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Opening doors to research careers

Olin students have no shortage of options after graduation, including going to graduate school and  then pursuing careers in research. But they may not be sure whether this path is right for them.

This past summer and into the fall, nine women Olin students were able to explore the possibility of a research-oriented future in positions funded by the Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Program. A Research Scholars Program grant was awarded to Olin for the second time in 2019 to give women students the opportunity to do conduct research projects in areas that typically have few women within the fields of engineering, science, or math.

“Even though women are well represented at Olin, as soon as they leave the Olin bubble, they’re still incredibly under-represented in engineering and technology fields, so having program that’s aimed at supporting women is great,” says Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Emily Tow, who wrote the grant proposal. “They can go out into the world more confident about their ability to do research.” Tow’s own trajectory was shaped by doing undergraduate research.

The student researchers each chose an Olin faculty member to work with. Some of the projects fell into the data science realm, such as Alli Busa’s work with professor Scott Hersey on quantifying the effect of air pollution from Logan airport on East Boston communities. The project entailed validating, cleaning, and analyzing data from sensors that Oliners helped make and set up. “Our goal is to help inform people in East Boston about how the presence of the airport affects them and to provide environmental justice groups with the information they need to push for regulations and policies,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed doing environmental work that I know will have an impact.”

Marion Madanguit and Maeve worked to help the city of Providence, RI optimize their scooter sharing program. They studied the equity of access to the service and worked with the city to investigate how ridership, coverage, and service vary across the region to identify underserved communities. “This summer completely changed my attitude toward data science and STEM research,” says Marion. “I’ve learned that both are incredibly vibrant fields that allow people to be curious and to explore aspects of the world that need more exploring.”

Other students embarked on mechanical projects. Kei Chua’s summer research was validating a thermal conductivity sensor and model for testing recycled fabric samples. Inspired by the detrimental environmental impacts from the fast fashion clothing industry, the research project dove  into the recycling of textiles for thermal insulation and energy conservation. “I enjoyed this research project because it combined my passion for sewing with technical analysis,” she says. “As a current mechanical engineering student, I hope that I can find a career working with textiles in the future, like designing spacesuits.” Another group studied robotic sensing in aquaculture and created small-scale sensors to determine the concentration of algae in water.

Kei Chua's Textile Project

Tow is excited that the grant strengthens Olin’s emphasis on student research, such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. “All of Olin’s professors have such a strong commitment to mentoring undergraduates, and this grant creates even more opportunities,” she says. As part of the CBL scholars’ experience, they attended research skills workshops, where they learned about scientific communication and research documentation. “I learned about creating correctly scoped research questions and running the test to find answers to those questions,” says Declan Ketchum. “I also learned how to navigate working as a team virtually, which is ever changing and only becoming more important.” 

The 2020 CBL Scholars are:

Kelly Yen ’23

Maeve Stites ’22

Julia Chomowicz ’23

Marion Madanguit ’23

Kei Chua ’23

Allison Busa ’21

Dianna Sims ’23

Declan Ketchum ’23

Alana Huitric ’23

See their reports on their work.

The next round of applications will be open in the spring of 2021. Stay tuned for announcements.