Virtual internships spark students’ interest in research

Posted: September 13, 2020

It’s not often a student can complete a summer research internship from a hammock on the Oval, but due to COVID-19, that’s exactly what mechanical and aerospace engineering major Luke Striebich did.

Despite having to work and communicate with their research mentors remotely, Striebich is one of 13 College of Engineering students who completed research experiences this summer as part of the Consortium of Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences at Ohio State.

Launched two years ago by Carolyn Morales, the Graduate School’s assistant dean of diversity, the consortium enables undergraduates to explore what it’s like to conduct research as a graduate student, plus develop professional skills and connect with mentors.

headshot of Elijah Yates
Elijah Yates

The experience inspired third-year computer science and engineering major Elijah Yates to consider pursuing an advanced degree.

“I really enjoyed doing this research and it made me think about potentially going to grad school, getting a PhD and then going into research,” he said. “This experience has definitely opened my eyes to see that I have more options than going straight to industry.”

Mentored by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor David Hoelzle and graduate student Andrej Simeunovic, Yates modeled an additive manufacturing-based tissue engineering machine that doctors might one day use to 3D print tissues inside the body.

“The whole point is to be able to show what the machine looks like through MATLAB so that doctors can see how the robot will move and translate in real space with their computer before they actually try to use the machine,” Yates explained.

Although faculty had to convert projects for remote accessibility due to pandemic restrictions, all participants were able to spend approximately 10 weeks conducting research over the summer. Students presented their findings during a virtual research symposium on July 23.

“We worked hard to put all the pieces in place so that the students could still have summer research experiences, even in really trying times,” said Howard Greene, a symposium organizer and the College of Engineering’s director of K-12 educational outreach.

The engineering student participants were all part of the Translating Engineering Research to K-8 (TEK8) program. Combining research and outreach, it provides undergraduate students with paid summer research internships in engineering faculty members’ laboratories.

Although third-year biomedical engineering major Jordan Rife’s research internship changed due to the pandemic, she found a silver lining in being able to participate in TEK8 and continue the research she started last year with Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Ben Walter.

headshot of Jordan Rife
Jordan Rife

The goal of Rife’s project was to determine how stiffness of the pericellular matrix (PCM) surrounding a cell affects cell volume under compression. 

“Researchers think there's a link between changes you can see in the PCM to degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis,” Rife said. “If we could figure out signs or markers when we see those changes, we might be able to decrease or even potentially prevent those kind of degenerative diseases.”

Since her original project required lab work, Rife switched to developing an image processing protocol to find results using data from a previous experiment she conducted last year.

Working in Walter’s lab has also influenced her career plans.

“I never thought I would like research, until I tried it,” she explained. “But it has showed me a whole different side of what I could do as a career and it made me want to look into pursuing research after I graduate.”

As part of TEK8, students also take a course fall semester that teaches them how to develop age-appropriate engineering design challenges that show the societal impact of their research. Later in the course, the Buckeye engineers will virtually instruct Metro Middle School students in how to do those challenges.

The combination of getting to conduct research and teach kids is what drew senior Luke Striebich to TEK8.

“I had done teaching all through high school and I really missed that,” Striebich said. “Since I'm also looking at grad school, it was the perfect fit.”

He worked on a home energy management system that seeks to understand how renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and smart appliances will influence residential energy demands. Striebich was mentored by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Stephanie Stockar, graduate student Mithun Goutham, and researchers Matilde D’Arpino and Elonora Mercalli at the Center for Automotive Research.

Striebich helped expand the simulation model for multiple days, locations and seasons, and modeled how long used vehicle batteries could work in a home system to help determine if they can be recycled for residential use.

“I got a much better understanding of grad school by working with graduate students who explained what they do and how it's different than undergrad,” he said. “This reinforced that grad school is something I want to do.”

For the culminating virtual research symposium, students recorded video presentations about their projects for attendees to watch in advance and answered questions during the event held via Zoom.

Attendance at this year’s symposium was the highest yet, Greene said, with more than 50 attendees from the university community in addition to presenters and organizers.

It was also most student presenters’ first experience at a professional research symposium.

“There were lots of challenges that the students had to rise to the occasion and meet and I was really pleased with the level of professionalism,” Greene added. “These students were articulate, confident and had obviously practiced what they were going to communicate.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu

Categories: StudentsResearch