Rensselaer Magazine
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“There are so many research opportunities for undergraduates here, and that’s not the case elsewhere...I didn’t realize that until I began applying to graduate schools and discovered I had an advantage over many of my peers.”

Megan Salt ’08

“There are so many research opportunities for undergraduates here, and that’s not the case elsewhere,” she says. “I didn’t realize that until I began applying to graduate schools and discovered that I had an advantage over many of my peers.”

Tolga Goren took advantage of those opportunities as a freshman, when the dual major in materials science and engineering and applied mathematics landed a research position in the lab of Materials Science and Engineering Professor Linda Schadler. After working in the lab for four years, Goren is now pursuing a career in research.

Goren says he often looks to nature as research inspiration, observing, for example, bird wings for clues in how to design a new wing system for a flying apparatus or the highly evolved composite nacre (better known as mother-of-pearl) to discover new ways of nanoengineering materials to be stronger and tougher.

Ian Jacobi found a prestigious research opportunity with the Rensselaer-MIT team engaged in research on the Semantic Web. He will continue that research, under the direction of World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, as a Ph.D. student at MIT this fall. The Semantic Web is the brainchild of Berners-Lee, who calls it “the next step in Web evolution.” He envisions a “web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines.”

Jacobi’s involvement with the team stems from his work with Rensselaer’s Tetherless World Research Constellation. Jacobi is part of a work group that’s helping to advance the Semantic Web by concentrating on Web sharing and accountability—issues that must be resolved as access to information increases. “With the spread of all this personal information on Web sites like Facebook and MySpace, it’s going to be necessary to have some way of letting people control who can see what,” Jacobi says.

New Frontiers for Grads

Standing on the threshold of a new chapter in their lives, Rensselaer graduates leave the Institute well equipped to take positions in industry, and even in space.

Mechanical engineering graduate Laura Wontrop joined automotive giant General Motors as a vehicle definition engineer after graduation. With a keen interest in autos that led her to become the first woman to hold a leadership position in Rensselaer’s Formula SAE race car team, today Wontrop plays a key role in solidifying the design of next-generation concept cars.

A self-described “American car buff,” who has been building race cars at Rensselaer for years, Wontrop is now responsible for working with and organizing the work of a team of GM engineers, marketers, planners, and forecasters who are charged with the task of translating conceptual renderings into real, revving, running automobiles.

She is not at all intimidated to take her first steps into the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry. “It’s a situation where you have to work harder to get the respect of your peers, but once you get it, you’re at an advantage,” Wontrop says. “If you jump into the situation, and show that you know what you’re talking about and can hold your own, you’ll have their respect forever.”

Hoping to head to the vastness of space, Phil Bracken, who graduated with a major in aeronautical engineering, has landed a job as a propulsion engineer with leading aerospace firm Orbital Sciences Corp. with the long-term goal to become an astronaut. His first task at Orbital will be to further develop the next-generation, liquid first-stage rocket engine project he started as a Rensselaer student. The engine, which runs on liquid kerosene and oxygen instead of conventional solid propellants, is slated for use on the new Taurus II launch vehicle, which is expected to carry its first payload into space in 2010.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” Bracken says. “There’s something fundamentally fascinating about the fact that we take an object that doesn’t look like it should be able to fly, and put it up in the air.”

But history shows it takes a Rensselaer graduate to make that object fly.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.