By Marlese Lessing
After graduating with a B.S. from the materials science and engineering program at UConn in 2015, Alexandra Merkouriou went on to complete the Edison Engineering Development Program at GE Industrial Solutions. She currently works at M Cubed Technologies making silicon carbide ceramic composites for the semiconductor industry and has returned to UConn part time as a graduate student to pursue her M.S. in materials science and engineering. She accredits her success and passion for materials science to her professors here at UConn and her colleagues at her current workplace. Alexandra was recently invited to join the MSE Industrial Advisory Board.
What projects do you currently have running?
I’m working on a new product introduction for a product that will help create higher density flash memory. This product is a great opportunity not only to work with the custom to develop a successful design, but also to push the boundaries of precision manufacturing.
I’m also developing a diamond silicon carbide material called Thermadite. I’m fortunate enough to be working on characterization of a new formulation of Thermadite. Hopefully soon after that work is completed, we’ll be able to slowly introduce it into the industry. It’s really great to see my research applied in the industry almost as soon as I discover something new.
My Master’s project is through my company, which is great, and very busy. It’s a balance of working and researching. My thesis is due at the end of the year, so it’s very much crunch time for me right now.
What inspired you to join the MSE Industrial Advisory Board?
Professor Bryan Huey invited me to the Industrial Advisory Board earlier last year. I had participated briefly in some Industrial Advisory Board student feedback meetings as an undergrad and I was honored to be able to be part of the committee. Our goal is to help guide the Materials Science and Engineering program and provide insight into current and future industry needs and expectations. I have always enjoyed finding the opportunities that allow me to help others grow in their careers and being part of the Industrial Advisory Board gives me the chance continue that work and also to give back to the program (UConn MSE) that has gotten me to where I am today.
How did you first get into materials science and engineering?
In high school, I found out about UConn’s Explore Engineering program over the summer. It was a week-long program where they introduced me to all the different fields of engineering offered here at UConn, and I was immediately drawn to the materials science portion of the program. One of the demos they showed us was a superconductor. As soon as I saw the magnet hovering in midair I was hooked, I knew I had to do that right away. After talking to Professor Huey, who ran the demo, I worked in his lab during my undergraduate career.
What experience do you think has influenced you the most at the University?
I was part of UConn Material Advantage, an outreach club that talks to high school and middle students about engineering and the sciences. I loved teaching younger kids about the world of engineering and STEM, and showing them the opportunities available to them as scientists and engineers. I started in my freshman year, and I was lucky enough to be elected President for my last two years until I graduated. I saw this position as a way to help members make connections and networking collaborations that could help them with their future careers. My hope was to communicate all the things I wish I had known going into engineering – like when, how and where to look for internships or undergraduate research, how to make a resume and what to expect from an interview.
One experience that was very important to me was tutoring two seniors at South Windsor High School in materials science and engineering for a STEM competition they were competing in. I came up with lesson plans incorporating some of my demos from Material Advantage and gave them an introductory lesson to a lot of the topics in our introductory materials engineering classes. I loved the teaching aspect of it.
Who helped influence your path at the Department?
There are so many professors that helped me get to where I am now. Working with Professor Pamir Alpay was great. I met him through Material Advantage because he was the department head at the time. He helped guide me through the program and opened up so many opportunities in terms of my career.
Dr. Daniel Goberman taught the first materials class I ever took and showed me that materials science can always be exciting. He works at Pratt and Whitney Research Center. He did an excellent job of introducing us to materials science and telling us why it matters, how it influences our lives and peoples’ lives, and how we can change the world that way.
Even though some of my classes weren’t easy, I use what I learn in them every day at my job in M Cubed Technologies. Professor Brody taught two of the hardest classes in the MSE course set, thermodynamics and materials transport. He also did a fantastic job of connecting it to industry and market needs. Professor Aindow in my senior year also gave a phenomenal class on materials characterization. As a materials engineer, it’s so important to know the tools you have at your disposal. It’s had such a huge impact on my work.
What advice would you give to yourself from four years ago?
Make mistakes now. It’s ok to fail, it’s ok to change your mind. UConn has a huge support system to help you when you fall. I’m using everything I learned from my mistakes and failures in college, and the support system at the MSE department helped me pick myself up again and go back at it. It’s such a huge booster to have something like that, but it’s one of those things that you don’t realize you have until its gone.
In sum, how do you think the MSE department helped you to your current career?
The Department has been my home throughout my undergraduate career. I got to test my limits as a scientist, learn how much I love research and forge a path to a career I’m in love with. They were a phenomenal support system, all the professors, all the office staff. When I come back here, it’s a sense of freedom. I know there’s people who are here who will let you try just about anything. It’s been such an encouraging environment.