UConn Sparked an Undergraduate Student’s Love for MSE

photo of MSE undergraduate student, Jaclyn Grace (‘24)

MSE undergraduate student, Jaclyn Grace (‘24)

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant   

Undergraduate student Jaclyn Grace’s involvement on campus is astounding; she keeps busy as the President of UCMA, President of the 3D Printing Club, a teaching assistant for MSE 2101 and UNIV 1820, a Maker Specialist for the Werth Innovation Zone, was a member of the VII Explore Engineering Camp, competed in the International Materials Applications and Technology (IMAT) conference and works as a part of Professor Bryan Huey’s research group. In other words, she does it all!  

Even though it’s clear Grace loves materials science, she initially started out as a biomedical engineering student on the biomaterials track. But, when she learned that the same program was offered in materials science, she immediately switched. “There’s a lot of versatility in materials science and I love how broad the program is,” she says.  

As President of UCMA and President of the 3D Printing Club, Grace has a lot of responsibilities. For UCMA, she plans and organizes the annual MSE banquet as well as plans other outreach programs. At the 3D Printing Club, Grace teaches students how to use different modeling software such as SolidWorks, Fusion360 and OnShape. The club also has a design challenge every month and has run a design competition for high school students too.  

Out of all her involvements, being a Maker Specialist for the Werth Innovation Center is one of her favorites. “I love working in the Makerspace. I have access to a multitude of different machines such as 3D printers, laser engravers, sewing and embroidery machines, soldering equipment and woodworking tools,” says Grace. “I’ve been working in the IZone for a year and a half now, and it has become a safe place for me to go when I just need a break from everything. I have also made a bunch of connections with both staff and students of First Year Programs and had the opportunity to run many different programs such as sewing and textile skill shares, challenges such as the marble and egg drop challenge, and Month of Discovery activities.” 

In the Makerspace, Grace is also a teaching assistant. She teaches UNIV 1820, which is Introduction to Making. This includes teaching students how to use different machinery in the facility, such as sewing and 3D modeling. Another course she helps with is MSE 2101, the introductory class for non-MSE majors “Materials Science and Engineering I.” Her responsibilities include holding office hours and grading homework.

The Makerspace isn’t the only place that Grace gets to help others. This past summer, she worked at the VII Explore Engineering camp, is a weeklong residential experience designed to introduce high school students to all the engineering disciples at UConn. “That camp was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s crazy how many faces light up when you show students how their interests match to a major,” she states. “During the E^2 camp, I got to do a demo creating casein plastic, which is a plastic that is made simply using heated milk and vinegar. The students loved it.” 

One way that Grace gets involved in research is with Professor Huey’s lab. In his research group, she is learning to operate an Atomic Force Microscope. Over the summer, she was involved in a research paper in conjunction with Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang’s, studying Shape-Memory Thermochromic Liquid Crystal Elastomers. For this, Grace conducted force curve mapping at variable temperatures to see how the mechanical properties of the LCE reacted to heat. Grace praises her time in the lab: “Professor Huey has provided me with numerous opportunities and connections to further my career in MSE.” 

Another faculty member that Grace praises is Undergraduate Laboratory Director Fiona Leek. “She has been the perfect mentor over these past few years,” she says. “It’s awesome to get real lab experience before working in industry. Those lab experiences are invaluable. Not a lot of other majors have this opportunity.”  

Speaking of opportunities, one major event that Grace attended this semester was the International Materials Applications and Technologies (IMAT) conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, Grace competed in the DomesDay competition where her peer, Matthew Carragher, and her designed and fabricated a geodesic dome that had to protect an egg from a hydraulic press. “If it weren’t for the MSE Department, I would not have had the opportunity to go on such a trip. It was a great way to learn more about materials science, explore a new city, learn more about the professional side of engineering, and make some new connections,” she says.  

Post-graduation, Grace hopes to go into biomaterials and tissue engineering. Her end goals are to apply additive manufacturing technology with stem cells, but she also really enjoys polymers and 3D printing technology. She plans on going to graduate school to obtain a MS in MSE with a graduate certificate in BME, and to later build a career around this expertise.

“I love STEM cell technology and want to find solutions to the lack of organs needed for medical transplants. I like the idea of helping people without being in the operating room,” Grace states. “UConn MSE has helped me work towards my goals by giving me opportunities to take elective classes in areas I’m interested in, as well as connect me to people in industry.”  

For students questioning studying materials science and engineering, Grace definitely recommends it. “I always say that MSE is the broadest engineering field. Some people think mechanical engineering deserves that title, but everything in our world is made from materials. You couldn’t have mechanical engineering, civil engineering or electrical engineering without MSE,” she claims. 

 Also, Grace praises the flexibility of materials science and engineering. She says that “with a degree in materials science, you’re able to do essentially whatever you want post-graduation. It’s such a versatile field, and you can find a way to tailor your degree to your interests no matter what.”

Published: November 9, 2022

Categories: news, student chapter, undergraduate students

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