ChemE Undergrad Stayed Grounded by Helping UVA Football’s Defense Keep Offenses in Check

When high school sports injuries sidelined Catherine Barton, she found a way to contribute on the sidelines. Working as a football team equipment manager for the Cavaliers’ defense helped her balance the rigors of studying chemical engineering.

Catherine Barton, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021

Catherine Barton, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021

How and why did you become an equipment manager for the football team?

I started working as an equipment manager before I started classes my first year, a week before official move-in in August of 2017. My cousin, Sarah Hogan, has worked in football for her entire career and currently works as the director of head coach operations for the Atlanta Falcons. When I decided to go to UVA, she asked if I would be interested in working for the athletics department here. In high school, playing sports kept me grounded during tough academic times, but I am no longer able to participate because of concussions. I figured working for athletics would keep me connected to sports and provide a break from engineering. My cousin connected me with the director of football operations here, who pointed me in the direction of the equipment managers.

What were your responsibilities?

My responsibilities varied a lot through my time here. My first two years, I worked a lot with Coach [Kelly] Poppinga and the outside linebackers. Since then, I have worked with quarterbacks, inside linebackers, and anywhere else my co-workers or coaches needed extra help. For the most part, I worked with our defense.

Before practices, I was responsible for setting up CoachComm, the communication system used by our coaches. During practice, responsibilities varied a lot from day to day. When needed, I set up sleds, tackling dummies, cones, etc., making sure drills ran smoothly and efficiently. Basically, our job was to set up anything a coach might need during practice. My main responsibility was to signal the offensive personnel to our defense during game-like situations. I held up signs telling the defense how many running backs, tight-ends and wide receivers the offense had on the field.

During games, I signaled the offensive personnel to the defense. My co-workers and I also were responsible for setting up the locker room before games and getting everything back to the practice facility afterwards.

I worked 20 hours a week during the season, but that didn’t include time spent traveling to and from away games.

What were your interactions with the players like? How about the coaches?

We had to work very closely with the coaching staff, so I’ve gotten to know the coaches pretty well over the last four years. It wasn’t until this year that most of the coaches realized that I’m majoring in chemical engineering, which I think surprised most of them.

What was the job like this year? How did COVID-19 make it different from previous years?

We had to take a lot more precautions this year to make sure everything was safe. We sanitized all the equipment after every practice, had to space guys out in the locker room to avoid transmission, and follow the general CDC guidelines as much as possible. I and my co-workers were all in the ‘bubble,’ so we weren’t allowed to see anyone outside of our household. We were also tested three times a week according to Atlantic Coast Conference guidelines.

COVID-19 restrictions made a huge impact on gamedays. Not having 50,000 people in Scott Stadium really made the whole experience feel pretty different.

  • Catherine Barton, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021
  • Catherine Barton, B.S. chemical engineering, 2021

How hard was it to balance the job with your schoolwork?

There were definitely a few all-nighters trying to keep up with schoolwork, but I got a lot better at managing my time throughout the last four years.

What was the coolest part about the job?

The coolest part was definitely the travel. In four years, I’ve been to Pittsburgh, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame, Boise State and a few other places. Getting to see different campuses and see games in different stadiums has definitely been the best aspect.

Did you work with your fellow ChemE student, Aba Acquaah?

Aba worked in the water crew, so she also worked some practices and games. We didn’t share any responsibilities, but we were on the field together a lot.

What are some of your honors, awards and activities during your time at UVA?

Honors: Dean’s List for first four semesters

Activities: Class-year representative to the Engineering Student Council 2017-2018 and 2018-2019; treasurer of the executive board of the council 2019-2020

Internships/employment: Research and development intern at DuPont, nutrition and biosciences division; intern at Merck, manufacturing division

What are your plans after graduation?

I have accepted a job offer with AbbVie in Lake County, Illinois, near Chicago. I will be working with the technical operations team to scale up and design pharmaceutical production processes.

Why did you choose UVA Engineering?

I liked the feeling I got when I came to visit UVA. It felt a lot more well-rounded than typical engineering schools, so I liked that I could get a great engineering education without sacrificing a typical college experience. The school is beautiful, the academics are great, and our athletics are pretty unmatched.

Why did you choose a degree in chemical engineering? Why are you glad you did?

I loved physics and chemistry in high school and was always interested in working in pharmaceutical development and manufacturing. I’m glad because it really challenged me throughout the last four years. There were a lot of times I didn’t think I was smart enough the get through the major. Now, looking back, I’m really proud of how hard I worked. If nothing else, my major has proved to me that I can do almost anything I want to do.

Where is your favorite place on Grounds? Why?

Alderman Library used to be my second home. I would be there every day from the time I got out of class until it closed. I did almost all of my work there during my first three years.

What is your favorite UVA memory?

My favorite memory is beating Virginia Tech in 2019. Watching the ball come out on the strip-sack in the endzone was probably one of the best moments of my life. Watching our basketball team win the national championship is probably a close second.

Where/what is your favorite local spot or activity to get away from the pressures of work and school? Why?

I used work to get away from the pressures of school, but other than that, I love driving through Shenandoah National Park.

What will you miss most about UVA after you graduate? What will you miss least?

Being a part of the football program here will definitely be missed. It’ll be weird to watch games on TV instead of from the sidelines. The lack of sleep probably won’t be missed as much.