Alum wins prestigious national college competition

Notre Dame's academic program and a favorite teacher's unique delivery of chemistry inspire 2015 alum to top award in national college competition.

Aleksandra Salic, a 2015 Notre Dame Prep graduate and current senior at Michigan State University, recently found out she won first place in a prestigious annual student design competition sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Each year, AIChE, along with chemical engineers working in the industry, devise a student problem that typifies a real, working chemical engineering design situation. 

For 2019, the project involved designing a biopharmaceutical production facility using recombinant E. coli to produce a Lucentis biosimilar (a pharmaceutical used to treat advanced macular degeneration). The project also required the design of a wastewater-treatment facility and a scrubber system for contaminated gas resulting from the production.

Teams from colleges and universities across the U.S. then have 30 days to compete the project. Although the competition allows for teams of up to four students, Michigan State says that its teams can only consist of two members. So for Salic and her teammate, Grace Jansen, it seemed the odds were stacked against them before they even got started. 

But that wasn't the only issue they had to deal with.

"This year, something happened in the competition that had never happened before," said Salic, who was a member of Notre Dame Prep's 2015 valedictory class. "Upon completion of the 30-day period, our professor informed us that AIChE redacted the problem statement that we had just completed because they said it did not have enough data included in order for the students to solve the problem. Because of this, AIChE offered an alternative problem statement for those who did not already attempt the original 'unsolvable' one.'"

Well not only did Salic and Jansen attempt to solve the problem, they actually solved it and won the competition, beating many four-person teams in the process. As a result, they will be heading to Orlando, Fla., in early November for the 2019 Annual AIChE Student Conference where they will be officially recognized and pick up their award, which is called "The William Cunningham Award for Best Overall Design in the Team Category.”

"This experience truly showed that nothing is impossible," Salic said. 

She also said that, while very exciting, winning such a competition is simply more evidence that her four years at Notre Dame Prep gave her a huge head start in college as well as in a future career that begins after she graduates this December with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering (and a minor in Spanish).  

"After graduation, I will be working for Mars Wrigley as a project engineer in Tennessee," said Salic, who did two internships previously with Mars Wrigley in Illinois for the past two summers and one for Pfizer in Massachusetts after her sophomore year.

She was quick to note, however, that it was her high school and her high school chemistry teacher in particular that helped make it all possible.

"The challenging academics of NDP played an essential part in forming the work ethic that helped me succeed in college," she said. "But specifically, Mrs. Mulrenin, who sadly passed away this year, played a huge role in preparing me for MSU. She sparked my passion for chemistry and inspired my choice of chemical engineering. She believed in me — from predicting my AP score to creating such a hilarious learning environment in her class that I enjoyed being a part of it every day — and that is something I will continue to carry with me forever."

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three school are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at