In our Summer 2021 series, we're asking alumni and current students to tell us about their career interests, experiences, and reflections.
Are you a May 2021 grad? Take 5 minutes to tell the career center about your current post-grad plans (including if you’re currently searching for opportunities)! Just complete the annual First Destinations Survey – no matter where you are in the decision-making process.
My name is Liliana Bettolo and I graduated from UVA with a Chemical Engineering degree in 2018. Driven by my fascination for textiles and the fashion industry’s impact on the planet, I selected Chemical Engineering to understand how to reduce the carbon footprint of commonly used polyester and nylon fabrics. At UVA, I was a member of University Guide Service and Alpha Phi, Society of Women Engineers, and the American Institute for Chemical Engineering. Since graduating, the outdoor enthusiast in me - fostered in the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains – has brought me to several outdoors sports and I now spend my free time surfing, climbing, yoga, and hitting the trails on foot or bike.
Describe your current role and tell us how your undergraduate experience (in or outside of the classroom) prepared you for it.
I currently work for Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company based in Ventura, CA. I am an engineer on the venture team, Tin Shed Ventures, investing in the next generation for responsible business and building novel business models. My role has been to source and conduct due diligence on deep tech from recycling solutions, renewables, and green chemistry prior to investment. After investment, I support the integration of technology from Tin Shed Ventures startups into Patagonia’s supply chain. An undergraduate degree at UVA provided both the technical and human skills needed to look at the full picture of innovation, especially the long term implications of a solution.
Walk us through a typical day at work.
In a typical work day I am conducting introductory calls with entrepreneurs, speaking with internal and external experts, and synthesizing all this feedback and information into a cohesive recommendation. I work regularly with Patagonia’s Material Innovation team to integrate start-ups technology into product, this could include conducting trials to test the performance of the material or technology.
In what way(s) did you feel most and least prepared for your job?
What prepared me most for this job was the ability to ask questions. Mapping out the “knowns” in my head, and quickly identifying what “unknowns” would be helpful to come to a recommendation or solution. The variety of tools used for the ChemE major, specifically Matlab, Excel, and Tableau have proven to be the most useful in my role. I felt least prepared to work as the only engineer in the room, I was used to collaborating with my fellow engineering peers to solve problems.
How do you stay up to date with your skills and industry knowledge?
- Podcast: “How to Save a Planet” and “Planet Money”
- Industry email newsletters including American Chemical Society “C&EN” or “SpecialChem”
Think back to your job search. Share some of its challenges/successes.
My approach was to apply to less companies with more intention. I made a point to reach out through LinkedIn for informational interviews, to gather more sentiments about the expectations for the role and the culture of the team or company. Most importantly, these calls enabled me to be more than a name on a page. I landed my current role because of LinkedIn. I had followed everything Patagonia on social media and always tried to keep up on their blog and key initiatives. I followed Tin Shed Ventures on LinkedIn, and had been liking posts and articles from the team. The manager that hired me had looked at who was following Tin Shed Ventures posts through likes and, I was coincidently a good fit for a role that had not even been posted, yet. My advice is to pick a small group of companies within your list that you would be most excited to join, and focus more energy on those, reaching out to employees and following their work.
If you could go back to college and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
When reaching out to companies and being interviewed ask what type of training, mentorship, and support is provided to entry level team members. Especially for the first job out of college it is helpful to work for a company that honors new employees furthering their education.
For current students hoping to go into your field, what are some of the most effective things they can do right now to prepare themselves for future success?
For engineers interested in venture capital, knowing that finance and accounting can be learned on the job. Focus on research and engineering studies because your budding expertise is what makes you the most valuable for these roles. Build mentors and a foundational network with your professors while in an engineering degree. Those professors will help you with future market research and will continue to be advisors long after you graduate. If you can land any summer internships with start-ups, I think it is incredibly beneficial as an investor to understand what the investment process is for the entrepreneurs.
Learn more about organizations and resources mentioned by Liliana:
- University Guide Service
- Alpha Phi
- Society of Women Engineers
- American Institute for Chemical Engineering
- Patagonia (plus, you can follow Patagonia's employer profile on Handshake)
- Tin Shed Ventures
- How to Save a Planet podcast
- Planet Money podcast
- Industry email newsletters: American Chemical Society “C&EN” or “SpecialChem”