Alumni Spotlight: Yan Wang (CEE PhD ’20)
“Every step of my career has given me a very strong foundation for the next step.”
When Yan Wang went to college to pursue her undergraduate degree in 2005 at Sun Yat-sen University in China, the field of environmental engineering was just beginning to take off. Wang knew she wanted to get on board.
“Environmental engineering was a very new, emerging area. People were just starting to get excited about it,” said Wang. “I started to see a bright future there.”
She pursued a Master's degree in environmental engineering at Zheijiang University, also in China, after her undergraduate study, but she was hungry for more. When she and her husband—a mechanical engineer—began planning their next move, the University of Pittsburgh’s research focus caught their attention. Both she and her husband joined the Swanson School of Engineering as graduate students in 2015.
Wang joined Associate Professor Leanne Gilbertson’s research group, focusing primarily on sustainable design of carbon nanomaterials for advanced energy, environmental, and biological applications. Her research sought to better understand the relationships that correlate material properties to their functional performance and potential hazard to human health and the environment. A second focus of Wang’s research was life cycle assessment, proactively quantifying life cycle impact and benefit trade-offs of emerging products and processes to evaluate their feasibility and identify improvement opportunities that ensure net benefit realization.
She says that learning to disseminate her findings and receiving criticism from the peer-review process sharpened Wang’s communication skills—a key to her success today.
“You have to be able to tell people what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” she said. “I learned to communicate with colleagues and present my findings to people, and I gained experience writing grant proposals during my PhD. I really appreciated having that experience when I moved on from Pitt.”
After graduating from Pitt in 2020, Wang took a postdoctoral position at the University of California, Berkeley & the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where she focused on systems-level analysis of energy systems, including process design, techno-economic analysis, and life cycle assessment. She primarily leveraged modeling and data science skills to understand the life cycle of energy systems to reduce economic and environmental impacts.
Today, Wang is a techno-economic engineer at Shell Hydrogen, where she works to make renewable energy more practical and economically beneficial. Her experience in lab work and systems-level analysis from her graduate and postdoctoral work gave her the perfect mix of skills to solve energy and environmental challenges.
“One thing led to another and another. Every step of my career has given me a very strong foundation for the next step,” said Wang. “I feel really excited for this industry. There are a lot of challenges and uncertainties, but I know now I want to be in an industry that is solving real-world problems.”