Inside Rensselaer
* Rachel Ferebee

Rachel Ferebee

Undergraduates Benefit From Summer Research Experiences

Electrical engineering major Desiree Phillips spent her summer conducting research on ways to increase the efficiency of electric vehicles. By the end of the 10-week fellowship — at the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems Center at North Carolina State University — Phillips’ perspective had changed. Instead of pursuing a career in microelectronics as originally planned, the Rensselaer junior intends to earn a Ph.D. and to continue research on green energy.

Materials science and engineering majors Heather Conway and Rachel Ferebee performed their research at Georgia Institute of Technology, which awarded Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) to both Rensselaer students. Conway’s research focused on developing a more effective delivery system for cancer medications. Ferebee worked in a high-strain-rate laboratory, using advanced digital image processing to improve simulation models of specialty materials. Better, more accurate simulations could reduce the need for time-consuming, costly experiments.

All three students benefited from Rensselaer’s commitment to encourage undergraduates to pursue research opportunities. All three gained invaluable skills, experience, and personal insights.

All three students benefited from Rensselaer’s commitment to encourage undergraduates
to pursue research opportunities. All three gained invaluable skills, experience, and
personal insights.

Before the FREEDM fellowship, Phillips was considering two career paths: teaching engineering or working in circuitry to make wires more efficient. Then she received an e-mail from the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering (ECSE).

“When ECSE started sending out e-mails about undergraduate research opportunities, I decided to put some of my classroom experience to work,” she said. “After this summer, I’m more interested in helping develop more efficient energy systems for future generations.”

Conway’s fellowship also prompted a change in career goals. Although she was fascinated by her research project and those of the other SURF winners, the Rensselaer junior realized that her interests lie elsewhere, in forensics materials.

“It was a great experience and I was really happy to have the opportunity,” she said, “but I discovered that it’s not what I want to do every day.”

For Ferebee, a senior, the SURF program provided an opportunity to hone the research skills she’s been developing since her sophomore year at Rensselaer. She has been an undergraduate research assistant at the Materials Research Center since 2008, and spent summer 2009 as an undergraduate research fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.

“I have had awesome experiences and wonderful mentors and advisers,” Ferebee said. “I’ve worked with different microscopes, fabrication techniques, and data analysis methods, and have gained a real sense of what it means to work in a lab.”

Ferebee will graduate in May and plans to enter a doctoral program in preparation for a career in materials engineering research.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 16, October 22, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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