The Michigan Engineer News Center

Graduate student volunteers mentor young students

ChE graduate students have been donating their time and expertise to work with middle and high school students who have an interest in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas.| Medium Read

ChE graduate students have been donating their time and expertise to work with middle and high school students who have an interest in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. An example of this is the Skyline Internship Program, which pairs a rising senior from Skyline high school in Ann Arbor with a graduate student mentor in the College of Engineering. These high school students are part of the Design, Technology & Environmental Planning (DTEP) Magnet Program, which is directed by Mr. Tom Pachera. The intership program, run entirely by Engineering graduate students, allows students to apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, to find practical solutions for real-world issues.

Lianette Rivera, a first-year chemical engineering graduate student and Chemical Engineering Graduates Society (ChEGS) outreach officer, coordinated the 2013 program. The mentors work with their Skyline students to develop a small research project in the graduate student’s area of expertise. At the conclusion of the program, the Skyline students present their findings to their peers, their teacher, and all the graduate student mentors. The audience members are encouraged to provide constructive feedback on the presentations. The internship program is intended to give high school students an idea of what a career in research and development might be like.

Thirteen students were selected for this summer’s internship program. Seven of them were paired with the following chemical engineering graduate students: Jeff Lowe, Molly Kozminsky, Chang Yup Seo, Lianette Rivera, Brittany Lancaster, Julia Faeth and Youngri Kim.

Julia Faeth, a 2nd year student in Phil Savage’s lab, trained David Pacurar, her intern this summer, to investigate fast hydrothermal liquefaction of microalgae to produce biocrude. Faeth and Pacurar are in the photo above. To do this, Pacurar needed to learn how to load reactors, safely use a fluidized sand bath as a heating medium to perform the reaction, and recover and measure the products. Together, they explored the effect of reaction time on yields of biocrude and reaction byproducts, which can be either solid or water-soluble.

“Serving as a graduate student mentor is important to me,” Faeth says, “because it allows me to help high school students figure out if engineering is a good fit for them.” She grew up in a small rural town in Ohio, and didn’t have much exposure to engineering and engineers. She knows she would have appreciated a program that gave her the opportunity to work in engineering research labs.

Enlargeparticipants testing the oobleck
IMAGE:  SEE camp participants testing the oobleck.

Graduate students and undergraduate students also lend their time to College of Engineering programs such as the Summer Engineering Exploration Camp (SEE Camp), hosted by the Society of Women Engineers every summer. SEE Camp is a weeklong camp for high school students, boys and girls, interested in studying engineering. They have the chance to explore different engineering disciplines through interactive faculty and student presentations, activities, and tours.

This year the graduate and undergraduate ChE volunteers used 150 pounds of cornstarch and water to make an “Oobleck” tank to introduce the concept of Non-Newtonian fluids to the high school visitors (in the photo to the right). This substance’s funny name comes from the Dr. Seuss book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck.” Oobleck exhibits shear thickening properties: a person running in the tank will be able to traverse the surface as though it were solid, but a person standing still sinks into a gooey liquid. The common explanation for this is that the starch-water mixture is a suspension and the starch particles lock when pressure is applied. Through educational events such as these, ChEGS aims to engage younger students in the chemical engineering field, by demonstrating its importance in industry and other professional settings, as well as its underlying presence in everyday life.

Thanks to the SWE SEE Camp for the oobleck photo above.

participants testing the oobleck
Portrait of Sandy Swisher


Sandy Swisher
Communications & Alumni Relations Coordinator

Chemical Engineering

(734) 764-7413

3118 Dow

Metal rods that are part of the molecular epitaxy beam apparatus at Michigan Engineering. Photo by Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

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