun. And I know that what I do makes a difference.”

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