By Mason Nichols
Imagine entering a busy bakery in New York City on Christmas Eve. The shop is lively with customers clamoring for last-minute holiday cookies, cakes and pastries. Despite all of the shouting and commotion, your mind is targeted on only one thing: the wonderful assortment of smells.
The human sense of smell is amazing. In fact, people can recall scents with 65% accuracy even after a year.i It’s no wonder, then, that many of us associate smells with important events or emotions from our past. For Irene Kurtz, an NPCA Foundation (NPCAF) scholarship recipient currently attending the University of Notre Dame, one particular smell stands out from the rest.
“It’s a strange thing, but I love the smell of concrete,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz’s appreciation for concrete and its scent originated with her father, a professor of structural engineering at Lafayette College. As a child, Kurtz recalls spending plenty of time with her dad, zipping and darting through the engineering labs at various state universities. These opportunities allowed Kurtz to quickly develop both her love of the smell of concrete and a tremendous appreciation for the engineering field.
“I grew up at college,” Kurtz said. “I’ve seen the research side and the hands-on side, which is why I’m so interested in engineering and structural engineering.”
Prior to entering college, Bernard Soluta, a project manager at Bethlehem Precast and friend of the Kurtz family, spoke with Kurtz about the opportunities available in the engineering field. During their discussions, Soluta suggested applying for the NPCAF scholarship, something for which Kurtz said she is forever thankful. “I’m so glad Mr. Soluta reached out to me and suggested I apply,” Kurtz said. “It’s been such a huge help and it has been so great. Whenever I receive the scholarship in the mail, I always email him saying ‘thank you’ because I am so grateful.”
Though Kurtz began her academic career at Lafayette College, she recently decided to seek new opportunities by transferring to Notre Dame. This transition was accompanied by a switch in majors, with Kurtz shifting from civil to chemical engineering. Kurtz stressed that the decision was made possible thanks to the support of the scholarship. “Switching majors – even as only a sophomore – is a huge leap,” she said. “It has helped so much with books, and now I’m staying at Notre Dame over the summer for research. That’s only possible because of the funding from the scholarship.”
Kurtz’s research allows her to focus on her interest in green energy. Over the summer, she will continue her work on making industrial practices more sustainable through reducing the amount of heat required for chemical reactions to take place.
Ultimately, Kurtz explained that her goal is to help the environment and the world’s population by adhering to green engineering processes, something which can be accomplished through the use of precast concrete. “One of the reasons I was so interested in initially applying for the scholarship is because of how green precast concrete is,” Kurtz said. “A lot of people don’t think that concrete and engineering are sustainable, but they really are.”
With a strong work ethic and the support of the NPCAF, Kurtz continues to strive toward establishing a more sustainable world. With any luck, that world will be powered by the durability, strength – and, of course, smell – of concrete.
Mason Nichols is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager