ASME member Christina Ho is the manager of operations planning for Con Edison's District Steam Operations Organization. She is active in Engineers Without Borders, and is a member of the ASME–EWB Affinity Group. She is currently a member of ASME's Committee on Pre-College Education and an alternate member of the Nominating Committee. Christina received her bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Cooper Union, and is currently enrolled in a part-time master's program in environmental engineering at Columbia University. She has been a member of ASME since 2005.
What's inside your engineer's notebook?
My engineer's notebook could contain just about anything. I generally carry one of those little black moleskins, and I jot down everything from to-do lists to interesting ideas that I pick up when I go to different conferences or seminars. I have a lot of schematics and drawings as well. Visualizing processes and concepts and systems is a really important way for me to pull information apart and analyze situations, and figure out the best path to go.
Whose notebook would you most like to peek into? Why?
The people who are interesting to me are innovators and forward-looking people. If I went back into history, I would say someone like Peter Cooper, who was the founder of the undergraduate school I went to. He developed a lot of technologies and materials. There's an interesting anecdote about him: that when he built the main building for the Cooper Union, he actually built an elevator shaft in it. This was before elevators existed. He said, "One day, there's going to be a device that I'm going to put in here, and it's going to take me up to the upper floors." That's interesting to me. Another person would be Steve Jobs, who has affected millions and millions of lives with his concepts.
How and when did you know you wanted to become an engineer?
I enrolled in an engineering program in college, but I was a visual artist in high school. My main focus was art, painting, and sculpture, in addition to the sciences. I've always had a love for both. To be honest, when I look at the different types of sciences, I actually found that there is a tremendous amount of creativity involved in engineering because you use these science and mathematical tools to create things. And I thought that was a really exciting way to marry the two interests that I had, which were science/math and the creative arts.
What's the most exciting project you've ever worked on?
I've been involved in a variety of projects, from water and wastewater treatment systems for power-generation stations, to tunnel projects. Probably one of the most interesting things that I've done was a tunnel project for Con Edison. There were tunnel-boring machines involved, and dynamite blasting. It's a very interesting challenge. On the one hand, you are doing these important projects to make sure that the infrastructure of New York City is robust and reliable while you're also attempting to be a "good neighbor" to the folks in New York City and mitigate the impact of your activities on the public.
What do you think you'd be doing if you hadn't become an engineer?
I would probably be a photojournalist. I think that would have been the other direction I would have gone. In high school, I was a photographer and I actually won a Scholastic Arts Competition award. I won a Silver Portfolio Award, which is like a second place award for high school photography portfolios on a national level.
What's your favorite hobby or activity when you're not working?
Cooking. I've been learning all sorts of different cooking techniques. I was involved in a community-supported farm share over the summer. I got fresh produce every couple of weeks — and I got a lot of it. So I've been learning what to do with all types of produce. I've learned a lot about farming and where my food comes from because of this. I think that's a really great and important thing to know that I think has probably been lost over time. I'd been interested in cooking before this, but my interest in it kind of exploded after this. I used to eat out several times a week, now I only eat out a couple of times a week. But I cook a lot now. So I'm constantly looking for new and interesting recipes.
Was there a book or a movie that piqued your interest in science or engineering?
There was a really great PBS show called Square One. It had this component that was called "Mathnet." I just loved watching those shows. They really grabbed my attention. That was when I was a kid, and it appealed to my basic interest in math and science. One of my current favorite things is called Steamboy, an anime film. It's all about this father-son-grandfather team who are attempting to capture the power of steam in this mysterious black ball, about the size of a volley ball. It's kind of futuristic, but also kind of 18th century steam age. It's about harnessing the power of steam — a battle between good and evil and who has control over this ball and what they do with it. It's an interesting conceptual type of movie, and it's really fun. Some of the scenes are set in power plants. I just think it's really neat.
Who are your heroes, either within the engineering profession or in the rest of your life?
One of my heroes, from a motivational perspective, is the gentleman who actually hired me at Con Edison. His name is Arthur Kressner. Everyone calls him Artie. Artie is, and always has been, motivated about everything. My interview at Con Edison was predominantly a discussion of fuel cell technology. I had worked on fuel cell materials in one of my fellowships while was an undergrad. Artie was so excited and so motivating about the integration of new technology and concepts into the energy industry that I was really excited to come work at Con Edison. Artie has always been a guy who looks forward and looks for the new thing that will help either enhance our business or the way energy is used. Artie was involved in the development of energy efficiency programs at Con Edison during the development of the Energy Star program.
What's the most meaningful or rewarding aspect of being connected to engineering?
What's rewarding about being an engineer is that there's a tactile result to all your work. Working in water and wastewater treatment systems, we conceptualize a design, we design out the system, we work with construction throughout the process of installing equipment and commissioning it, and in the end there's an operating system that we can see the impact of it and monitor the performance. A lot of these systems are installed to improve processes, enhance safety, or minimize impacts of our energy producing facilities on the environment. So that's a really neat thing – to see the effect of what you're doing and to see that what you're doing makes a difference. I think that's what's really great about engineering; you really get to see the result of your work.
What does ASME mean to you?
ASME is really awesome, and I never really fully appreciated it until I was involved with the volunteer work. What's great about ASME is you get to talk to people who are of a similar mindset, but doing different things in other industries. So you have a wealth of knowledge to pull from. In any sort of benchmarking scenario, you can get some really interesting ideas from other folks or see common perspectives. I think that's really valuable. The networking opportunities are obviously fantastic. A lot of my friends are from ASME, and I'm really proud to be a member.
What's rewarding about being an engineer is that there's a tactile result to all your work.
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