News

May 23, 2012

NSF Research Fellowships Help Four Alumni Pursue Graduate Degrees

To call Brian Carey ’11 motivated is an understatement. The civil engineering and economics graduate is living in Trinidad and Tobago on a Fulbright Scholarship, where he is working at the Seismic Research Center at University of the West Indies to conduct a seismic assessment of the residential construction in Trinidad.

Brian Carey ’11, left, works with Stephen Kurtz, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, on the Steel Bridge Team.

Brian Carey ’11, left, works with Stephen Kurtz, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, on the Steel Bridge Team.

Carey is no stranger to high-level research. That’s one of the reasons he was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides a $30,000 annual stipend for a maximum of three years. Recipients are selected based on overall abilities and accomplishments, as well as potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the United States science and engineering industries. Mechanical engineering graduate Alicia Clark ’11, civil engineering graduate Matthew Verbyla ’06, and Heidi Verheggen ’12 (Zionsville, Pa.), who just graduated with a B.S. in mathematics and an A.B. with a major in economics, also received fellowships.

“I hope my research can be successfully implemented to improve the infrastructure of Trinidad and Tobago against structural failures resulting from earthquakes,” says Carey, who plans to pursue master’s degrees in structural engineering and management science & engineering at Stanford University when his Fulbright work concludes.

Carey conducted EXCEL Scholars research with Anne Raich, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, on implementing a structural crack prediction model. He also did an independent study with Stephen Kurtz, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, competing on the regional and national levels with Lafayette’s Steel Bridge Team.

Carey also was an active member of Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), leading a team in the design of a 5,900-gallon reinforced concrete water storage tank as part of EWB’s ongoing work in the community of El Convento, Honduras. He served an externship with Turner Construction and internships with Pepco Holdings Inc., and R3M Engineering Inc.

Like Carey, Clark cut her research teeth at Lafayette. Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, she was fascinated as an undergraduate at how she could use engineering to solve tough biomedical problems.

Alicia Clark ’11 spent three weeks in New Zealand as part of a faculty-led study abroad course.

Alicia Clark ’11 spent three weeks in New Zealand as part of a faculty-led study abroad course.

For her honors thesis, she worked under the guidance of Jenn Rossmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, to use computational fluid dynamics to model airflow through the lungs and determine how different lung parameters affected airflow. The research went so well that she continued it the following summer in France at Air Liquide Research Center, where she developed a three-dimensional lung model to test airflow in the lungs more accurately.

“The ability to perform research as an undergraduate was definitely beneficial when I started graduate school,” says Clark. “It helped make the transition a lot smoother and made me more aware of the expectations that surround research.”

Clark, who says she was “extremely happy and shocked” to receive the NSF fellowship, will use it to continue her project of manipulating small bubbles known as ultrasound contrast agents that are approximately 1 to 10 μm in size, which are used concurrently with ultrasound to help enhance imaging in certain regions of the body. Her goal is to gain a better understanding of how ultrasound can be used to steer these bubbles. Her work could potentially impact targeted drug and gene delivery.

Matthew Verbyla ’06 in Honduras

Matthew Verbyla ’06 in Honduras

Verbyla is pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental engineering at the University of South Florida. For his master’s degree, which he plans to finish this summer, he is studying the removal of parasitic helminth eggs and bacterial pathogen indicators from two community-managed lagoon systems treating domestic wastewater in Bolivia to evaluate the water reuse potential of the treated effluent for irrigation.

This summer, Verbyla will return to Bolivia, where he will partner with USF doctoral students from the marine sciences and anthropology program to study the removal of viruses from pond systems, and the impact of social perception and community power dynamics on the sustainability of community-managed wastewater treatment systems.

As an undergraduate, Verbyla earned a Fulbright Scholarship to examine the challenges of managing, operating, and maintaining community-owned water systems in rural villages in Honduras. He worked with local authorities and organizations in regions that have developed water board associations comprised of elected officials from small villages who are responsible for the local water systems. He first worked with the people of Honduras through EWB.

As the co-founder of Lafayette’s EWB chapter, Verbyla has exhibited a commitment to community service since his time on College Hill.

“Service-learning experiences such as EWB can be a great experience for students,” he says. “It is a chance to build cultural awareness, utilize multidisciplinary concepts learned in the classroom, and assist communities that struggle to achieve basic water and sanitation services.”

Before returning to school, Verbyla worked as a project engineer for HRP Associates Inc. in Farmington, Conn. He also worked as an engineering project director for a start-up nongovernmental organization in Honduras called Global Community Development, where he helped coordinate designs for water, sanitation, and small bridge projects for low-income rural and periurban communities in flood-prone areas of Honduras.

Heidi Verheggen ’12, right, works with Liusha Geng ’13 and Rob Root, professor of mathematics.

Heidi Verheggen ’12, right, works with Liusha Geng ’13 and Rob Root, professor of mathematics.

Verheggen will attend Cornell University in the fall to earn a Ph.D. in economics. She credits the research opportunities she’s had at Lafayette with opening the door to Cornell. She even conducted research this past summer at Cornell’s Summer Math Institute, where she collaborated with students from other schools on metric geometry research. The group coauthored a paper under review by the Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society. Verheggen presented the research results at the Conference for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics held at Penn State this past fall.

As an EXCEL Scholar, Verheggen worked with Rob Root, professor and associate head of mathematics, and Liusha Geng ’13 (Xian, China) on multidisciplinary research combining mathematics and biology to study fish locomotion. They presented their results at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology as well as the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). She and Geng coauthored a paper published in the NCUR 2011 Proceedings.

Verheggen also conducted EXCEL research with Susan Averett, Dana Professor of Economics, helping her write a book chapter on the economic impact of Title IX, the law which prohibits sexual discrimination in collegiate sports, among other activities. The project was her first research experience in economics, and the challenge and real-world context led her to choose economics as her post-graduate discipline.

“Each of my research experiences shaped me in a unique way,” says Verheggen. “My experiences at Lafayette allowed me to become experienced with interdisciplinary collaboration very early on, which removed my disciplinary blinders and allowed me to see the bigger picture. [The projects] helped me understand that the universe of discourse for science spans many perspectives, and that one enlarges one’s perspective when thinking outside the conceptual boxes offered in traditional academic disciplines. The Summer Math Institute instilled in me the stamina to tackle open questions, which amounts to staying curious when the going gets tough.”

See a list of Lafayette recipients of national and international scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and post-graduate study

For information on applying for scholarships and fellowships, contact Julia A. Goldberg, associate dean of the College, (610) 330-5521.

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  1. [...] — Brian Carey ’11 [B.S. civil engineering/A.B. economics], Alicia Clark ’11 [B.S. mechanical engineering], Matthew [...]

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