By Allison McLellan
Zane Grady is a MSE student entering his junior year at UConn, but he has filled these few years to the brim. Initially unfamiliar with the concept of materials sciences and engineering, he became enthralled during a presentation given by Dr. Anson Ma during his first semester.
He explains, “Materials science and engineering is amazing to me because, more than any other kind of engineering, it allows for an intimate understanding of the world and how we interact with it.”
Immediately after the presentation, the engineering major asked Dr. Ma how he could provide undergraduate help in his lab, and has been working with the professor ever since. Projects have included working on mechanical property analysis of carbon nanotube/ PLA composites in additive manufacturing and high speed imaging of acoustic inkjet printing. With inkjet printing, the lab group was able to capture images of water droplet formation, winning them 2nd place in the 2015 Keramos Microscopy Contest.
Dr. Ma is very grateful for Grady’s outstanding research assistance in the lab. “Zane is one of the talented undergraduates whom I have the pleasure to work with. He’s intellectually adept and dedicated.”
Outside of his academics, Grady has become heavily involved across campus. The undergrad participated in the BRIDGE program the summer before his freshman year, a program preparing underrepresented students for the engineering curriculum at UConn with a five-week intensive study in STEM fields. After tutoring for the BRIDGE Program in 2014, he held the position of head tutor in 2015. He is also deeply involved with Engineering Ambassadors, a program for which he acts as an engineering tutor.
Besides tutoring work, Grady is part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). In describing the significance of this membership, he says, “The Society represents the heritage and culture I never had. I was adopted from Bolivia as a baby so I never got to fully experience what it means to be part of Hispanic culture. With SHPE, I get the best of both worlds; friends and mentors who share my passion for volunteering and engineering, as well as a welcoming community to help me embrace the culture that has alluded me till now.”
Additionally, Grady has reached out to communities outside of UConn. He has worked with the Community Outreach office on alternative breaks every year he has attended UConn, from assisting in aid for long-term hurricane relief in New Orleans, being a team leader for gulf coast environment restoration in Mississippi, and now becoming the trip director for the coastal environment restoration excursion to Avery Point during this upcoming spring.
All these activities have only complemented Grady’s academic career. His position as outreach chair for the UConn chapter of Materials Advantage has brought him to middle schools and high schools in the region to enthuse younger students about materials science and engineering. This has been a role Grady enjoys immensely.
“When I’m there, they ask so many questions about materials science that it helps reinvigorate the curiosity that initially drew me to the field. I come back feeling refreshed and motivated to squeeze every minute of learning I can out of my undergraduate career.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2017, Grady plans to pursue a doctorate degree, potentially in nanomaterials or energy materials. He hopes to work in an exciting and volatile field such as space materials or next generation battery technology before returning to his pleasure of teaching, eventually becoming a professor.
Grady reflects on his busy years so far at UConn; “It’s definitely been a sink or swim experience at some points. I feel like I’ve grown as a person more in the past 2 years than I had in the 18 years preceding them. It’s been extremely taxing at times but I wouldn’t change anything if I could. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank my family, my teachers, my mentors, and my friends, all the people without whom I would not be where I am today.”