Whyte is a sophomore in MC’s chemical engineering department. RACHELLENUZZARO/COURTESY
By Kyla Guilfoil, Managing Editor & Sports Editor
Sophomore Dominique Whyte is making a name for herself in the chemical engineering department at Manhattan College. An international student from Jamaica, Whyte took a leap of faith moving thousands of miles away from home, but has already contributed to important research at MC.
Whyte told The Quadrangle that she didn’t know engineering was a possible career field until she was in high school. Growing up in Jamaica, she said, the main “successful” careers you heard about were being a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or a police officer.
Her mother wanted her to be a doctor and Whyte adopted that aspiration initially. However, when she took biology in high school, she realized that it wasn’t the right fit for her.
“I think for me, it was just remembering all the scientific names and I just didn’t find it appealing. [But], I love math, I love chemistry, and I can definitely tolerate physics,” Whyte said.
When her electrical and electronics technology teacher told Whyte to consider a career in engineering, she jumped at the idea. Whyte told The Quadrangle that she began to research engineering, and realized there were so many possibilities until she settled on chemical engineering.
“ I said, ‘I think this is the one, I’m going to try this one,’ and honestly, I think that’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Whyte said.
Whyte applied to universities and colleges all over the world as she finished up high school, receiving scholarships from schools in Russia, China and the United States. As the U.S. felt closer to home and Whyte had some family members in New York City, she was able to narrow down her choices.
After receiving a scholarship to Manhattan College, Whyte had made her decision.
Barely making it to campus on time to start in August 2021 due to the process of obtaining a visa, Whyte had to hit the ground running. But, she didn’t let the rush slow her down. Instead, Whyte dove into her studies and became involved in the chemical engineering department.
By the end of her freshman year, Whyte had been offered an undergraduate research position on a project at MC. She worked on the project over the summer of 2022.
Coming into college, Whyte said that she had an interest in finding alternative energy sources and trying to limit the negative effects of energy usage.
Alexandre Pinto, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, and Mahbuboor Choudhury, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering, were leading a project based on the development of materials to decrease sulfur content in fuels. As Whyte felt this related to her environmental interests, she was excited to join the team.
Pinto told The Quadrangle that he and Choudhury have been working together since they were both hired as professors at MC in 2019.
“Usually, our research projects are motivated by applying chemistry, engineering, and nanotechnology concepts to solve environmental problems. For instance, wastewater remediation,” Pinto said.
The idea behind the sulfur content project, which Whyte contributed to, began during the fall 2020 semester. Pinto and Choudhury were awarded a grant from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund in 2021, which allowed the pair to develop the project and hire student researchers for summer 2022. According to manhattan.edu, the grant included $55,000 in funds.
Pinto told The Quadrangle that 10 student researchers were hired onto the project with different students focusing on different aspects of the work.
“Dominique has been a specialist in preparing the nanomaterials that we are applying in the sulfur mitigation from the simulated fuels,” Pinto said. “These materials are graphene oxide and titanium oxide. She learned and mastered how to prepare these materials using solution chemistry methods and a simple apparatus. She learned very well all the steps in the preparation process of both nanomaterials, which makes her skilled in preparing these materials in a reproducible and reliable way.”
Pinto added that research opportunities allow students to learn techniques not included in their regular coursework and to gain confidence and independence in performing lab procedures.
Following her work on this project, Whyte will be taking on an internship with Clean Air Products after she wraps up her sophomore year. Whyte told The Quadrangle she is still deciding on which particular role she will take within the company but that she is focused on working with environmental issues.
Whyte said that she is looking forward to learning more about being an engineer in the field.
“I’m hoping that when I get there, I’ll be able to have a better idea of what I want to do moving forward,” Whyte said. “Clean Air Products is a big company, and I’ve heard good things about it, so I’m looking forward to being in that environment, just knowing what it is to be an engineer.”
Regardless of where she ends up after graduation, Whyte said that she is hoping to continue to focus on environmental issues. Specifically, Whyte said that she is interested in finding ways to reduce unsanitary water and in finding cleaner energy sources.
“It’s going to take a lot and it’s going to take more than me, but it’s the small steps that count,” Whyte said. “So I’m hoping that I’m able to find people that are like-minded to me, and that we could be on a team and try to make some positive changes in the world”
Whyte added that she hopes to encourage other women, especially women of color and Jamaican women, not to limit themselves and to recognize the opportunities available to them.
Whyte said that she believes there is more space for women of color in engineering now, and that she has had a positive experience so far at Manhattan in terms of having access to opportunities. She said she hopes to carry on that feeling.
“I want to create or replicate that atmosphere, that same atmosphere that I’m in, so that somebody else can feel welcomed,” Whyte said.