Environmental engineering grad encourages women in STEM

UC grad uses co-op experience to save employers money and make world greener

Whether by starting her own club, paving the way for future student engineers or encouraging other women in STEM to get involved, Madison Alvarez made the most of her time as a Bearcat. 

The accomplished student recently graduated with a degree in environmental engineering with a minor in Spanish, and she has left behind a legacy of leadership and empowerment within the UC community.

Alvarez was drawn toward UC’s environmental engineering track largely because of the cooperative education program, which allowed her to graduate with three years of work experience following the five-year program. The Columbus, Ohio, native says she is driven by a passion for her work.

Madison Alvarez and two colleagues stand in front of a building in Botswana holding their arms up to spell "UC."

Madison Alvarez (far right) poses in front of a building during her study abroad in Botswana.

“I recognize that there are a lot of problems with the environment,” says Alvarez. “Someone has to do something about it, so it might as well be me.”

Although engineering might be viewed as a typically male-dominated field, Alvarez is excited to be a pioneer, paving the way for future generations of women.

“You have to work harder as a woman to prove yourself,” she says. “You gain a tough skin and have to be really confident in yourself.”

I recognize that there are a lot of problems with the environment. Someone has to do something about it, so it might as well be me.

UC graduate Madison Alvarez

During her engineering co-op with Cincinnati-based supermarket giant Kroger, Alvarez said she helped save the company over $1.5 million in energy costs across 2,800 locations by identifying and fixing inefficiencies. It’s those little changes that can make a big impact, and people don’t often recognize that, the engineer said.

Her goal is to promote a culture of sustainability through her work and to change peoples’ minds and philosophies about what it means to be green. When Alvarez found herself having to go to her manager repeatedly to get questions answered, she essentially redesigned the co-op training program and created a co-op resource guide to improve the process for future students. She was also hired part time to train and teach three groups of co-ops.

Madison Alvarez leans in for a photo with three other seniors in Chi Omega in front of the sorority house.

Alvarez (far left) poses with her fellow seniors in Chi Omega.

“It made an impact on the company, and they recognized that,” Alvarez says. “It felt like my child.”

In addition to her co-ops and studies in environmental engineering, Alvarez took part in UC’s mountaineering club, the UC Symphony Orchestra and her sorority, Chi Omega. She was an ambassador for the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and she started an official campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity her sophomore year in which she served as president.

“It was a big lesson in leadership and pushing through,” Alvarez says of the experience. “I left it at its peak and I’m excited to see people continue that work.”

The honor student has also studied abroad in Spain, Botswana and Hong Kong. Her dad’s side of the family is Spanish, and Alvarez describes the cultural immersion as “hitting home,” allowing her to reconnect with her heritage. She had never been out of the country prior to her first trip.

“Those experiences really ingrained in me what it means to be a global scholar,” Alvarez says.

Despite these big adventures, when looking back on her college experience Alvarez says her time at UC was defined by the little moments — like grabbing sushi right before class or the sense of togetherness she felt during the Darwin T. Turner Scholars induction ceremony each year.

“College is such a diverse ride to experience,” she said. “The pandemic made me really reflect on those little underappreciated moments.”

Madison Alvarez relaxes on top of a mountain in Vermont and enjoys the scenic view.

Madison Alvarez rests at the highest point in Vermont during a trip with the UC mountaineering club. photo/Submitted

Alvarez encourages women to consider a STEM major at UC and says there are people on campus who will support your cause.

“The times I grew the most and felt the most alive were when I was challenged,” Alvarez says. “Don’t let anyone intimidate you or scare you or tell you it’s too hard, because you’re absolutely capable.”

Considering the impact of the coronavirus on the current job market, the recent grad is unsure of her exact plans for the future.

“You don’t have to have life figured out perfectly,” she says, “as long as you do something you care about and follow it passionately.” 

Featured image at top: Madison Alvarez poses with her camera on a beach in Hong Kong. All photos provided.

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