Rob van Haaren, MS '09 EEE

Studying for his masters degree in earth and environmental engineering is something more than simply academic for Rob van Haaren.

It is a journey.

The 21-year-old, Dutch-born van Haaren MS ’09 initially wanted to become a pilot after he graduated from high school in the Netherlands. When that didn’t work out as planned, he began pursuing his other interests.

“I looked for alternatives,” he says, “and since I liked physics and chemistry class in high school, I signed up for the University of Technology in Eindhoven [The Netherlands].”

As an undergrad, van Haaren found the classes too theoretical. Fellow students – some of whom had studied abroad – encouraged him to consider American universities. Van Haaren, who speaks Dutch, English and a bit of German and French, quickly warmed to the idea.

Rob van Haaren



Age: 21

Hometown: Puiflijk, The Netherlands

Undergraduate degree: Bachelor of Science, University of Technology, Eindhoven

Favorite Artist: Sven Vath

Favorite Movie: The Big Lebowski

Favorite spot in NYC: My bed

Hobbies: Sports (Fitness, soccer, squash)

“The main reason for applying to Columbia was the department, actually,” says van Haaren. “A professor in the EEE department (Nickolas Themelis) offered me a fellowship that really interested me. The project I would be doing was on high-efficiency waste-to-energy plants and the idea of transposing it to developing countries. Besides this, the academic environment and high quality research attracted me.”

Once he arrived at Columbia, he witnessed the real-world engineering he sought in a course taught by Professor Robert Farrauto, who is also a research fellow at BASF Catalysis Research.

“The course's emphasis was on typical engineering problems that people might face in the catalytic air pollution control field,” he says. “Not just theory, but actual application. That's what engineering is all about.”

Beyond the academics at Columbia, van Haaren has also improved his English and made many new friends via classes and especially at International House, the graduate student housing on Riverside Drive. He has also been able to refocus his career goal of wanting to “save the world and be happy” into something tangible.

“I would like to work in the sustainable energy industry and help reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in this world.”

Posted: May 14, 2009

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