Engineering Students Join LSU Research Ambassadors
BATON ROUGE – For the past five years, the LSU Discover Undergraduate Research program has given students the opportunity to conduct research in their field of study with the funding they need. From English and music to finance and engineering, every college is welcome to participate. In order to spread the word about these research opportunities, LSU Discover added a new component to its system—the Research Ambassador program.
Three engineering students currently represent LSU as research ambassadors—biological and agricultural engineering junior Tim Mixon from Auburn, Ala; electrical and computer engineering junior Patrick Kearney from Denham Springs, La.; and chemical engineering senior Grant Landwehr from Covington, La. These students not only do their own research, but also serve as a guide for those students interested in doing the same.
Mixon is currently working with Professor Hans Rudolph Berthoud at the Pennington Biomedical Center on a project to discover the relationship between the brain and digestive tract, thereby gaining a better understanding of how gastric bypass surgery affects weight loss. Mixon said he found out about the Research Ambassador program through his roommate, who is an ambassador himself.
“He told me about all the great events they put on and persuaded me to join,” Mixon said.
“Most of our students find out about the [Discover] program through word of mouth,” LSU Discover Program Manager Sarah Ferstel said. “So, when the students who participate graduate, we lose that word of mouth.”
This is where Research Ambassadors come in.
“Students will come to my office and ask how to get involved with research, and I tell them to pick a faculty member and knock on their door,” she said. “They generally don’t feel comfortable doing that when they hear it from me, but when another student says that’s how they did it, it’s more encouraging for them.
“They’re promoting undergraduate research in general. That way, if you’re an engineering student and want to get involved, you just contact one of the engineering majors and ask what to do. They are great. They will walk students through the entire process.”
“It can be a daunting task to reach out to a professor when you’re a freshman,” Landwehr said. “We can serve as a resource for students to help them get grants for their research.”
Landwehr added that he got into Research Ambassadors “by complete chance.”
“I got a travel award from LSU Discover to attend an AIChE conference, and by doing that, I was signed up to receive all of the emails,” he said. “I was going through emails and saw one about Research Ambassadors and thought now is my opportunity to do something like that. So, I joined.”
His research involves working with LSU Chemical Engineering Professor Adam Melvin to build a device capable of capturing and isolating single cancer cells, leading to a greater understanding of the fundamental mechanisms behind cancer metastasis. Landwehr plans to publish a paper on his research in May and then look at graduate schools.
Kearney is building a soft robotic assistive device for a person with a paralyzed hand and determining how to control it by processing voltage signals taken from a glove with a multitude pressure sensor attached.
“When I get questions from undergraduates looking for a research position, I enjoy helping them find research that interests them,” Kearney said.
As for his own research, he said most of his time is spent in a lab, working with data from pressure and position sensors.
“The lab work is very rewarding once everything falls into place and the data begins to tell what actually happened in the trials,” Kearney said.
All research ambassadors are asked to talk to different classes, clubs or even Greek organizations about the Discover program and encourage them to attend Discover Day and learn more.
Discover Day, which takes place on Tuesday, April 10, showcases the students’ research through poster and oral presentations, as well as a juried art show for art students. Ferstel received 215 Discover Day applications this year.
“The goal of Discover Day is to accept as many students as possible,” she said. “We also invite non-LSU students to apply.”
As for the Discover program itself, Ferstel has received 27 applications for the spring semester, has funded 12 new students and renewed funding for four engineering students. Undergraduates are also able to apply for research grants, five of which were awarded to engineering students this year.
Two engineering students received the 2018 Discover Scholar Awards for their achievements in outstanding undergraduate research or creative endeavors.
“LSU Discover has two main goals,” Ferstel said. “One is to get students interested in undergraduate research and make them aware of what it is. Secondly, we provide them with resources, goals and events like Discover Day when they are researchers. We’re talking about more than what’s happening in the classroom, though it can also be what’s happening in the classroom.”
“I like being a research ambassador a lot,” Landwehr said. “If I hadn’t been placed into a lab, I wouldn’t have started doing any kind of research or have even known that it was a thing until much later into my time at LSU. So, I think the Research Ambassador program is a cool way to help other people realize that earlier.”
Contact: Libby Haydel