Undergraduate Engineering Students Test-Drive Research Possibilities

By Karen Updyke

Engineering research is an extremely viable career path, but one that can be difficult for younger students to explore before making a commitment to graduate school. The choice between paid co-ops and often unpaid research positions can make career decisions even more difficult.

This summer, thanks to the new University of Dayton School of Engineering Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), 13 undergraduate engineering students worked on individual research projects with 10 faculty mentors.

Engaging in the SURE program allowed students to test-drive research possibilities.  Experiential learning, in all its forms, is integral to the success of graduates. Hands-on learning takes place inside and outside the classroom to help students decide their engineering path.

According to Associate Dean Margie Pinnell, “In SURE, Dean Rojas made a significant financial investment in our faculty and students. SURE enables our engineering students to pursue a project that aligns with faculty interests but is a project of their own.”

Dr. Kevin Myers, chemical engineering, mentored two students: Molly Heigel and Michael Gray. “For me,” said Myers, “I like to perform research, but it's much more enjoyable if students are involved. Thanks to the efforts of Molly and Mike, significantly more work was performed. We're planning to present and/or publish Molly's work, while Mike is extending his work into a Master’s thesis.”

As part of the program, participants not only conduct research but also attend weekly research lunches, professional development, the Stander Symposium and are encouraged to disseminate their findings at other symposiums and conferences.

"One of the most amazing things about the field of engineering is that it can lead to so many different career paths.  Various experiences through college such as co-ops and internships, ETHOS, study abroad, class projects and undergraduate research help our students identify which career path or even career paths are most appealing to them," said Pinnell.

Confirmation of SURE’s success can be read in the participant’s comments below:   

  • Lianna Nordwig, mechanical:  “I would absolutely recommend . . . SURE to other students, especially first years. Work experience is so important . . . but difficult to come across after only one year of college. This was a great experience to try research, learn technical skills and build a relationship with the professor . . . This exposure helped me find which tasks I enjoyed most and which environments allowed me to be successful.”
  • Michael Gray, chemical:  “. . . great experience. The work I did was extensive enough that I am going to write a thesis on it. The weekly luncheons were also beneficial as I was able to befriend several students in a similar situation as me . . .The workshops provided valuable information that I will take with me for the rest of my career.”
  • Gonzalo Perez, engineering technology:  “ . . . extremely beneficial . . . learned how to use and repair 3D printers, and I thought of new ways to improve them . . . a unique experience.”
  • Mark Rasmussen, mechanical:  “This experience benefited me by giving me a chance to not only do research that benefited the community but also involved me helpful undergraduate development sessions. This summer, the bubble I live in during the school year expanded a lot.”
  • Molly Heigel, chemical:  “. . . able to apply more of the theory I have learned . . . helped my understanding of the research I was doing and helped me see practical applications . . . a win-win . . . would definitely recommend to other undergrad students, especially underclassmen who are even slightly interested in going into research or grad school.”

Application information for SURE 2017 will be available in January 2017. Applications are accepted from full-time University of Dayton School of Engineering faculty (both tenure track and non-tenure track).

SURE Faculty, Students and Projects – Summer 2016

Faculty Mentor Undergraduate Students Research
Aaron Altman, mechanical Samuel Barnhart Devise a method that will offset the location (in lift) of the maximum aerodynamic efficiency
Philip Appiah-Kubi, engineering technology Megan Aponte Review and analyze National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data to identify trends and provide recommendations on aviation safety.
Kim Bigelow, mechanical Lianna Nordwig Use Xsens, Matlab and SPSS software for data and statistical analysis of postural control reaction strategies of adults.
Kristen Comfort, chemical Mary Kate Kilroy Data analysis to ascertain if porphyrin induces a stress-dependent apoptotic response in cancer cells but not in normal cell systems, thus, identifying it as a potential cancer therapeutic.
Mark Diller, engineering technology Gonzalo Perez Develop mechanical design methodologies specifically for 3D printed components using fused filament fabrication.
Allison Kinney, mechanical Elijah Kuska Functions capable of generating motion simulations for knowledge of patient-specific muscle and joint contact forces to improve rehabilitation techniques.
Kevin Myers, chemical Michael Gray Laser induced fluorescence characterization of static mixer blending performance.
Kevin Myers, chemical Mary Heigel Impeller power draw in liquid-solid suspensions
Kellie Schneider, engineering management and management science Mark Rasmussen Rainwater harvesting and plant watering system for sustainable, eco-friendly raised-bed garden.
Denise Taylor, civil Katelin Weitzel Current practices of wastewater facilities for bio-solids treatment; analyze opportunities and challenges for land application.
Erick Vasquez, chemical Rebecca Browning and Kaitlyn Kotlarz (1) Synthesis and characterization of magnetic nanoparticles, and (2)Applications and design of functional magnetic nanomaterials combined with 3D printed models.
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