BY: Mikaela Dunkin
EDUCATION: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stony Brook University (SBU).
RESEARCH INTERESTS: I currently study beyond Li-ion materials and battery systems. I am interested in the intersection of energy technology with fluid dynamics.
FUTURE GOALS: To study difficult problems. I don’t know where my life will lead. Although I would love to work for NASA one day.
Why did you want to be a part of GWiSE?
I was a member of the Society of Women Engineers at my undergraduate institution and they brought together women from all engineering disciplines. I had a great sense of community there and I loved the outreach programs we did with girl scout troops and elementary schools. I wanted to continue with something similar at SBU.
What got you interested in your field?
So I decided upon mechanical engineering because I don’t like to make decisions and I wanted my options as open as possible. I was interested in a lot of things, but in my mind, engineering would be hardest to switch into and still graduate on time if I changed my mind. In mechanical engineering, I knew I would learn a good basis, allowing me to do civil, biomedical, chemical, or materials (which I ended up doing), or I could stick with mechanical. If I wanted to, I could go to grad school to focus on some of these subjects, giving me lots of options.
My advisor from undergrad, Dr. Karen C. Yan, did biomaterials research and gave me a huge opportunity to do research with her the summer before junior year. I had taken her materials science class and loved it, then I did research with her for about a year and she pushed me to apply to Research Experience for Undergrad’s at bigger institutions with graduate programs to see what graduate school would be like. She knew that having more research opportunities would help me get into graduate school and actually sent me the application to Stony Brook’s REU: Nanotechnology which led me to being in the Takeuchi Group for graduate school.
If you were given two million dollars, how would you spend it to benefit the most people?
Almost all of it I would give to She’s the First. It’s a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to girls in low income countries throughout the world while training students everywhere, both scholars and chapter members, to be global citizens. I served as president of TCNJ’s Chapter in undergrad and I currently volunteer as a chapter liaison for the Vermont and New Hampshire region.
The Chapter Liaison is an alumni volunteer who serves as the point person for campus chapters in specific regions. She’s the First’s mission is to end gender inequality through girls’ education. When a girl is educated she is more likely to go back to her community and help those behind her. Her children are more likely to be educated and her country’s GDP increases dramatically. Educating a girl impacts the world and benefits others in ways that most people don’t realize initially.
When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in engineering?
I always loved math and art, so my mom tried to think of jobs my whole life to combine them (architect, dentist…this one was a real stretch, etc.). My high school physics teacher worked as a ballistic missile interceptor for the military before she became a teacher and I thought “you can do that with math?!” Physics just completely clicked for me and made me see real world applications that you can use math in. I didn’t even know about engineering until junior year of high school, but then the math and the art clicked together for me.
Where is the most interesting place you have visited?
I have been to the first 7 presidents houses (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams (same house), and Jackson). My family loves history and we did them along with different vacations growing up! Monticello my personal favorite, Jefferson really was a renaissance man and made inventions that he incorporated throughout his house. Including a little wine elevator from the wine cellar up into the dining room. Also, his foyer is decorated with a bunch of things that Lewis and Clark brought back from their expedition!
What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science and engineering?
Girls need to be told it’s okay not to be perfect. I know a bunch of women who switched out of engineering because they didn’t get an A on everything. Lower grades are fine if you can understand the material still. Girls should be okay with failing and learning (because that is the process), but currently that is a battle most have to face with engineering at least.
A lot of programs still have professors with the old school mentality of really tough grading or exams where the average can be a 50 (I had this in undergrad) and it isn’t that everyone is terrible at it, but the instructor goes past what was taught to see how you think and they know no one is going to get it perfect, but they want to make you to think on your own and not just memorize a problem. I think that is what I like about being an engineer, I suck at memorizing, I have to know a concept and understand it fully to really be able to remember it. Engineering is hard, but not getting an A doesn’t mean you’ve failed or you don’t know everything.