Last August, Faith Carver received her master’s in chemical engineering and switched her focus from Dayton to Mars. Her year of working as a graduate student researcher at the UD Research Institute under Senior Research Scientist Douglas Hansen helped Carver land a position in the fuel processing unit of Los Alamos National Laboratory. A UD professor first introduced Carver to the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, a long-lived power system to provide electricity and heat to spacecraft. Los Alamos is the first step in a chain of laboratories that are creating fuel from plutonium-238 to power the Mars 2020 rover into infinity and beyond.
How did you learn you got the job?
I got a call right before my last final. They said, “You can accept it right now if you wish,” and I said, “Well, yes, I do! And I have a final in 20 minutes, so thank you!”
Was it a hard decision for you to move to New Mexico?
I had interviews and different offers, but this was the ideal job for me. I love working with alternative energy, I love electro-chemistry — this is a little bit of both — and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s hard to be away, but I absolutely love it.
Two members of the UD family — your former professor Dan Kramer and UDRI research scientist Chad Barklay — said they created a “survival handbook” to give to alumni headed to Los Alamos; I hear there are five alumni there now.
Yes, and I very much enjoyed it. The handbook ranged from how Los Alamos operates to where to live and fun facts. It made me feel a little more welcome. UD follows you everywhere and it’s great.
Describe your workplace.
I work in a secured area and I’m still waiting for my security clearance, so I’m escorted in. The people I work with include other engineers, doctors, contractors — you name it, they’re here. They come from all over the world to work here. We have our nice work stations right behind the fence of the plutonium facility and I’m around the greatest minds in the country — it’s unbelievable.
What about your job makes you go “wow”?
It’s amazing to look at something and think, “That’s going to space; that will be on Mars in a few years.” It’s incredible, it’s surreal and I want to be actively involved in that process.
What is it like being part of the new generation of researchers to contribute to the plutonium-238 project?
It’s exciting because there are not very many people who do this job. It’s kind of intimidating to be on it because there are people working at the lab who have been doing this for 20 years and they worked on Cassini or New Horizons, and now their projects are in outer space and on Mars. But, it’s also very humbling. You realize they are extremely experienced and you should try to learn everything you can from them.
What is your favorite part of your work?
Beyond the fact that I get to work on things that are going to space, we also work with labs all over the nation — NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UDRI. I love it, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
OUT OF THIS WORLD
Since 2010, students have filled 1,592 positions working on sponsored research at the UD Research Institute. In its 60-year history, UDRI has employed approximately 13,000 students. Does that include you? If so, send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two University of Dayton graduate students received $50,000 each to work in a U.S. Department of Energy program with researchers at Emerson’s Helix Innovation Center on the University of Dayton campus.
Kefan Huang, in the renewable and clean energy program, is focused on enhancing Department of Energy software to better distribute heating, ventilation and air conditioning loads in light commercial buildings and residences using renewable energy power systems. Optimizing energy loads in real time will reduce energy costs.
Electrical engineering student Ashish Gogia is attempting to achieve a zero-energy smart home with green technologies and storage and energy management systems.
Both are using The Helix as a laboratory for their work in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Building Technologies Program administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.
The Building Technologies Office works with universities through the Building-Grid Integration Research and Development Innovators Program to improve the efficiency of buildings and increase renewable energy generation, leading to more efficient buildings and cleaner generation of electricity.
“This is yet another example of the University’s partnership with Emerson providing a real-world laboratory for our students and helping secure funding like this to continue their work,” said Kevin Hallinan, a professor in the University’s renewable and clean energy master’s program who is overseeing the students’ projects.
The University of Dayton School of Engineering graduate programs are ranked 65th nationally — tied with Brown University and ahead of schools like the University of North Carolina, Syracuse University and the Rochester Institute of Technology — according to U.S. News & World Report. The University ranks second among Catholic universities and third in Ohio.
There are deserts in Ohio. And Karlos Marshall plans on putting an end to them.
In 2015, the academic development coordinator for ArtStreet and Institute for Arts Nexus founded the non-profit The Conscious Connect, Inc. with hopes of ending book deserts in Ohio.
The Conscious Connect’s website defines a book desert, as “a geographical area that lacks the access and/or resources to high-quality, affordable, and culturally relevant and responsive print books.”
With this definition in mind and a goal to end book deserts in area neighborhoods, the grassroots’ first initiative, “The Root,” placed culturally relevant books in 20 urban Ohio barbershops and beauty salons where children could read while they waited.
Marshall said that a staple of the program is making sure the books are culturally relevant, having either a black or brown main character, or by being written by a black or brown author. He emphasized: “Children are already being exposed to characters that do not look like them and people have a preconceived notion that the black or brown children can’t read or don’t want to, but in reality, they don’t have books or characters they can relate to.”
And soon, Marshall’s goal grew.
“We want to make literature available at every corner of the community,” Marshall said.
Now, The Conscious Connect is holding a drive for 15,000 books to pilot its next initiative – “Little Libraries” in west Dayton neighborhoods. Holding about 20-30 books in unlikely places, the libraries come disguised as bird houses.
Partnered with The University Libraries Diversity & Inclusion Committee, donations are flooding in, while student engineers-in-training work on designing the “bird house” styled library structures in professor Beth Hart’s Engineering Innovation classes.
“I would love for my students to figure out how engineering isn’t just about technical things,” Hart said. “It’s about solving a problem that can make a big difference on many many levels.”
The libraries are projected to be implemented in spring or summer 2017, and afterward, there are endless opportunities for what is next for The Conscious Connect.
“In the West we think of education as a brick and mortar structure,” Marshall said. “But all around the world education is happening outside of the classroom . . . We are redefining what is education and where you can access it.”
During Jonathan Dekar’s freshman year, a woman approached the School of Engineering with a question: Could something be done to improve mealtimes for her daughter, whose disability limited her motion and required a caregiver’s assistance?
This wasn’t the mechanical engineering major’s first exposure to this problem. Through his grandfather’s diagnosis with a degenerative disease, he had witnessed the challenges that independent eating posed for some individuals.
“It was a basic human need gone unfulfilled — you have to eat to stay alive,” said Dekar, who graduated in 2011. “This wasn’t just another engineering project, getting food from point A to point B. I wanted it to be emotionally empowering and inspiring.”
Through four years of technical coursework, prototyping and researching the market, Obi was born.
Obi is a tabletop device with an automated spoon, robotic arm and a four-course compartmentalized plate that moves with practiced precision.
After graduation, Dekar shifted his full attention into making this product, learning additional skills in finance management and regulatory compliance.
“An engineering education is a ‘license to learn,’ and with an engineering mindset you can learn to do just about anything. It’s a toolkit,” he said.
Formally launched in July 2016, Obi has already garnered accolades. It won the 54th annual R&D 100 awards in the category “mechanical and materials,” as sponsored by R&D magazine. It was also a finalist in the 2016 International Design Excellence Awards.
The engineering entrepreneur feels confident in the mission his company has undertaken — to continually improve the quality of life through exciting and usable consumer robotics.
Dekar said he feels others should never let fear of failure dissuade them from trying something difficult. He said, “Failure is an option, fear is not. College allows you to broaden your mind and explore, and when you find what drives you, you become the work you do.”
Read about how one group of UD students responded to the original challenge from inspiring children who wanted to feed themselves, originally published in the Dayton Engineer in 2006.
About seven years ago, UD began a research project with hopes of leading to a fiber-optic, hand-held biosensor that would detect various molecules in breath, air and water.
The research group is currently examining how light passing through sensitive optical fibers can detect the presence of specific molecules, such as those present in sweat, saliva or breath. The opportunities for this device, they say, could be endless, including, early detection of disease and hazardous materials.
The research is ongoing, but would not be possible without the merging of the departments of chemistry, physics, biology and electro-optics – along with students and faculty from the School of Engineering and the Minority Leaders Program.
Electro-optics professor Dr. Joe Haus and associate biology professor Dr. Karolyn Hansen lead the research.
“I always think the middle name for UD is collaboration,” Haus said. “We get a lot of good work done when we collaborate and share equipment and ideas.”
Diego Garcia Mina, an electro-optics doctoral candidate, is from Columbia and has been working on this project for about two years.
“When you work with people from different departments you can learn from different fields and it expands your education,” Mina said. “I like applying concepts I learned to solve problems related to the fiber-optics sensor. This is an important project that can help many people in the future. When I finish after this year, I want to go back to [Columbia], continue working with sensors and find an application to a problem using what I learned at UD.”
Elaheh Ghanati, an electro-optics doctoral candidate from Iran, joined the project this summer and anticipates the device could have real health-related impact in the future.
“I am excited to be a part of this project,” Ghanati said. “…every part of the project is a challenge. [But,] if you can solve a health problem, that is the best way to use science.”
Prospective engineers were excited to arrive on campus for the annual Women in Engineering summer camp at UD July 10 – 15. Young girls from all over the United States took advantage of this opportunity to explore their potential future career in areas of engineering. The camp offered exposure to civil, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering.
During the program campers were challenged to collaborate with each other and encouraged to develop professional connections through networking with professional engineers who came to offer their expertise.
Camper Maryleysi Cruz, from Chicago, Illinois, described her favorite part of the camp saying, “I loved making the speakers out of raw materials. It was really cool because after we made them, we could actually test them with our own phones. And they worked!”
Besides making speakers from scratch, the campers were also led to construct a scale model bridge made out of toothpicks. “It was important to work together during this experiment,” said camper Kaleah Patterson from Dayton. “A bridge can’t stand on its own.”
Alongside the campers, civil engineer professor Riad Alakkad enjoyed guiding the girls in their activities. “I loved teaching young girls and seeing their interest in STEM programs,” said Alakkad. “I liked leading them to collaborate with each other even if they are in different engineering concentrations. In the real world, no one is independent. It is the same way for engineering. You see civil, chemical, and mechanical engineers working side by side on a daily basis. I enjoyed encouraging the girls to think outside the box because that’s what’s good for them.”
For Patricia Russell, innovation comes in all forms. Not only has she taken risks professionally, starting her own consulting firm after a successful chemical engineering career, but her methods as a consultant concentrate on changing individual perspectives.
During her time as an undergraduate, Russell recorded a great deal of firsts. She helped found Minority Engineers for Advancement and was both the first woman from the Bahamas and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University with a chemical engineering degree.
After getting her master’s in chemical engineering and working in the field for several years, she discovered a different path.
“I loved chemical engineering — I liked the analytics and the numbers,” she said. “But while working as a chemical engineer, I discovered the type of work I really belonged in. It was always about people.”
Sixteen years ago, she made the leap. By starting The Russell Consulting Group, Russell was able to pursue the work she loved. Her firm works with companies, primarily in health care and higher education, to improve productivity and create a great place to work.
“A lot of consultants work on changing behavior, hoping that will impact results,” she said. “I focus on shifting thinking, on identifying thought patterns behind behaviors, on mastering ego to transform cultures.”
Russell’s engineering background has continued to serve her well, giving her firm a competitive edge.
“The strategic-thinking skills I learned help me survive the ups and downs of consulting work,” she said. “If you don’t have that strategic or critical-thinking talent, it’s almost impossible to adapt your business model.”
After more than 40 years of seeing positive results from UD’s minority and women’s engineering programs, the School of Engineering is bringing a multitude of groups together under the new Diversity in Engineering Center.
Center Director Laura Bistrek said that this effort will include supporting students beyond undergraduate underrepresented minorities and females.
“We will also serve international students and graduate students,” she said. “We will work with all School of Engineering students, faculty, and staff on understanding and developing multicultural and intercultural competency. We will also start to look at how we can serve other diverse students, such as LGBTQ, special needs, etc.”
Although the Center was started in August 2015 and is still a work in progress, Bistrek is confident that the Center will play a significant diversity and inclusion role in the School of Engineering’s Strategic Plan because of the history that UD has of supporting minority student groups.
“We’ve had our Women in Engineering Summer Camp for female high school students since 1974, our Minority Engineering Program since 1996, as well as our METEC camp for high school minority males, our Women in Engineering Program, Minority Leaders Program, Women in Science & Engineering Integrated LLC,” she said. “We also have very active affinity-based student groups. By creating the Diversity in Engineering Center, we are able to better coordinate our diversity efforts within the School of Engineering.”
When Paige Kassalen took off on Solar Impulse 2 – the world’s first solar-powered airplane –she recalled that her spark in engineering began on UD’s campus one summer seven years ago.
Kassalen, 23, is part of the Solar Impulse team that flew out of Dayton International Airport Wednesday, May 25 with a goal of travelling around the world. This leg of the journey is scheduled to land in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
Kassalen says she owes much of her engineering success to an early foundation at the Women in Engineering Summer Camp she attended at the University of Dayton when she was 15 years old.
“My first exposure to engineering was attending this summer camp for girls,” Kassalen said. “It was where I found my passion.”
The camp began at the University 42 years ago and provides females the opportunity to plunge into engineering with hands-on activities. With the guidance of UD professors, participating students are given the opportunity to perform experiments, create new inventions, introduced to female engineers and visit a job site during the camp’s six-day experience.
“I remember that we got to make a structure that would withstand the most force,” Kassalen said. “We had a bunch of different materials. I used duct tape and markers. The winning group used 8- ½-inch x 11-inch size computer paper. That was the moment when I saw that everyday materials can accomplish great things.”
The biggest takeaway Kassalen said she gained from the UD engineering summer program was the chance to use her creative skills.
“From the UD summer program, I learned putting creativity to use to solve problems is exactly what engineering is,” Kassalen stated.
Now an electrical engineer, the Pittsburgh native is the the youngest embedded engineer for Solar Impulse and the only American on the primarily Swiss ground crew. Kassalen is one of three female engineers on the crew.
Kassalen’s journey with the team started in Honolulu, Hawaii and the mission will conclude in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, weather permitting.
“My goal is sharing this experience,” said Kassalen. “I want to inspire people by sharing that if you’re 100% yourself about your passion, anything is possible. What I am trying to showcase is that I never expected to do a historic project like this one year removed from college, but making sure that you are passionate about the degree you choose and pick good programs that can prepare you prior to college will point you in the right direction, find your niche and land your dream job.”
For more information on UD’s summer engineering program, please visit their website: https://www.udayton.edu/engineering/k-12-programs/women_in_engineering_summer_camp/index.php