Janani Vedanth’s (ChemE 0T7) interest in chemical engineering was fostered from a young age, her father having been a vocal advocate for the profession as a sound career choice. Coming from a family steeped in STEM careers, she’d always had a strong interest in math and science. Vedanth chose to pursue her education in chemical engineering at U of T not just for its proximity to her home, but because of its global reputation as a leader in engineering education.
After landing a job as a process engineer in Arizona when she graduated, Vedanth moved into environmental engineering and eventually took on her current role as a Senior Environmental Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where she consults on projects that could potentially impact the environment and works to mitigate that impact.
Vedanth’s path outlines how ChemE alumni, nurtured by a world-class institution focused on sustainability in engineering, can become leaders in innovative engineering solutions that see ChemE’s commitment to sustainability applied to ground-breaking real-world projects.
What led to your decision to study chemical engineering?
Growing up, I have always been into math and science. My family also had a huge influence with many of them in STEM careers such as mechanical engineers, math teachers, chemistry professor, etc. My father worked at Ontario Power Generation and always told me stories of all his interactions with chemmies at his work place. My father always said: “process engineering is going to be your bread and butter in school and life”. I didn’t understand it much at the time, but it is truly fascinating to know that chemical engineers make a difference in the world. Every product we use daily literally has a heat and mass balance behind it!
What led you to choose chemical engineering at U of T?
I chose U of T because it was globally ranked, research oriented, and well known for the chemical engineering department that had several industry partners. It was also close to home, and centrally located in the heart of downtown Toronto. I think it is hard to choose something else when you have all these golden benefits in a package!
Describe your ChemE journey.
When I graduated high school, I was the last batch of grade 13 or OAC that was phased out in 2003. So, when I graduated, we had students completing grade 12 and grade 13 – I think that our starting batch of students were really high. The first year for me was brutal! But I enjoyed the variety of courses between the hard-core technical engineering classes like Heat and Mass Transfer, Process Control and Dynamics to History of Medicine and Anthropology. Working with students from diverse backgrounds and places made it so much fun! I am blessed to have made lifelong friends from my class of ChemE 0T7. We still chat about our university days and how we celebrated when we “made it” or “passed” a hard test!
What was your most memorable ChemE/Skule moment?
The Iron Ring Ceremony. It was such a memorable day to share the calling of an engineer ritual with many of my dearest colleagues. To this day it gives me a sense of pride, humility and joy.
Describe your career path after graduating.
When I graduated, I worked as an entry-level Process Engineer for AMEC in Phoenix, Arizona. I was introduced into the Mining and Metallurgy industry. I worked on the operations and maintenance of several world-class mines. Within a couple of years, I wanted to diversify my experience and get into the environmental industry, as I was always very interested in compliance. After a couple of years in Arizona, I moved to AMEC Earth and Environmental in Mississauga, Ontario, and worked with the Environmental Group. After my first child was born, we moved to Houston Texas in 2012. I worked for Kellogg Brown and Root as an environmental engineer within the oil and gas sector. By this time, I had gained a lot of technical experience but still felt something was missing. Then, back in 2013, I visited the NASA Johnson Space Center with my family, and I instantly knew it was my calling – and the rest was history.
Tell us more about your current job at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
Every day is different and never a dull moment! I am currently tasked with leading two mission-related programs from the Environmental National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) perspective: The MARS Sample Return project (https://mars.nasa.gov/msr/) and supporting the International Space Station (ISS) deorbit. The main objectives of these hallmark campaigns are to ensure all possible alternatives are considered for the proposed action and adequate mitigation measures are in place for each potential environmental impact. In addition, I also lead and support Remediation Natural Resources and Air programs at JSC.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
I started out at NASA as a Senior Environmental Engineer, responsible for planning and compliance of Johnson Space Center (JSC) projects that may have an environmental impact. I would say one of the major highlights in my career was when I was promoted to Program Manager in 2018, where I supervised a team of engineers, scientists, and administrative professionals. We were tasked with keeping Johnson Space Center compliant with state and federal environmental regulations. I had both supervisory and technical responsibility in delivering this key contract. I was one of the youngest program managers at NASA.
What advice would you give to current ChemE students?
My advice would be to stay curious and open minded. My experience has taught me that there is never wasted time in your career life – you are always learning something. I encourage them to keep exploring until they find what they like. Enjoy Skule!
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