Kathy A. Notarianni
Kathy A. Notarianni
Head, Department of Fire Protection Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, MA

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Close Up
  • Describe what you do in your current work situation.
    I head a graduate program in a specialty area of fire and explosions. We offer masters and doctoral degrees to students who enter our program with a B.S. in mechanical, electrical, chemical, structural, or environmental engineering. I set curriculum, mentor and advise students, conduct research and teach. I work with a wide range of practitioners including architects, public building officials, codes and standards making bodies, and the fire service to provide a safe environment for people to live and work in.
  • Why did you choose engineering?
    In high school I enjoyed chemistry and math, so I earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. A better way to select a major is to find out what the job is like by talking to practicing engineers. Studying a subject in school is not the same as working in that field. Find out what motivates and satisfies you! For instance, although I enjoyed my chemistry classes, many chemical engineers are employed in the petrochemical, paper, or food industries. None of these appealed to me. I wanted a job with a more people-oriented focus.
  • Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
    B.S. in Chemical Engineering. M.S. in Fire Protection Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. , M.S. and Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
  • What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
    Most of the challenges are conquering expectations other people have for you. When I decided to pursue my advanced degrees, some people close to me commented that it seemed pointless since I would be quitting to have children soon. Now, I have three lovely children and am going as strong as ever! Everyone has an expectation about you and for you. You have to figure out what you want which is not always clear or easy.
  • Any other stories or comments you would like to share with EngineerGirl visitors?
    Everyone has an expectation about you and for you. You have to figure out what you want which is not always clear or easy.
  • Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
    I love to cook (which many people find surprising)! They believe that since I'm dedicated to my profession, I must not be domestic. I also love to garden, and to sing. I am told that I do not sing well, so I sing loud. My other loves are biking, hiking, the beach, the theater, and reading.
Biography
Kathy heads a graduate program in a specialty area of fire and explosions. She sets curriculum, mentors and advises students, conducts research and teaches. Kathy works with a wide range of practitioners including architects, public building officials, codes and standards making bodies, and the fire service to provide a safe environment for people to live and work in. Previously, Kathy was a project leader in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology where her work focused on issues relating to smoke detection, water-based suppression, smoke plume analysis, and fire model verification with applications to high ceiling-height buildings, hospitals, environmentally friendly halon fire suppressants, and residential fire sprinkler systems. Kathy says, "I enjoy research because it involves a variety of tasks. I may spend one day in my hard hat and steel toe boots and the next in a suit.." Much of her research is incorporated into national safety standards. Kathy is a licensed professional engineer, a fellow in the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and has mentored hundreds of high school and college students interested in engineering careers. One of Kathyyâ€s most noteworthy accomplishments is United States Patent #5,103,212, Balanced Fluid Flow Delivery System, a life-saving technology utilized in high value and mission critical areas such as NASAAâ€s control rooms and other facilities around the world. Kathy's notoriety led to her selection to head a government commission to study building egress in the wake of the World Trade Center collapse. She is currently working on a $3 million Department of Homeland Security grant in the area of firefighter safety and allocation of resources. Kathy is well-published professionally in the archival literature and nationally in print and television media. Her "fire safety mom's tips" were quoted in Good Housekeeping Magazine. On an international stage, Dr. Kathy Notarianni is well known and has been invited to speak or conduct research in over a dozen countries including England, Sweden, Iceland, and Japan. In one instance during these engagements, she conducted high-bay fire experiments at a NATO base in Keflicvick, Iceland that lead to the development of fire safety standards in high bay facilities used by NASA and the U.S. Navy. Kathy has presented her research at international conferences at Oxford University and Cambridge University. Beyond her work in academic and professional circles, Kathy devotes a great deal of her time to serving others. Kathy conducts workshops and symposiums for middle and high school girls to introduce them to engineering through hands-on activities. In the local community, she leads a Girl Scout troop and teaches CCD. She has also hosted numerous fundraisers at her house to provide tens of thousands of meals for the Worcester food bank.
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Volunteer Opportunities
  • I am willing to host a field trip to my place of employment.
Latest Questions
  • Erica, Teacher/Memphis

    Added Monday, May 19, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    Thank you for your time first off... I am thrilled to have discovered your blog!! Ok so my situation is unique... I have a Master's Degree in K-6 education and am wanting to go back to school for chemical engineering. I come from a family of engineers actually. I do not however have much direction on how to even begin. I teach full time and would have to work while I go to school... I am willing to do what it takes but any advice or guidance on how to start would be appreciated:) Thank you so ...
    Answers 1
    Kathy A. Notarianni, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    Answered Monday, May 19, 2014 at 12:50 AM

    Congratulations on selecting chemical engineering as your second career!  I would start with a good, review math course to get you ready for calculus I (I’d suggest testing for math placement at a local college).  Then, I’d take ...

    Read More
  • Olivia , UK

    Added Monday, November 4, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Hi, I was wondering if you could perhaps give some advice on writing a personal statement for Chemical Engineering? I was thinking of making the statement a 'female fronted' one, saying how there's not enough female engineers etc. but I'm not sure how I can get that down in words, or start to even! Any advice would be much appreciated! :)
    Answers 1
    Kathy A. Notarianni, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    Answered Monday, November 4, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Olivia,

    I would like to respond not by saying that there are not enough female engineers but by saying that males and females each bring different perspectives to the many important problems that chemical engineering addresses. I would then write a bit ...

    Read More
  • Christine, Poughkeepsie, New York

    Added Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 4:50 AM

    I am a college senior who will be graduating in the spring of 2010 with a chemistry degree. My career path was to become a chemistry teacher but recently i have been thinking about becoming a chemical engineer. I never fully thought out the idea earlier when i was thinking about what to do with my life. Sadly, my school does not offer an engineering program. I was wondering what i needed to do so i could become a chemical engineer. Do i have to go back to get my degree in chemical engineering ...
    Answers 1
    Kathy A. Notarianni, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    Answered Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 4:50 AM
    Hi! A degree in chemical engineering would require a second BS, but would not take you four years. You would need to take any calculus and ordinary differential equations that you did not take as part of your chemistry degree and then engineering ...Read More
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