Adrienne (Cooper) Prasad ’91 was always drawn to math and the sciences. Her dad was an engineer and, whether through nature, nurture or a mixture of both, she developed an engineer’s point of view and thought process. In Mario Santonastaso’s 9th grade physical science class, Adrienne was first introduced to the field of electrical engineering. The class was building circuits based on flashcards and “Mr. S.” could see how excited Adrienne was to learn this new skill as she asked for increasingly difficult problems to solve. Though she later went into the field of mechanical engineering, that class stuck with her as did Mr. Santonastaso’s encouragement. He continued to foster her enthusiasm for science throughout high school.
Adrienne also had a deep love for music from an early age. Starting as a 1st grader at Campbell Hall, music was woven into her school day. She was an avid participant in the high school Chanters group led by Ms. Marks, and as Adrienne noted: “In the 30 years since I graduated from CH, there were only two years I didn't sing in a choral group of some kind, and I sorely missed it. It lets me use other parts of my brain and take a mini-vacation from whatever other stuff is keeping me busy. I often find my way back to whatever was challenging before with a fresh perspective and renewed passion.”
Looking back at her time at Campbell Hall, Adrienne is grateful for all the faculty who really got to know the students. She would often visit then Elementary School Principal Ann Izzi during lunch to simply talk. “People took the time to hear what I had to say,” she reflected. She also appreciates the multicultural approach to education that Campbell Hall fostered through both the curriculum and chapel program. “We were given the freedom to learn about religion without being forced to practice it,” Adrienne said. “This kind of education gives a more expansive perspective on the world.”
Adrienne went on to receive a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at UC Irvine and to complete biomedical engineering graduate work at UC Davis. “The rigor of Campbell Hall classes prepared me well for college,” she said. In a field dominated by men, Adrienne noted that, in addition to incredibly rewarding experiences, there were also some challenges along the way to her success in the engineering industry. “My Freshman year in college, women made up only about 10% of the mechanical engineering program,” Adrienne explained. In her first engineering class, she sat in the first row, excited to embark on a new educational journey. The instructor reminded the class that this was engineering drawing, and stared down at Adrienne, as though she might be in the wrong place. “And I looked right back at him,” recounted Adrienne, letting him know she was in exactly the right place. At the end of the semester, the instructor tasked the students with designing a hand-tossed glider as part of a competition. He told Adrienne that he felt bad about giving this assignment to the women in the class. Once again, she was quick to set him straight. Her plane came in second place in the competition. “The proof is in your work,” she said.
Today, Adrienne is a Principal Manufacturing Process Engineer at Zoll Medical Corporation, a leading manufacturer of life-saving medical devices. One such product is used to treat COVID-19 patients with intractable fevers. “It’s pretty exciting to be playing a part in the treatment of this disease,” Adrienne said. Her department develops the methods that allow a product design to be produced en masse, ensuring that it is repeatable and reliable. With a nod to Campbell Hall’s 4th R, Adrienne joked, “These are the 5th and 6th Rs.” Her role also includes finding cost-cutting measures and materials to make these products. These savings allow the company to run clinical trials to find additional medical applications for devices. She also ensures that the process validation gets submitted to the FDA and other regulatory bodies around the world.
Adrienne additionally heads up her department’s intern program where she helps recruit new talent. Her department is now composed of almost 50% women and she is heavily focused on growing diversity through concerted outreach efforts. She is also part of a women engineering group that meets every few months to talk through industry challenges, a group that has grown considerably since its inception several years ago.
Adrienne is also hoping to start back up her work with high school students to expose them to the engineering field and to demystify the industry as a whole. She will, no doubt, infuse the same level of excitement in them that she had when she was a high school student herself. “There are so many resources now for young people to learn engineering concepts,” she said. “I’m really excited for what’s coming up for the next generation.”
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Campbell Hall is an independent, Episcopal, K-12 all gender day school. We are a community of inquiry committed to academic excellence and to the nurturing of decent, loving, and responsible human beings.
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