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April 30, 2024

Undergraduate Q&A: Hussam Alessi

Written By: Claire Massey


Hussam Alessi, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, shares his insights about his experience in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and his experience working as part of the Huber Research Group.

Why did you choose UW-Madison?

I’ve always dreamt of studying abroad and experiencing life in a different country during college. UW-Madison is well known for its prestigious chemical engineering program, and dynamic student life. The combination of excellent education and vibrant college experience is what drew me to UW. Also, I grew up in Saudi Arabia and have never seen snow in my life and wanted to experience real winter for a few years.

What drew you to chemical and biological engineering?

Since high school I was a big fan of chemistry, and I always had a passion for building stuff from when I was a kid. Chemical and biological engineering is a mix of building equipment and understanding the chemistry of what happens inside this equipment. The applicability of the major is vast and opportunities are endless. I also got some hands-on experience working on a project in high school, where I worked with large reactors to produce biodiesel, and scale up production. Working with different equipment and chemicals gave me insight into what I want to be doing in the future.

What’s been your favorite course in the College of Engineering?

CBE 599: Special Engineering Problems. I believe doing undergrad research is an experience everyone has got to try. The research options are vastly different, so anyone can choose and pick what they find interesting. The research complements other major courses and adds context and practical experience to what I learned in class. I gained valuable skills and learned how to operate different instruments in lab, which helped me significantly in my internship. Also, it is always very fun to present my work throughout the semester in the poster session.

What have been the highlights of your chemical engineering education so far?

Despite the chemical engineering department being large, there is a supportive community between the students and faculty; classrooms are not the limit, and everyone is eager to learn from each other. Also, labs help to apply the principles I learned in class in a hands-on fashion. In CBE 324: Transport Phenomena Lab, we had an open-ended project at the end of the semester where we got to design our own experiment.  My team and I got to go to the machine shop and build our own vessel from scratch!

What made you decide to join the Huber Research Group?

As I am very interested in the sustainability side of chemical engineering, Professor George Huber’s group was my first choice. At first, I wanted to continue working on biodiesel, but there were no available projects. Luckily, I got to work with Dr. Raka Dastidar, who was a PhD student at the time. Our project was focused on producing biocompatible polymers from biomass instead of petroleum, which can be used in the medical field. Currently, I am working with PhD Candidate Abdulrahman Alzailaie studying the effects of additives on plastic pyrolysis chemistry. Although I shifted my focus of research, the time I spent with the Huber Group was extremely beneficial to me personally and academically. And I plan to continue exploring different fields in sustainable chemical engineering.

What extracurricular activities or student orgs have you participated in at UW-Madison?

I am currently the president of a student org called CDPNE Badgers, which is a student org I co-founded with two of my friends. We collaborate with the larger Saudi and Arab communities in Madison to help build a home away from home. We host large events each semester to celebrate special days we have back home and help bring the community together. During my time with the org, we got to welcome and onboard new students, and our group participated in over 300 hours of community service with the university.

What are your career plans?

I am interested in the sustainability side of chemical engineering and making the world a better place, specifically, alternate energy research. I plan to continue in graduate school after working for a few years and have some real world experience.

Favorite study or lunch spot?

My favorite place to study, eat, or hangout with friends has to be Bandit. They have delicious tacos and coffee that powered me through so many late nights.