Monday, February 21, 2011

Student Spotlight: Undergraduate Research

Hi everyone! My name is Michelle Calabrese and I’m a junior in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. While everyone talks about how it’s so easy to get involved with undergraduate research, I feel that few people are actually interested in pursuing careers in research. Well if you ARE one of those interested in research, I guess you’re lucky to be reading this blog! Recently, I’ve been in pursuit of finding a research position at a school other than Penn. Last year, I was guaranteed a research position and my own project as part of the Rachleff Scholars program. This year, I wanted to branch out and apply to REU programs and research jobs at the national labs. For those of you that don’t know, REU stands for Research Experience for Undergraduates, which are summer research projects at different major universities funded by the National Science Foundation.

I began my quest for a research job starting in the fall. I went on the NSF website and located virtually every REU in relation to chemical engineering, energy research, and environmental sustainability. After compiling my list, I also researched all of the National Labs so I could choose two to apply to through the Department of Energy. I met with an advisor and narrowed my search down to 15 REU sites (which my advisor thought was a ridiculously high number, but I wanted to be sure I’d get in!). I started writing all of my research statements, essays, etc. and telling each place why their specific REU program would be a great fit for me.

Ten applications into my process (some applications aren’t due until mid March, so I hadn’t finished those), I received an offer from one of my top five REU sites. My problem was that I had to respond within two weeks of my offer, and wouldn’t hear from all of my other sites before that. After going into panic mode (you would think I would be less stressed, rather than more stressed, about having a job) and calling my mother on speed dial about every five minutes, I began contacting my top sites and seeing if they could release their decisions early (sadly most of them couldn’t). I checked the Department of Energy website, as working at one of the National Labs was my top choice, and to my dismay I saw that I might not hear about my decision until April 1st.

Luckily, I didn’t give up and went specifically to my top choice lab’s website. This lab specifically allowed students to contact a mentor directly. If the mentor agreed, you would be accepted into the program. Naturally, I started compiling a list of researchers that I might want to work with. While it was a long shot, I figured sending out emails wouldn’t hurt. Even if someone did respond, I thought that I might be too late to meet my other deadline.

I found one scientist in fuel cell research that I particularly wanted to work with. I composed an email trying to sell myself, had my parents proofread it, and sent it off to my potential mentor. I meant to do the same for the others mentors as well, but did not have time to do enough background research that day.

While I assumed I would not receive a response, I came back home one morning from a Relay for Life conference to see an email from my potential mentor. While I assumed he would say he could not host a student, I opened my email to a two-sentence response that he would be happy to host me for the summer. I was overjoyed at the response and glad that all of my hard work had paid off. So now here I sit with a great job for the summer and hopefully, a great experience to prepare me more before applying to grad school.

Moral of the story: 1) while many Penn engineers love industry, a career in research can be great too! 2) don’t be afraid to go after the job you want, and 3) persistence is key!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Student Spotlight: Engineering Sorority and Scholarships

Hi everyone! My name is Stephanie Pasquesi and I am a PhD student in Bioengineering here at Penn. As an undergraduate, I majored in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). During my time at UIUC, I had the great fortune of being involved in Alpha Omega Epsilon, a social and professional sorority for women in engineering and technical sciences. I can honestly say that joining A.O.E. is one of the best decisions I have ever made!

Many of you may be thinking “… sorority? …engineering?” and to be honest, that’s what a lot of our members think when they initially discover A.O.E. but let me explain: A.O.E. is not your typical sorority. Our Ideals and Objectives state that we promote friendship, leadership, and professionalism in all that we do, but what we embody is so much more than those three words. During my years as an undergraduate member, I always found comfort in having a group of girls who shared many of my same interests and classes at a big university in a curriculum where females are often a rarity. I always had someone to confide in, study with, or go out and have fun with. Needless to say, A.O.E. was a huge part of my life as a college undergraduate.

As previously mentioned, Alpha Omega Epsilon is both social and professional, meaning we hold events to help in our professional development as well as others that allow us to relax and have fun. It is truly the best of both worlds! Some professional events I participated in included resume building workshops, lunches with university professors, informational nights with large engineering corporations, business etiquette dinners, and panel discussions with career women on topics such as balancing work and family life. On the other hand, social events included activities with campus fraternities such as dinner and salsa or swing dancing, Halloween pumpkin carving, bowling, Super Bowl parties, and much more.

Another, and perhaps the most important aspect of my experience in Alpha Omega Epsilon is our sisterhood. In my undergraduate chapter, we would go out to dinner or hold our own potlucks, visit apple orchards in the fall, participate in various philanthropic and community service events, and study for exams together, among other activities. In addition, we have 25 active chapters and 2 colonies across the U.S. and Canada, and our annual convention each summer has allowed me to make friendships and network with other Alpha Omega Epsilon sisters –all of who are women in engineering and technical professions – outside of my undergraduate and graduate school experience. We also have a very active alumnae network, and I am fortunate enough to be serving as the chair for this summer’s convention in Philly!

Finally, one other really cool thing about A.O.E. is our National Foundation, a non-profit organization associated with the Sorority which primarily focuses on academic development programs, professional and leadership development programs, volunteer development programs, and organizational grants. The Alpha Omega Epsilon National Foundation provides grants and scholarships to women in engineering and technical sciences (you do not need to be a member of the Sorority to apply for or receive a scholarship/grant).

As a TA this fall, some of my students expressed some interest in forming a chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon here at Penn. To help get the word out, I will be holding a few Alpha Omega Epsilon information sessions for any interested women in the next few weeks here on campus. The first will be Monday, February 7th, 6-7pm, 307 Levine, and the second will be Tuesday, February 15th, 6:30-7:30pm, 307 Levine. Light refreshments will be served! I hope to see many of you there!

If you can’t make these times, but are still interested in hearing more, please don’t hesitate to contact me at I also encourage you all to view our website at Our National Foundation’s website is located at if you would like more information on grant and scholarship opportunities we provide to the general public.

With so much going on, the beauty of Alpha Omega Epsilon is that it provides many opportunities for growth in different areas. Whether you are looking for professional development, new friendships, service opportunities, or someone to study with, A.O.E. offers it all and so much more. I look forward to meeting you all!