Course 1-12 spotlight: From space to sustainability, Katie Kempff changes to new MIT climate major

Katie Kempff sits outside on a balcony in nice weather, smiling at the camera.

“Climate science was something I felt much more called to career wise.” Katie Kempff originally planned to study aerospace engineering, but the flexibility of course 1-12 means that she can finish her degree on time and focus on the aspects of sustainability and climate that she’s most interested in.

Sophomore, Katherine (Katie) Kempff began this spring semester in the new MIT climate major, course 1-12 Climate System Science and Engineering.

When she entered MIT, she knew 100 percent that she was interested in planetary sciences and aerospace engineering and naturally majored in Course 16. She realized last semester that she was much more interested in sustainability and started looking into renewable energy and sustainability engineering fields.

“As I started on my track, I realized sustainability was something I was a lot more interested in once I started seeing what aerospace was like and climate science was something I felt much more called to career wise.”  

When the new 1-12 Climate System Science and Engineering major became available last year, she learned more about 1-12 and made the switch.

Originally from outside Chicago, Kempff is exploring different career interests and is interviewing for sustainability and energy-sector internships in Boston and MIT this summer. She is particularly interested in assisting MIT in meeting their new sustainability goals.

Kempff says she still has some interest in aerospace engineering as the sector continues to grow and becomes more sustainable.

“I could see myself going into the direction of sustainable aerospace and looking at ways to reuse expensive pieces of equipment, but right now I’m thinking about working in the renewable energy sector, just not sure exactly how, yet.”

As a course 16 major with a set pathway on the aerospace track, Kempff was worried she wouldn’t be able to finish 1-12 once she made the switch to a different set of classes, but her advisor, Michael Howland, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering assured her there would be no problems based on the structure of 1-12.

 “I really like how flexible 1-12 is. There’s a lot of classes that satisfy a lot of the requirements, and you are not pigeonholed. I’m really interested in carbon studies as well and there’s a lot of opportunities to take either a chemistry focused or carbon cycle focused class. And I really like that because I feel like I’m going to be able to do what I’m interested in rather than just following a set path of a major.”

Her advisor also suggested a class that she really likes this semester, 1.C01 Machine Learning for Sustainable Systems with Saurabh Amin, professor of civil and environmental engineering.  Another class she really enjoys is 12.307 Weather and Climate Laboratory with Assistant Professor Talia Tamarin-Brodsky, and Professor John Marshall, both in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. 

In the weather and climate lab, she performs small scale experiments, then does data analysis on the experiments and submits lab write-ups. She also appreciates how the teaching style is focused on real-world applications. “We’re doing hands on work in the labs, then we’re seeing how it would apply to real work in the climate and weather space, which is really cool.”  She says her previous classes at MIT have felt very abstract.

“With what I’m learning in the climate and weather lab I can actually see how it’s applied in the world around me with the hurricanes that have happened. All of which is something I knew nothing about but felt very applicable to life, which is what I’m most excited about in future 1-12 classes. It’s going to be cool to study something that is important in all areas right now with sustainability and I can also see in the world around me.”

Learn more about the new Climate System Science and Engineering bachelor’s degree offered by the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) on the degree program’s website.