Mechanical Engineering Senior Adrian Rodriguez
Since the day I new what I wanted to study, I knew it would take great lengths and a lot of time in school to reach my goal. Through the course of my studies in college, the thought of attending graduate school always has entered my mind, but I feared I knew too little about the application process and which schools best suited my interests. I was not sure what the correct path I needed to take to make graduate school a reality. After learning about Intellectual Entrepreneurship and being in it this semester, I feel like I know now what I need to do.
I first learned about IE through a co-worker, Ruby Olmanson, who happened to be the Assistant Director for the pre-grad internship. As I grew to understand the mission of IE, I knew that it was the perfect solution to my problem. IE has given me the tools and knowledge about the different aspects that come with applying for graduate school. Thus far I have learned valuable websites to search for graduate schools and financial aid, how to apply and what a good number is, what I need to do right now as I begin the application process, what to expect while in graduate school, and how to go about conducting a semester-long research. This is most likely not all I have learned but it is by far more than what I did know before I became a part of the pre-grad internship.
The four meetings scheduled throughout the semester have offered me a perspective not common to other undergraduates in college. Aside from learning about the goals of other students, the interaction with graduate students and professors helped answer some questions that only they would know. Graduate students were especially helpful by offering their experience and recommendations about graduate school, which was still fresh on their minds. I would encourage IE to continue with the panel because of its effectiveness. Although some students may have time constrictions, I might want to suggest extending the meetings to last two hours. Overall, the discussions during the meetings help address any questions that students may have, along with some questions that they did not consider.
A great part of IE was my ability to take part in its diversity group that would meet separately during the semester. The group meetings were at a smaller scale compared to the regular IE meetings, which offered the chance to get to know the people there and their purpose for being in the pre-grad internship. The meetings gave the opportunity to open up a discussion where I felt comfortable participating in. I felt that the most valuable information I have taken from IE, was to hear the success of a student on her way to graduate school. She provided us with great knowledge that we could apply on our path to accomplishing our goal.
My experience in the program put me in the hands of a professor. Dr. Alfred Traver was my mentor for this semester and he did what he could to help me along the way with my quest. We decided at the beginning of the semester that I would conduct some research and prepare a report that I would submit at the end of the semester. We planned to meet once a week and discuss the progress of my research as well as answer any questions I had about the research process and its relevance to research in graduate school. Although I found it hard at times to meet with my mentor, we did the best we could to stay in touch via email. For the most part, our meetings were worthwhile and helped me along the way.
The topic of my research was about the environmental effects of paint use in the United States. My paper was structured as a report that investigated the chemical components and processes used in the industry and how they impact the environment as a result of toxic substances and emissions that come with paint application. Through the middle of my research, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the travel grants offered by IE and attend a conference in College Station, TX. The conference lasted two days and focused on the importance of biofuels, and wind and solar energy sources. It was extremely valuable for me to learn about the companies involved in trying to make the environment safe. Their commitment to keeping the environment healthy was the basis for my research paper. The ability for students to take advantage of the travel grant greatly enhances the experience of being in the internship. It gives most students the opportunity to attend a conference, in which under financial circumstances, they would otherwise not be able to.
The IE pre-grad internship has provided me with an experience that no other program can. This semester has been of great value to me, and I would strongly recommend any student who wishes to continue their education, to participate in this great opportunity. I am eager to take the skills and knowledge I have gained thus far, and begin my search and application process for graduate school. I now feel confident when the thought of graduate school springs into my head. In the fall semester, I plan to complete the third hour for the class and pursue my interests even more with IE. I know that I still have much more to learn and with a graduate student as my mentor next semester, she will certainly provide me with a valuable experience.
Over the last two semesters, Intellectual Entrepreneurship has helped me learn about some of the unknowns about graduate study, exposed me to numerous opportunities available to make graduate study a viable option, and ultimately guided me through the process of applying to graduate school. As a senior who has started to apply to some great programs across the country, I feel confident I will be a competitive prospect.
I am currently a senior in Mechanical Engineering and I chose a graduate student by the name of Meagan Vaughn to be my mentor for this semester. Up to this point, I am grateful to have found such a great person that has devoted some of her valuable time every week to meet and discuss some of the questions I had. Meagan is in her second year at UT where her research is focused in the area of lower-limb prosthetics. From the beginning of the semester, we set out a plan for the goals we wanted to accomplish and I am happy to say we did do a majority of them.
One of the most valuable things she was able to help me out with was with my personal statement. I went through several drafts and editing before I found exactly what I wanted to say and Meagan played a major role in the revision process. By having my personal statement prepared ahead of time, it made applying to some graduate schools this semester a whole lot easier. Along with this, the faculty interviews helped build my confidence in speaking to a professor about graduate school and the route that they took to get there. I used the advice I gained and made an effort to communicate to the professors and faculty of the different graduate programs I was applying to. As a result, I was able to establish a relationship with a professor here at UT that I am very interested in his work and now I plan to take a course he offers at the graduate level next semester. Making these connections and creating opportunities from them, have showed me the necessary tools I can use to make graduate study not only a way to do research but also with some who can help guide you along the way.
I also had the opportunity to help and see some of the research my mentor was currently working on. I learned a great deal about the work she does and the necessary steps taken to carry out an experiment. One of the processes my mentor uses and I had the chance to do was Solid Laser Sintering (SLS), which is a way to build solid models of materials that would then be tested for durability and strength. Apart from this, my mentor taught me about the essence of giving a technical presentation based on the research that is worked on. In order for me to get a better sense of what she meant, I prepared a technical presentation over a subject I had been learning about in one of my classes. Once I completed this presentation, I was given the opportunity to present it informally to see what areas of communication I lacked as well as to become more familiar with the expectations of a technical presentation. This by far, helped me a lot and the feedback will become extremely valuable to me in the future.
Furthermore, my mentor had me do what is termed in engineering a design of experiment (DOE). It's exactly what it is called, a process by which I design my own experiment. Essentially I had the chance to pick a topic of interest to me yet something that wasn't extremely complicated given the time I had which was an RC car. I had to choose what exactly I wanted to test (motor power output, speed, and battery life) and then model the experiment to the point where I could test it and see what kind of results I would get. From these results, I would be able to learn more about the actual functionality of the RC car and then decide if these results were sufficient enough before coming up with a way to redesign the car. This process gave me a tremendous insight into the task graduate students are given and the independence required to be able to fully conduct your own research from the experiments you design.
At this point, I am extremely grateful for the countless opportunities the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program has presented me with given all the knowledge I have learned and the resources I have been able to use. I truly would not have been able to have reached this point alone without the program's help. Although I will miss having a mentor to meet with every week and learn more about what her graduate studies are exposing her too, I have not completely given up this resource. I was fortunate enough to have spoken to a professor of mine about undergraduate research opportunities available next semester and he told me that this would be great idea and possibility. He is currently working on some projects right now which are extremely relevant to what I want to research in graduate school and is in the process of organizing how I can be incorporated into the work he will be doing next semester. Hence, I look forward to having somewhat of a mentor to work with and learn more from as I prepare to make the transition into what I hope would be graduate school.
The Intellectual Entrepreneurship program has become a great tool that has benefited me over the past two semesters. I would recommend this program to any undergraduate with even the slightest idea of considering graduate school and I have done my best to spread the word around. Once again, I thank IE for the opportunity to be a part of such a great and beneficial program. I feel more than ready to continue the application process into graduate school with the tools I have gained and knowledge I have learned with the help of this program.