Kirsten Housen ’23 came to Pomona College from the San Francisco Bay Area for the opportunity to play varsity soccer while studying any subject of her choice. While injuries and the pandemic curtailed her soccer career, her time at Pomona succeeded in launching her vocation in civil and environmental engineering.
Housen was aware of Pomona’s 3-2 combined plan in engineering—which allows students to enroll at Pomona for three years and transfer to Caltech or Washington University in St. Louis for the last two years—when she arrived. While unsure if she would pursue that path, she was quickly drawn to the physics department. Faculty members were inviting and made the subject accessible and enjoyable, she says.
Settling on a physics major opened her to pursuing the 3-2 program. Fitting in the pre-engineering requirements in addition to classes toward the physics major and Pomona’s general education requirements—all in three years—required careful planning.
Despite all the structure, Housen still had ample room to gain a broad liberal arts education.
I always had a really nice balance of the technical and the philosophical and creative.
When it came time to transfer, Housen chose Washington University for its biomedical engineering program and urban location.
In addition to a less elaborate process than a traditional transfer application, Housen says, applicants simply need to have the prerequisite classes and a 3.5 grade point average in science and mathematics courses.
Janice Hudgings, Seeley W. Mudd Professor of Physics, taught three of Housen’s physics courses at Pomona and says that she was confident that Housen would excel at Washington University: “Building on her liberal arts background, Kirsten leaned into the advanced engineering courses.”
Among many other accolades at Washington University, Housen made the dean’s list, was selected as the Lee Hunter Scholar in the School of Engineering, and received the Award of Excellence in Technical Writing for Social Impact for her paper on the water quality impacts of fast fashion in developing countries. “The process of researching and writing this paper underscored how valuable the liberal arts education is and the wonderful writing and critical thinking foundation that Pomona provides to its students,” says Housen.
While at Washington University, Housen saw her interests shift to civil and environmental engineering. In her classes, she learned about disparities of water quality in St. Louis. Coupled with summer internships consulting for cities on infrastructure, she gained a passion to “help make sure people have a secure source of water.”
“Growing up in California,” says Housen, “I saw how we don’t have water, and I also saw the damage that is caused when we have too much water and how it all stems from climate change. I want to make sure cities are able to get water from point A to point B and that public health is not at risk if there are issues such as sewer system overflows.”
This past spring, Housen earned a bachelor of science from Washington University along with a bachelor of arts from Pomona. Currently enrolled in Stanford University’s master’s program in civil and environmental engineering, Housen hopes to continue consulting with cities after she graduates.
She looks back at her time at Pomona with appreciation.
It was a really great opportunity to have the option to go into an engineering route while still having the liberal arts foundation and getting to take all the different kinds of courses that Pomona offers.
Housen’s message to Pomona students is, “Explore and use the opportunities available to you. Figure out what you really want to do and what makes you motivated. Pomona is a great place to learn. You’re around people with such interesting ideas and opinions.”