Sharnika Glasby’s childhood in troubled Southeast Washington D.C. included custody battles and a mother on drugs. But that didn’t stop her from reaching the honor roll and becoming active in the Model United Nations, choir, volleyball, and track. One of those students who “squeezed every moment out of high school,” in the words of a local radio correspondent, Glasby was headed for graduation at the top of her class and planned to pursue engineering at Penn State. Then life handed her one more challenge. She calls it “the incident.”
In comic strips, a light bulb over the head signals someone’s bright idea. For Ming Ma, a doctoral student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, light bulbs – or, more accurately, LEDs – inspired a patent-pending process for boosting the amount of light cast by the energy-saving devices, winning him the 2013 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize.
Ma was one of three engineering students who took top honors in the prestigious competition this month, each winning $30,000. Eduardo Torrealba, a master’s degree candidate in mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, won a Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize for his soil-moisture monitoring system that alerts users when their plants need to be watered.
Her video, The Water Energy Nexus, examines the relationship between water and energy, challenging the idea that the water crisis is just a problem of clean drinking water. The crisis is explained as an interdisciplinary problem with ample opportunities for unique solutions. Although engineers play a vital role in the development of these improvements, we ultimately need help from others to create lasting solutions, the narrator argues.
The National Science Foundation is offering prizes of up to $3,000 for the best ideas from graduate students for improving graduate education in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Ideas might include overhauling student and faculty training policies, modifying funding structure, bridging connections to professional societies, or changing the culture of graduate school, according to Science Careers, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There could be as many as seven winners, with prizes ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.
“I knew from the first day I started [graduate school] that I was never going to be in academia.” – Shaili Sharma, Purdue University graduate student. (Photograph courtesy of Purdue University)
When university engineering departments advertise vacancies these days, they can expect “100 to many hundred applications for every tenure-track faculty opening. That’s true in engineering nationally,” says Joseph Helble, dean of Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering. Where a doctorate once served as a passport to a comfortable faculty career, the majority of today’s new Ph.D. engineers face a tough choice: They can seek temporary and comparatively low-paid postdoctoral fellowships, or look to industry, which has tended to view research-trained doctoral graduates as destined for academe and therefore an unlikely fit. “There’s always been this hesitation in business — ‘Do we really want to take a Ph.D. right off the bat, [when] we have to train them for three or four years?’ ” says Steven Casper, dean of faculty development at the Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont, Calif.