UConn MSE Alumnus Feature: Shawn Fonseca

By Giorgina Paiella

FonsecaShawnName: Shawn Fonseca
Hometown: Newington, CT
Graduating Class: December 2010

Why did you choose to study at the University of Connecticut?
As I reviewed the list of schools that I had been accepted to, I separated them into three categories: good engineering schools, reach schools, and soccer schools. I had grown up playing soccer and it had always been a dream of mine to play soccer in college, so this was going to be a major factor for me. At the end of the day, however, the schools at which I was recruited to play soccer were not known for their engineering programs. Knowing that the chances of becoming a professional soccer player were unreasonable, I realized that it would be best to focus on the schools that would provide me the best engineering education as possible. Of the remaining schools on my list, UConn had the highest ranked engineering program. Although this was a major factor in my decision, I also became aware of the opportunity to play Club Soccer at UConn, making the decision much easier for me. UConn provided an economically inviting solution to obtaining a great engineering education while still maintaining active on a soccer team.

What first attracted you to the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) major?
As I entered my first day as an engineer at UConn, I quickly realized that I had no idea what engineering was. All I knew was that engineers were good at math, enjoyed physics, and were adept at solving problems. Realizing that there were many types of engineering to choose from instantly increased my stress levels as a freshman. The Engineering 100 course that all freshmen were required to take became a needed resource that I took seriously. I attended every lecture and listened to professors discuss each different type of engineering that was offered and attended as many of the “field trips” to the departments as possible. It just so happened that the Materials Science and Engineering presentation immediately sparked my interest. I quickly realized how influential materials are to our everyday life and future innovations. All the physics, theories, and ideas that all other types of engineering provide are critical, but without the appropriate material, they’re impossible. I realized that materials were the gateway to future solutions and I wanted to learn as much as I could.

I also chose to explore Mechanical Engineering as well and eventually double majored in both MSE and ME. Mechanical Engineering allowed for me to apply everything I learned in MSE. I appreciated design and wanted to incorporate that into my engineering education as well.

What was your favorite MSE class and why?
I would have to say that my favorite MSE class came during my Graduate work in the MSE program. During Grad School, courses seemed to feel less like arduous tasks in the way of college life. I had gained an appreciation for the material and truly took interest in each graduate level class I took. Of my graduate level classes, I would say that Transport Phenomenon with Dr. Rossetti was my favorite class. The problem solving I learned in this class seemed so applicable to everyday engineering problems and directly tied in with several mechanical engineering concepts that I had learned throughout my undergraduate years. Although difficult, I did enjoy going to lectures and having the opportunity to conquer the homework assignments. Perhaps this is why I did really well in this course.

For an undergraduate level class, I would say that my favorite was Electronic and Magnetic Properties of Materials with Dr. Alpay. That course covered so many modern technology problems that consistently kept my interest. It was incredibly interesting to understand the phenomena that occur behind our modern day devices (except for Schrodinger’s Equation of course.)

What research, extracurricular activities, internships, or other experiences were you involved with as a student?
With respect to soccer, I was a member of the Men’s Club Soccer Team from Fall 2006 to Spring 2010 where I was President and Captain for the 2008 and 2009 fall seasons. Following this, I tried out and walked onto the Men’s Varsity Soccer team for the Fall 2010 season.

Each year, the Men and Women’s Club Soccer Teams were heavily involved with the Annual Special Olympics Husky Classic. This soccer tournament was a major event for Special Olympics athletes where they were invited to play competitively on the UConn campus. I was a committee member for 3 years.

For internships, I was able to obtain two summer internships with General Electric located in Plainville, CT. I attended the career fairs, went to resume workshops, interview prep, and finally landed two internships in consecutive years at GE. I became a fulltime employee for GE at the same office as a member of their Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP) in the summer of 2011.

What work did you complete for your senior design project?
Due to my double major, I was given the opportunity to complete two senior design projects; one for Materials Science and Engineering and one for Mechanical Engineering. Fortunately, I was able to tie both projects together under the same topic provided by General Electric. Serving as the link between the mechanical and materials teams, we successfully characterized a ferromagnetic shape memory alloy. This material is similar to traditional shape memory alloys (materials that “remember” their original shape following mechanical distortion once brought into a specific temperature range) except that not only could the shape memory phenomenon be activated by a mechanical deformation, but also by an applied external magnetic field. By applying a magnetic field perpendicular to our material sample, we could see the material elongate and retract per the intensity of the magnetic field. Our work showed the material links to the mechanical phenomenon found in the actuating capabilities of the material. We created a testing apparatus that allowed for variable current input that provided for a variable applied magnetic field, and allowed for a live displacement measurement of the material. Our hard work paid off as we were awarded first prize in both the Materials Science and Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Competitions.

What have you been doing since you graduated and how has your materials education influenced your job or other involvements?
Since graduation, I have been working full time as an engineer at General Electric Industrial Solutions in Plainville, CT working on industrial, commercial, and residential circuit breakers and other electrical distribution products. I recently graduated from the Edison Engineering Development Program and the Advanced Courses in Engineering Programs in August of 2013. My materials background has provided many opportunities with different types of projects throughout these years and always gives me a different perspective on how to solve problems and design unique solutions.
Throughout this time, I also worked on my Master’s Degree part time in the MSE department, which I completed in August of 2013. My research was focused on calculating the cooling efficiency of perovskite ferroelectric thin films by utilizing them as the medium in the Ericsson and Stirling Refrigeration cycles.

Looking back on your years at UConn, do you have any advice or recommendations for students to have the best experience here?
A piece of advice is to never be shy to ask for help. Find study groups, or locate a mentor or tutor, or (my favorite) establish a relationship with a professor. A class that provides the highest degree of struggle is often the class that you learn the most from. Take your time, get to know your professors, and ask questions!

The best advice I could give to current and prospective students would be to take advantage of all the opportunities that UConn provides academically and socially. Through all the hard work, it is also important to enjoy your life as a college student. Get involved in as many clubs, teams, and groups as you can and meet as many people as possible. This is the best networking opportunity of your life. And of course, it’s important to visit Ted’s from time to time…it’s tradition!

What are your future academic and career goals?
Now that I have completed my Master’s Degree, I have several opportunities in front of me. I have the option to continue my education and pursue a PhD, get an MBA so I can learn how to talk the business talk, or focus on my career. At the moment I am focusing on my career, but am keeping my ears and eyes open to a project at work that may provide an opportunity for a doctoral dissertation at UConn. Ultimately, my career goal is to be in my company’s technology leadership. I don’t want to lose my proximity to technology, but I also would like to have managerial responsibilities. So in the end, I feel as though my career will dictate my academic goals. If my career requires a more technical background, then perhaps a PhD will be a good option for me. If my career drives me more towards the business or product management side of the operation, then maybe an MBA is the best route to take. I am confident that no matter what path I take, as long as I work hard and continue learning on a daily basis, I will achieve my goals.

Published: April 20, 2014

Categories: alumni, news, undergraduate students

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