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Russ College students plan summer break full of learning experiences

By Adrienne Cornwall and Kaitor Kposowa | Apr 28, 2014
Nicole Sova
Photos by: Rebecca Miller

Russ College students plan summer break full of learning experiences

By Adrienne Cornwall and Kaitor Kposowa | Apr 28, 2014

Photos by: Rebecca Miller

When Ohio University’s spring semester ends next week, some students will head for the comforts of home. But many Russ College students will use the break from classes to get hands on with their engineering and technology learning studies.

Rather than returning to her hometown of Tiffin, Ohio, rising senior Claire Hall will head straight for the airport to travel 5,400 miles to Maase, Ghana, on an engineering service project to build teacher housing in the rural village with the student group Bobcats Building a Better World.

The two-week trip will be Hall’s second to the village, where last summer her team built a septic system. This year, the group of five students, led by Associate Dean of Academics Jeff Giesey, will design a water collection system and remediate some standardization issues with the filtration materials in the septic system’s anaerobic digestion pit.

“At the Russ College, we feel that student experiences beyond the classroom are critically important,” Giesey said. “Summers are just an excellent time to have really significant beyond the classroom experiences.”

Two more Russ College undergraduates, Nicole Sova and Jennifer Robinson, will also experience the summer internationally. Their trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, funded by the Cutler Scholars Program, will allow them to learn a new lab technique for studying cancer cells. They each also won 2014 Student Enhancement Awards for their work identifying biomarkers that are associated with cancer metastasis.

Both chemical engineering majors, Sova and Robinson will spend two months at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro learning to use optical tweezers to further their investigations studying lipids in the lab.

“It's so encouraging to know that people outside the lab are interested in the impact of our research enough to help fund it,” Sova said. “The American Cancer Society estimated that there were 500,000 deaths due to cancer and 1.5 million new cases of cancer last year. Researching the biomarkers on head and neck carcinoma cells may lead to improved methods of diagnosis and treatment.”

Chemical engineering graduate student Eric Martin also received a Student Enhancement Award for his paper, “Dynamic Biochemical Tissue Analysis of P-selectin Ligands Expressed in Colon Cancer.”

Martin’s research is focused on continuing the development of a novel, flow-based tissue assay.

“The assay has the potential to assist in managing a patient’s care by predicting an individual’s cancer aggressiveness through the functional assessment of molecules that are implicated in cancer metastasis,” he said.

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Monica Burdick, who advises Robinson, Sova and Martin, said her students’ summer experiences will be a huge asset for their future aspirations.

“Research opportunities allow students to apply engineering principles from the classroom to real-world problems that they want to address,” Burdick said. “At the same time, they develop skills that are very attractive to industrial hiring managers and academic graduate committees: hypothesis formulation; experimental design, execution and analysis; and project management.”

Emily Forrester, a senior in mechanical engineering, is taking her talents to Florida for a competitive Pathways Internship at Kennedy Space Center, where she’ll be working in the Engineering Assurances Division that is responsible for making sure equipment is installed and operated properly according to regulations.

An experienced intern after a stint with Whirlpool in spring 2013, said she feels less intimated by the many cross-functional interactions she’ll have with different divisions at Kennedy because of her practical experiences, which included presenting to a division vice president at Whirlpool.

“It’s a way to get into real-world engineering with training wheels on,” Forrester said.

Computer science senior Taffie Coler will get a glimpse of corporate tech development this summer at JP Morgan Chase in Columbus, Ohio, where she will work on making improvements to the financial institution’s banking app on the mobile team for iOS. The work will be similar to what she does for her own startup app, LiveIn, but applied to a different industry.

“Instead of building a hut, we’re going to be building the Coliseum,” Coler said.

She networked her way into the internship program through participation in the bank’s Code for Good challenge in the fall, where her team caught the attention of several mobile team members by exploring new, creative solutions to the coding challenge.

Afterward, she personally thanked all the judges and coders, and even kept in touch with them as LiveIn was refined and launched. When they shared her work with the mobile team lead, her internship offer followed shortly after.

Coler is most looking forward to seeing how the technical teams in a major corporation function and manage projects.

“I feel like the number-one benefit is that I’ll be able to see professional practices,” Coler said. “When we were doing LiveIn, it was a lot of trial and error.”

Having interned at Hyland Software previously, in addition to working on her startup and previous roles as a systems administrator and database administrator, Coler is confident that her practical work experience will make her more marketable after she graduates in December.

“Even if you’re a freshman, you should go out and pursue your career,” she said. “It’s sort of like a preview, and then you can decide from there where to take it.”

Director of Professional Experiences Dean Pidcock said summers are a great time to get this competitive edge as more companies are flexible about using the summer break to complete an internship or co-op experience, which employers look for on resumes.

“For potential employers, the only things that distinguish recent graduates from each other is their GPA and their experiences outside of the classroom,” Pidcock said.

Forrester takes the same approach as she prepares to work for her “dream company,” NASA.

“Take as many internships as you can,” she said.”You’ll be able to get a feel for how professional engineers work and the types of things that will be expected of you.”