A blueprint for career success

Tausha Smith standing in front of a Gerding Companies sign.

Although Tausha Smith considers herself a “late bloomer” in terms of her educational journey, she has blossomed powerfully, graduating in June with a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering management from Oregon State University and landing her dream job at Gerding Builders in Corvallis.

“I've always been a kinesthetic learner,” Smith said. “Ten years ago, while I was working on organic farms, a friend who worked on one of the farms was into welding and building, and she suggested I might be good at it.”

Excited to dive into hands-on projects, Smith enrolled in the welding and fabrication program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem in 2014, her introduction to career and technical education. Over the next two years, she excelled and graduated with certifications in arc welding and MIG welding before joining the workforce.

“I spent four years working in welding and fabrication at different fab shops and on-site, experiencing different types of welding like TIG welding and building 3-D printer components,” said Smith, whose first welding job was in a small fab shop in Portland that specialized in building Portland Loo freestanding public toilets.

Smith relished her time in the trades but eventually felt compelled to continue her education and expand her skill set. She realized this on a frigid morning when she was working for a company building nuclear reactor modules.

“I remember being out on the shop floor with a Rosebud (welding tip), melting ice off a stainless steel plate. I was cold, and I was reflecting; I enjoy projects, drawings, and teamwork, but how can I advance my career so I’m doing more than working in the shop?” Smith said.

Smith’s epiphany inspired her to research degree options that allowed her to take her hands-on knowledge and apply it to managing projects and leading others. She quickly determined that Oregon State’s construction engineering management program was a perfect fit, so she enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College in 2018 to complete prerequisite coursework before transferring to Oregon State in 2020 — right when the pandemic began.

While learning remotely presented challenges for someone as kinesthetically inclined as Smith, she embraced her situation and appreciated aspects of her instruction, such as the 3D modeling course taught by instructor Tracy Arras, which entailed constructing a 3D model of Kearney Hall.

“Tracy’s lectures were so thorough; there was a nice library of videos cataloged. It helped me to spend time with the 3D model of Kearney Hall, becoming more familiar with the software,” Smith said. “When campus reopened, I remember going to Kearney Hall and seeing it in person for the first time. I felt like I knew that building so well.”

Since then, Smith has continued to hone practical skills in a variety of areas, such as estimating and creating group project proposals, reaffirming her interest in a construction engineering management career. During her final year, she also took a project management class with senior instructor Lacey McNeely that offered training in Microsoft Project — software crucial to project managers in the field — and helped her build proficiency in scheduling.

Smith has also taken advantage of the many opportunities that the College of Engineering offers to students, including career fairs and networking events that introduce students to industry professionals. Adapting to pandemic constraints, many of these events were virtual, which Smith found beneficial.

“The College of Engineering has done a fantastic job funneling us into career fairs and setting up events for us to interact with local contractors,” Smith said. “Since these interviews were via Zoom, I lined up as many as I could, shopping for the ideal internship.”

Ultimately, Smith chose to intern with Gerding Builders in Corvallis, where she worked on-site at the Crescent Valley High School building renovation project during the summer of 2021. This ongoing project involves an addition to the school for its career and technical education program and a seismic upgrade. For Smith, joining well into the project was hectic, yet she recognized the supportive leadership that Gerding offered.

“I worked with two women younger than me who were project engineers. It was exciting to be paired with women who were going to train me,” Smith said. “That stood out as welcoming.”

Smith has experienced challenges common among women in trade occupations, and she is far from alone. These experiences moved her to join the National Association of Women in Construction, which has a chapter in Eugene. Smith believes seeking community within her field is essential, and she advises women entering the trades to find female mentors, job shadow extensively, and never be afraid to advocate for themselves.

One key part of Smith’s life that has cultivated her resilience to thrive in industry is CrossFit, which she has been doing for seven years. She credits CrossFit with boosting her confidence, noting parallels between CrossFit training and approaching work on-site, namely the need to focus intently on the task at hand.

“When I first walked into a gym and looked at the weights, I felt intimidated — the same way I felt when I first walked into a fab shop and saw the machinery and tools,” Smith said. “But learning to use those things and connect with a community of people using them has been incredible.”

Smith also felt a strong sense of community within the College of Engineering. “Joe Fradella and my classmates have been phenomenal,” she said. “I came out with strong relationships and networking, problem solving, communication, and team-building skills.”

Smith accepted a full-time job with Gerding Builders, her internship company, as a project engineer starting in July. She will work in a managerial capacity to address discrepancies between design blueprints and on-site conditions, collaborating with architects and subcontractors.

Aug. 19, 2022

Student thrives at nexus of art and engineering

A picture of Paris Myers.

Paris Myers’ time at Oregon State University took the shape of a collage with a bit of everything in the mix.

An Honors College student graduating this spring with bachelor’s degrees in bioengineering and fine arts and minors in art history and popular music, Myers has been, among other things, an undergraduate researcher at Oregon State’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems  Institute, a visiting research intern at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, an intern for Outlier.org, and co-leader of Oregon State’s 2021 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition team that placed in a national competition.

It’s no wonder, then, that she was recently awarded the Joe Hendricks Scholarship for Academic Excellence and will be honored with a video highlighting her accomplishments at Oregon State’s 2022 Commencement.

“I’m extremely grateful to be awarded the Joe Hendricks scholarship,” Myers said. “There are hundreds of excellent graduating students at OSU, including 36 other nominees for this honor. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Myers was nominated by her Honors thesis co-chair, Skip Rochefort, associate professor of chemical engineering, who describes her as a thinker, learner, and maker to the highest degree.

“Paris will change the world, sooner rather than later,” Rochefort said.

Myers was shown the value in blending art and science via hands-on learning early on by her parents. Once she started Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, she took a course called Introduction to Art and Engineering taught by Adam Kirsch. 

“In that class, I realized combining art and engineering empowered me to engineer in a way that put humanity first and created scalable impact,” Myers said. “I had an intrinsic curiosity.”

Paris Myers
Graduating from high school at 16, Myers committed to cultivating her dual art and engineering interests. Trusting her intuition about where she would best thrive, she contacted both Oregon State and the University of Oregon. Immediately and enthusiastically, Toni Doolen, dean of the Honors College and professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, responded to her.

“It was just a match,” explained Myers. “A special shoutout to Dean Toni Doolen. I did things differently, and the Honors College supported me and stood behind my interdisciplinary approach to my education and research.”

While at Oregon State, Myers has engaged in research, internships, and other professional and charitable opportunities. Last summer, she received funding from Doolen and the Honors College and Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, to intern with the Harvard Biorobotics Laboratory. There, she co-created a study that combined haptics and soft robotics, visual art, and curatorial studies. Myers’ own curatorial experience began while interning with Oregon State’s Kirsi Peltomäki, professor of art and contemporary art historian.

“Dr. Peltomäki was my main advisor for my art history minor. I loved every second of it, and I’m honored to have her on Honors thesis committee” Myers said. “I also loved my experience doing a minor in popular music. I’m thankful and lucky to have earned the graduating senior music award.”

Inspired by Solomon Yim, professor of coastal and ocean engineering and structural engineering, who serves at her other Honors thesis co-chair, Myers will continue her passion for sustainable engineering by collaborating with interdisciplinary teams to promote renewable, innovative solutions.

Myers also serves her community through her art. When the pandemic struck in 2020, she launched her fundraising campaign, Paintings for Produce, working with Gathering Together Farm in Philomath to raise $10,000 for food donations to Benton County families through the commission of custom paintings. She also advocates for accessible education; in 2021, she interned for Outlier.org, a startup from the co-founder of Master Class that designs courses filling baccalaureate core credit requirements for all learners at a low cost.

Days after she graduates, Myers will join the MIT Media Lab’s biomechatronics team as a full-time researcher working with famed scientist Hugh Herr

“I’m thrilled to combine art and engineering — function and form — to create solutions that integrate the human body, design, and robotic systems,” Myers said.

As she reflects on her undergraduate career, Myers wishes success to current and prospective Oregon State engineering and arts students. She suggests it is OK not to know what they want at first, but they should “never take themselves out of a room” and trust their capacity to learn, even if nontraditionally.

“There are many different ways to be excellent,” Myers said. “How you create artwork, engineer systems, or solve problems might differ from how your peers do it. And that’s absolutely OK.”

June 7, 2022

Kelsey Stoerzinger earns Department of Energy early career award

Kelsey Stoerzinger, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Kelsey Stoerzinger, assistant professor of chemical engineering, has been granted an award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program. She will use the five-year, $750,000 prize to develop a deeper understanding of electrochemical processes used to convert nitrate into ammonia, and to design and test catalysts that target this reaction.

Ammonia is among the most widely used chemicals in the world. But industrial-scale ammonia production relies on the Haber-Bosch process, in which hydrogen and nitrogen are combined at high temperatures and pressures. The practice requires enormous amounts of energy and produces huge volumes of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, nitrate from untreated wastewater and agricultural runoff overwhelms streams, rivers, and groundwater in many areas of the country. Ingesting excessive nitrate has been linked to a number of serious health risks in humans, while an overabundance in aquatic ecosystems can devastate plant and animal life.

Stoerzinger, who won an early career award from the National Science Foundation in 2021, will investigate an electrochemical option for ammonia synthesis in which an electric current is passed through a device containing nitrate-contaminated water. “We want to take this waste nitrate and transform it into a usable form, ammonia, and we’ll do that by applying electricity from renewable energy sources,” she said.

However, widespread implementation of an electrochemical approach will be feasible only with catalysts that select for, or favor, the reaction that produces ammonia rather than a competing reaction that produces hydrogen from the water molecules. Competing reactions can occur when the same starting materials combine to create undesired products.

Stoerzinger’s goal is to identify effective catalytic materials that result in high yields of ammonia. “Ideally, the catalyst should be highly selective for the nitrate-to-ammonia reaction and not for hydrogen production,” she said. “And it should be efficient, so that every electron flowing through the water creates ammonia, not hydrogen, even at low energy input.”

She intends to focus on materials made from abundant elements, like nickel, iron, and cobalt, because precious metal catalysts, while potentially useful, are too expensive for large-scale production. Stoerzinger will combine electrochemical studies, spectroscopy, and microkinetic modeling to gain a better understanding of how the electronic structure of catalysts determines competition between ammonia and hydrogen production under reaction conditions, thereby supporting the design of the most selective and efficient catalysts.

“We want to find sustainable solutions that allow us to recycle nitrate by upgrading it to something valuable,” Stoerzinger said. “Developing the most selective and efficient catalysts is the linchpin that will allow us to move the technology forward.”

June 7, 2022

Bioengineering faculty member stokes passion for interdisciplinary research

April 22, 2022
Heidi Kloefkorn
Heidi Kloefkorn, assistant professor of bioengineering

Heidi Kloefkorn, assistant professor of bioengineering

Before joining the College of Engineering in 2021 as an assistant professor of bioengineering, Heidi Kloefkorn had mastered the art of pursuing multiple interests. No wonder she was drawn to the field of biomedical engineering.

“I’m in a field that has no united definition, and no degree holder is the same,” Kloefkorn said. “Bioengineers and biomedical engineers have a unique position, talking to scientists, engineers, and the medical field. We welcome all; it’s a fun space to be in.”

Discovering this space was a process fueled by Kloefkorn’s curiosity. Growing up, she gleaned career insights from her father, an electrical engineer, and her mother, a hematologist; however, her main catalyst was a virology seminar she took in high school.

“My teacher got me excited about public health — not only the biology of viruses, but engineering controls we use to protect ourselves and equipment we use to understand organisms. That was just as interesting to me as all the biological aspects,” Kloefkorn said.

Pursuing this interest, Kloefkorn enrolled at Georgia Tech to study biomedical engineering and joined the honors program, which provided the opportunity to perform research in a comparative neuromechanics lab.

“My first experiment was comparing different prostheses for below-the-knee amputee patients in terms of quantifying gait locomotion, three-dimensional kinematics, and kinetics,” Kloefkorn said. “Then, I had an entirely different research experience in electrophysiology. I knew nothing about neuroscience and had never worked with animals before, but I was paired with an amazing postdoc who mentored me. I decided I wanted to continue research because it was fun to go to the lab every day and do something different.”

Kloefkorn’s decision led her to the biomedical engineering doctoral program at the University of Florida, where she worked in a lab specializing in emerging diagnostics and therapeutics for joint disease, specifically working in preclinical osteoarthritis models. She developed hardware systems for conducting noninvasive gait biomechanics research in rodents as well as histological scoring analytics.

“We could ask and answer questions nobody had before, which was exciting,” Kloefkorn said. “Our work improved animal measures to better study and predict osteoarthritis pathogenesis in ways impossible to conduct in humans, with the ultimate goal to improve preclinical-to-clinical translation.”

Upon earning her doctorate, Kloefkorn moved to Emory University for a postdoctoral scholar position with the National Institutes of Health-sponsored FIRST Program. Her decision was inspired by her postdoc mentor, Katherine Wilkinson, who had held the same position when she worked with Kloefkorn at Georgia Tech.

Through FIRST, Kloefkorn obtained pedagogical training and classroom experience at Morehouse College, where she taught first-year biology. During this time, her research focus shifted from osteoarthritis to neuroscience, and her faculty advisor was glad to incorporate Kloefkorn’s experience in animal behavior in their lab.

“I worked with cutting-edge technology to build new tools to measure animal physiology and behavior noninvasively from outside the homecage — something no one had been able to do before,” Kloefkorn said. “We measured fundamental physiology and behavior, like respiration, heart rate, and motor behavior. The animal doesn’t even know they're being recorded; that’s the magic of it.”

Kloefkorn brings skills in developing noninvasive observation technology, experience in degenerative and chronic pain models, and histological and electrophysiological tissue analysis. She is setting up her lab with workstations for spatiotemporal and dynamic gait biomechanics, automated computational analytics, tissue histology, animal behavior, and electrophysiology. This breadth allows for interdisciplinary collaboration, as Kloefkorn fosters a team-based dynamic among her trainees.

“I’ve had a history of amazing mentors and advocates. They’ve been part of my journey, something I’m grateful for and try to pass forward. Including undergrads in research gives them practical experience to apply what they’ve learned in a setting that doesn’t have a textbook. The long-term plateau I’m hoping to achieve is three or four graduate students and several undergrads at any given time,” Kloefkorn said.

Kloefkorn encourages her students to specialize in two areas of her research program while becoming proficient in others. Using the equipment developed in her lab, Kloefkorn and her team intend to conduct parallel translational studies, measuring the same physiological phenomenon in animals and humans simultaneously to minimize the preclinical-to-clinical gap.

“Biomedical engineering is a collaborative empowerment to answer the next stage of difficult medical questions,” Kloefkorn said. Every advance has an impact and bolsters that foundation for your next steps. There’s so much unknown we need to discover and many people we need to help. This freedom of creativity to just go and try something — that’s what’s exciting.”

Associated Researcher

Four faculty win early-career investigator awards

Portrait of Erica Fischer, Rebecca Hutchinson, Kelsey Stoerzinger, Meagan Wengrove from left to right.

Four faculty in the Oregon State University College of Engineering have received prestigious early-career investigator awards from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. Erica Fischer, Kelsey Stoerzinger, and Rebecca Hutchinson are recipients of the Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, award from the NSF. Meagan Wengrove is the recipient of a Young Investigator Program award from the ONR.

The awards cover a wide array of engineering projects: studying the use of mass timber for building construction; researching the safe production of hydrogen gas from seawater; improving the species distribution models used by ecologists and natural resource managers; and using fiber optic cables on the ocean floor as early warning systems for communities in harm’s way from earthquakes, tsunamis, and dangerous waves.

This is the first year in the college’s history that all of the NSF and ONR early-career investigator awards have gone to women. In the 30 years prior, only 10 of the 59 College of Engineering faculty who received early-career awards were women.

“I’m delighted by the early career success of these faculty, but not surprised,” said Scott Ashford, Kearney Dean of Engineering. “Several years ago, the College of Engineering began creating a more inclusive environment in support of women in engineering — taking a deep look at the root causes of longstanding barriers and implementing changes in faculty recruitment, promotion and tenure, and professional development. And now we’re seeing the fruits of these changes.”

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, Oregon State’s College of Engineering ranks second nationally among land-grant universities for percentage of tenured or tenure-track engineering faculty who are women and third among the nation’s 94 public R1 universities. These rankings played a role in ASEE’s selection of the College of Engineering as an “exemplar” recipient of a Bronze Award in the first year of the ASEE Diversity Recognition Program, the highest recognition offered in the program’s inaugural year.

Portrait of Erica Fischer

Erica Fischer
Erica Fischer, an assistant professor of civil and construction engineering, was selected for her proposal to create new technologies for the mass timber modular construction of buildings. The building construction industry is primed for a major change to improve efficiency, she said, noting that construction has been done the same way for more than 100 years.

“Almost every major U.S. city is experiencing a housing crisis. Modular construction addresses these shortages while improving job site safety, increasing speed of construction, and lowering construction costs,” Fischer said. “Enabling mass timber to be used for modular building construction is also really beneficial to Oregon’s economy, which has made significant investments in mass timber production, manufacturing, and research.”

Fischer will use her $560,000 award to develop innovative technologies for changing how buildings are designed, manufactured, and assembled in regions with a high risk of earthquakes or strong winds — specifically, technologies that enable the construction of modular, mass timber buildings that incorporate a range of lateral force-resisting systems and can withstand the combined forces of gravity and lateral movement caused by seismic events and wind.

“We will study the connections of members within mass timber modular buildings and the relationship between the rigidity of these connections and overall structural behavior,” she said.

Kelsey Stoerzinger showing student lab tools.

Kelsey Stoerzinger, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, was chosen for her proposal to study how to split seawater into hydrogen and oxygen while avoiding undesirable chloride byproducts. Hydrogen has many scientific, industrial, and energy-related roles, such as in fuel cells for cars.

“Renewable electricity can drive chemical reactions, including the generation of hydrogen from water,” Stoerzinger said. “This stores electrical energy in a chemical fuel that can be transported and used on demand. Seawater is an abundant water resource, but electrochemical hydrogen generation can also generate harmful byproducts from seawater salts that pose environmental and safety concerns.”

Stoerzinger will use her $550,000 award to design and test materials and reaction conditions that split water without creating these byproducts.

“We’ll focus on designing materials called catalysts that selectively facilitate the generation of benign oxygen gas in systems containing chloride salts,” she said. “Our work will aid the development of improved energy storage and chemical manufacturing strategies that reduce our nation’s reliance on nonrenewable resources.”

Portrait of Rebecca Hutchinson in a forest environment.

Rebecca Hutchinson, an assistant professor with appointments in both engineering (computer science) and the College of Agricultural Sciences (fisheries, wildlife, conservation sciences), will use her $564,000 award to improve the machine learning methods used to develop species distribution models, or SDMs, that are built with data gathered through community science and used by ecologists and natural resource managers.

“You build an SDM by correlating observations of species — are they there or not? — with environmental features,” she said. “Then you can use the model to understand why species live where they do and how likely a species is to occur at a new site. But the spatial aspects of both species and environmental data can be problematic for the machine learning currently used in the models.”

To assess the model’s performance, some data are typically held out during model building. Then the model’s ability to predict the unseen data is used to measure its quality. With spatial data, however, randomly selecting data to hold out can lead to optimistic bias in quality estimates.

Hutchinson also intends to account for the inevitable underreporting of species during biodiversity surveys. Errors introduced by underreporting can be corrected by conducting multiple observations at the same site and estimating the probability of detecting the species, but community science programs usually aren’t set up that way, according to Hutchinson. “Our award will support research to create groups of multiple observations after the fact to better account for underreporting,” she said. “For science and management questions informed by SDMs, this will improve the ability to correct for observational errors and translate to better habitat models.”

In addition, Hutchinson aims to reduce errors that can creep into the quality of estimates generated by the models. For example, if temperature data is unavailable in mountainous regions, elevation may be used as a proxy for temperature when modeling the presence of bird species that are highly sensitive to cold or warmth. That substitution might work well in the Cascades but not along the coast or in the valley, leading to unexpectedly bad predictions in nonmountainous areas — the result of biased performance estimates. Her intent is to develop methods to estimate model performance that avoid this pitfall, giving scientists and managers a better idea of when to use their models with caution.

Hutchinson’s research could potentially enable scientists to build SDMs that more accurately provide climate model projections and obtain estimates of how species will fare under the influence of climate change.

Portrait of Meagan Wengrove in a farm.

With her $510,000 award, Meagan Wengrove, an assistant professor of civil engineering, will examine the possibility that a nascent technology called distributed acoustic sensing can serve as an early warning system for events such as tsunamis, sneaker waves, and internal waves — all potential threats to coastal communities and marine traffic.

To test the idea, she’ll send a sequence of short laser pulses, generated by a device called a laser interrogator, down one end of standard fiber optic cables that rest on the seabed and which stretch up to 20 kilometers from shore.

“Because the cables are made of glass, the light propagates quickly down each one,” Wengrove said. “Any disturbance — such as a wave or movement of the sea floor — that deforms the fibers, even just a tiny amount, will change the way the light signal returns to its origin. We can then detect precisely in time and space where that change occurred and how large it was.”

In theory, real-time alerts could be sent out automatically to warn communities or seagoing vessels about the potential hazard.

“The first thing I want to do is understand what we can reliably measure with this instrument in the ocean, and no one has done that before,” Wengrove said.

Testing will be conducted at two locations. One is the 20-kilometer Oregon State PacWave cable, used for wave energy research, which will be deployed off Newport. The second will be a shorter fiber installed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility near Duck, North Carolina.

Distributed acoustic sensing can measure strain over distances up to 150 km with a spatial resolution as small as 1 meter and detect changes in fiber strain as small as 100 nanometers over 10 meters of the fiber. Each cable can provide thousands of measurements along its length, whereas current in-situ sensing techniques are limited to, at most, tens of sensors.

“There’s no other type of sensor out there that can sample as quickly and at so many locations simultaneously, and the technology is improving every day,” Wengrove said. “It’s conceivable that we could one day use fiber optic sensing with existing telecommunications cables that span entire oceans and monitor, in real time, events thousands of miles from shore.”

The NSF CAREER program supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization, according to the NSF website.

According to the ONR website, the Young Investigator Program seeks to identify and support academic scientists and engineers who are in their first or second full-time tenure-track or equivalent position, who have received their doctorate or equivalent degree in the past seven years, and who show exceptional promise for doing creative research.

Sept. 14, 2021

Beyond 40 Hours: Bryony DuPont

bryony dupont

For much of her childhood, Bryony DuPont thought she would grow up to be a performer. She acted in her first musical at age 5. By 13, she was taking professional voice lessons and singing in multiple choirs.

However, in high school, she developed another passion.

“I was always good at math, and I was really drawn toward engineering, especially aerospace,” DuPont said.

Engineering won out, at least professionally. DuPont earned her doctorate from Carnegie Mellon in 2013 and joined the faculty of the Oregon State University College of Engineering.

“Pretty quickly after going to college, I decided that I wanted to be a college professor,” she said. “It sounds unorthodox, but being a professor is a great combination of being a practicing engineer and performance.”

Since moving to Corvallis, DuPont has also been active with the nonprofit Majestic Theatre, operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. She has played the wonderfully wicked Ursula in “The Little Mermaid,” and she took the lead as Diana Goodman in the rock musical “Next to Normal.”

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Majestic, like hundreds of theaters across the nation, was shuttered. It wasn’t clear what would happen to it.

Remote video URL
Bryony DuPont speaks about her inspiration to pursue engineering and her experience at Oregon State.

“This is a community theater,” DuPont said. “It lives off of donations and ticket sales.”

Staff at the Majestic came up with the idea to record socially distanced performances and stream them to audiences at home for a fee. DuPont was on board.

“We’re seeing so many artists out of work and all of these theaters closed,” she said. “If there was anything we could do to help the Majestic, we were going to do it.”

The theater manager analyzed the space where members of a cast and crew would be during a performance and determined how many people could be in each of those spaces while maintaining 6 feet of distance.

“We had to have small casts, and we had to have stories that made sense to be told this way,” DuPont said. “Of course, everyone had on face shields, and we were very careful about abiding by the rules.”

DuPont took part in a socially distanced production of “Now. Here. This.” The musical, about a group of friends reuniting at a natural history museum, uses exhibits as backdrops for the characters to tell stories and reflect on their relationships. The script lent itself well to the situation at hand.

“We just changed the opening scene so that everybody shows up in the lobby, and they have the face shields on, and there’s a voiceover describing the need for social distancing and everyone has to wear a mask,” DuPont said.

There were still challenges to overcome when it came to safety protocols.

“Everything was extremely well choreographed,” DuPont said. “When the six of us were on stage, we had specific paths to walk in, and we were constantly maintaining 6 feet of distance between us.” During early rehearsals, the cast sometimes held 6-foot sticks to make sure they were all far enough apart.

There were also challenges for the actors to connect without actually touching. “Theater is very physical, and in the context of tackling difficult themes on stage, that physical connection can be really therapeutic,” DuPont said. “I’m never going to take for granted the idea that you can hug another person.”

The performances went on without any major problems, and feedback was largely positive.

“The fact that we were able to be in this space and film in this space, that was pretty revolutionary,” DuPont said. “And I think people were just grateful to have that escape.”

But in some ways the play still connected with current events. One scene in particular talks about the death of a grandmother.

“Given the pandemic and how all of us are facing mortality in a way that we maybe haven’t had to before, I know was pretty impactful for people,” DuPont said. “We got thanked a bunch for doing that particular scene.”

DuPont is open to doing more remote performances, but she’s looking forward to being back on stage or in a lecture hall in front of people.

“I think we’re doing our best, and it’s helping keep our brains healthy and engaged, but I really don’t think that there’s a substitute for that kind of connection.” she said.


March 27, 2021

Brewing up a refreshing research project

Riley Humbert portrait.

Riley Humbert likes to work with her hands, from knitting to rock climbing to building the parts she needs for homebrewing beer. Together with her dad, the fourth-year chemical engineering major built a mash tun, where grains steep and become the sugar water containing all the nutrients yeast need to ferment beer.

As Humbert got more into the science of homebrewing, she decided to see if Oregon State University had any research related to beer and discovered the thriving pilot brewery on campus. As part of a thesis class, Humbert reached out to Chris Curtin, assistant professor in the department of food science and technology, to learn more about his research in brewing microbiology; eventually, she joined his lab. She’s now working on her honors thesis with Curtin, looking at how Brettanomyces, a kind of wild yeast, affects the fermentation and flavor of beer.

“Brettanomyces creates interesting flavors described as horse saddle, Band-Aid, and medicinal,” Humbert said. “This research is fitting because I like beers really, really funky.”

In most beers, Saccharomyces is the yeast used for primary fermentation. Lambic and farmhouse styles use Brettanomyces as a secondary fermentation yeast, fermenting sugars that Saccharomyces can’t. In the lab, Humbert and Curtin are using Brettanomyces exclusively to see how it performs as the primary fermentation yeast and how different strains react to different conditions.

“It’s so interesting to learn more about the process and learn more about what changes the fermentation, how something as simple as keeping it in a colder room versus a warmer room can really change the flavors,” she said.

Humbert, who’s responsible for growing the yeast to be used in fermentation, didn’t know exactly how beer was made before she started homebrewing. But figuring out how things work is what drew her to chemical engineering in the first place.

“Riley has really embraced the opportunity to get involved in research, displaying innate curiosity and a tremendous commitment to all aspects of the process,” Curtin said. “Her project with Brettanomyces requires strong attention to detail, and lots of sampling — and smelling! — at inconvenient times. Riley’s hard work is helping bring this research to fruition.”

Humbert added, “I like the puzzle aspect of it — finding all the unknowns and solving a puzzle. Chemical engineering felt like a nice mix of problem-solving and chemistry.”

Before getting her brew on, Humbert first got involved with research thanks to the Pete and Rosalie Johnson Internship Program. During the summer of her first year, the program connected her with Jun Jiao at Portland State University, where she studied nanoparticles meant to reduce toxic compounds—such as trichloroethylene, a harmful waste product of industrial processes — in groundwater.

Thanks to Oregon State’s URSA Engage program, Humbert then had the opportunity to look at this same problem from a biological perspective during her second year. In the lab of Lewis Semprini, distinguished professor of environmental engineering, she researched the use of gel beads containing organic compounds as a means of reducing waste products in groundwater.

In addition to research, the Society of Women Engineers has been a huge part of Humbert’s college experience. Beginning in the SWE mentorship program, Humbert started going to general body meetings, building relationships with others that helped her navigate her engineering classes. She served as mentorship program coordinator her second year and vice president her third year. During that time, she worked with other members to pilot an engineering-specific curriculum for Beaver Hangouts, which partners with K-12 classrooms to help kids learn about a variety of postsecondary options through the use of technology.

“SWE created this community in engineering of women who all want to help each other out and see each other succeed,” she said. “That makes this big engineering world a lot smaller and a lot more personal.”

From studying water purification methods to growing yeast for beer fermentation, Humbert says, her experiences at Oregon State have helped her develop a wide variety of skills.

“I have done so many things here that high school Riley would have thought were not possible,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to finish a chemical engineering degree, and now I’m in my senior year. I’ve learned I can do difficult things. They might be challenging, but not impossible.”

Feb. 25, 2021

Learner to Leader

Izabela Gutowska holds a mock fuel sphere used in simulated testing to support validation of Kairos Power’s pebblebed fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature reactor design.

Izabela Gutowska holds a mock fuel sphere used in simulated testing to support validation of Kairos Power’s pebblebed fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature reactor design.

Izabela Gutowska swirls the tea in her cup as she discusses computational fluid dynamics. The movement of the tea cools the liquid by transferring heat to the cup, she explains.

“Fluid dynamics, and especially thermal hydraulics, are present in every engineering system. They’re applicable in not just nuclear systems, but also in your car’s internal combustion engine, your air conditioning system, and even your coffee maker,” she said. “They’re everywhere.”

Last year, Gutowska brought her fascination with fluid dynamics back to the College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, where she earned her doctorate in nuclear engineering in 2015. She joined the faculty as an assistant professor of nuclear engineering.

Gutowska’s research focuses on fluid flow and heat transfer as they apply to different types of nuclear power plants, including pressurized and boiling water reactors, small modular reactors, and generation IV reactors, the newest designs on the drawing board. Gutowska grew up in Poland and decided from an early age to pursue a career track in math and physics. Both her parents were surveyors; as a child, Gutowska had the chance to accompany her dad on numerous projects.

“He was always taking me out with him to perform measurements — assessing the land and measuring elevations — and other simple tasks,” she said.

Gutowska pursued a bachelor’s degree in power engineering with a focus on information technology systems at Warsaw University of Technology. As she was considering her next move following graduation, Poland was in the midst of rebuilding its nuclear program and in need of skilled engineers.

“It sounded really attractive to me, to be a tiny puzzle piece in this huge rebuilding project and to be able to make an impact,” she said.

So, she continued at Warsaw University of Technology to pursue a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. During her studies, Gutowska had the opportunity to work with nuclear scientists and engineers from all over the world and study with them in English. At the time, Warsaw University of Technology developed a partnership with Oregon State University. With these new contacts in hand, and her confidence in speaking English on the rise, Gutowska headed to Oregon State for an internship.

When it came time to do her doctorate, Gutowska sought educational opportunities outside Poland. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study abroad and knew exactly where she wanted to go.

“It was pretty obvious to me that I wanted to come back to Corvallis, because I really like Oregon State,” she said. “I like the atmosphere, and I enjoy working with the faculty here.”

She reached out to Brian Woods, professor of nuclear science and Henry W. and Janice J. Schuette Chair in Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics, and began her doctoral program in 2012. Woods’ research focus includes gas-cooled reactors. As part of Woods’ research team, Gutowska quickly got involved in projects using the High Temperature Test Facility. She designed a safety system for mitigating air ingress to the reactor core.

After completing her degree, she worked briefly as an advanced computational fluid dynamics engineer at GE Power, before coming back to Oregon State to manage the HTTF’s quality assurance program, assist in testing, and lead the thermal hydraulic modeling activities.

In April 2019 she was hired as an assistant professor. She said it wouldn’t have happened without interacting with great mentors.

“Professor Woods taught me that I should never stop working hard for my dreams and that the best way to discover my path is to walk it, sometimes unprepared yet ready to take the next step,” Gutowska said.

Gutowska is now diving into independent research. She’ll focus on optimizing fluid flow and heat transfer in nuclear reactors to enhance operation and performance while complying with safety features.

Her first project involves a partnership with Kairos Power. She will lead a team of researchers in the development of a pebble-bed fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature reactor. This novel reactor converts heat from fission to electricity using an efficient steam cycle, boosting nuclear energy innovation while complementing renewable energy sources. Her team will be responsible for designing and building a separate effects test facility at Oregon State in order to provide data for codes validation for Kairos.

Gutowska appreciates the unique research atmosphere at Oregon State and describes her colleagues as a second family. She encourages prospective students, especially women, to not feel overwhelmed when they hear “nuclear engineering” and to consider pursuing careers in the field of engineering in general.

“Engineering is something that we are fully capable of doing, and having this diverse group of people in the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering really helps in driving forward advanced, highquality, interesting projects,” she said. “Women engineers are an integral part of successful projects here at Oregon State.”

Gutowska said the cooperation and support of the school and her colleagues have helped her to find a place at Oregon State. She added that she is always willing to speak to prospective engineering students if they have questions about the degree and their future.

“At Oregon State there are so many initiatives, support groups, and groups of interest to join, to expand your knowledge and to be present and visible to others,” she said. “Just go for it.”

April 3, 2020
Associated Researcher

Leading the Charge for Improved Battery Recycling

A picture of Lauren Crandon.

Lauren Crandon (’18 Ph.D., Environmental Engineering) was eager to work at a startup after graduation because she loves the fast-paced feel.

“Every day is different, and you’re able to get involved in every aspect. You may be writing a research paper, performing an economic analysis, or in the lab running experiments,” said Crandon, now a research engineer at OnTo Technology, where her research team recently earned a Phase 1 lithium-ion battery recycling prize from the Department of Energy. “I like working as part of a team with this momentum behind us and not a lot of red tape. We have opportunities to develop new intellectual property with our innovation.”

She began working with OnTo as part of the ONAMI Graduate Internships in Startups Program,  encouraged by one of her academic mentors, Skip Rochefort, associate professor of chemical engineering, who recommended her to the program.

“In addition to my research, I was a teaching assistant for Dr. Rochefort, and working with him and his students got me interested in research that addresses real-world problems,” Crandon said.

Originally from Kansas, Crandon earned her chemical engineering degree at the University of Kansas, where she became interested in environmental engineering and began to investigate doctoral programs.

She fell in love with Oregon State’s collaborative approach to cutting-edge research. During her first research rotation, she met Stacey Harper, associate professor of environmental engineering, who was looking at what happens to nanoparticles after we use them. Harper became her research advisor and another important mentor.

“I was really impressed with the interdisciplinary feel of her lab and the opportunities for unique research,” she said. “Dr. Harper was really good about giving us the tools to communicate our research and to think outside the box when developing new methods — to really push the boundaries. I still use all of those today.”

During her time at Oregon State, Crandon served as a student representative to the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Board of Directors — another experience she said prepared her for startup culture.

Lauren Crandon and Steve Sloop
Lauren Crandon and Steve Sloop at the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Steve and Julie Sloop


 “I helped plan the annual meeting with representatives from industry, academia, and government, so I learned to communicate with people from all three sectors,” she said. “These were really meaningful interactions, because in a startup you have to wear a lot of hats and attend a lot of meetings. I feel confident in my communication abilities.”

She encourages other students and graduates to explore battery science, “an area of huge need that requires engineers with a good understanding of the problems and the capacity to develop innovative solutions.” She credits the tools and mentorship she received from Oregon State with helping her transition smoothly into the field.

Industry has struggled to find an efficient, economical way to recycle lithium-ion batteries. This is a problem of increasing importance, due to the prevalence of consumer electronic products and, especially, electric cars that depend upon the high energy-density of lithium-ion batteries. Crandon and her OnTo group developed an award-winning approach to sorting cathode chemistries.

Instead of traditional recycling methods that involve smelting the battery’s cathode or dissolving it in acid, OnTo takes a more efficient approach. The company’s technique works to “heal” cathodes with a process that repairs the structure and relithiates the cathode.

“Basically, at the end of its life, the most valuable component of a lithium-ion battery is the cathode,” Crandon said. “When recycling these batteries, we first address safety issues, like flammability. We developed a method to deactivate batteries using supercritical carbon dioxide, which renders them inert. Removing the active lithium and electrolyte makes recycling safer and cheaper.”

OnTo’s approach addresses one of the major hurdles to this type of recycling, as identified by DOE: differences in cathode chemistries.

“We have a technique to sort batteries before you cut them open for recycling,” Crandon said. “With our approach, you can rapidly measure intrinsic properties related to format and chemistry to distinguish between cathode chemistries.”

With her team one of only 15 winners of the Phase 1 DOE prizes, Crandon said the visibility and partnership opportunities they’ve gained have been encouraging. The research team is now planning for Phase 2, looking for manufacturing partners to produce a prototype and incorporating automation.

April 3, 2020

Engineering a More Sustainable Environment

Mary Beth Berkes with their dog in winter clothing.


A lover of outdoor activities from the time she was a child, Mary Beth Berkes (’10 M.S., Coastal and Ocean Engineering) was drawn to an environmental and conservation-focused career. More than nine years into her role as an assistant civil technical leader specializing in stream restoration at GAI Consultants, Berkes finds her job continuously rewarding and challenging.

“To see a stream improve, to be there through the before and after, is always amazing,” she said. “Observing and monitoring the construction work is the most challenging part of stream restoration because we have to make sure the contractor reads, understands, and implements our engineering plans correctly.”

Berkes’ work at GAI includes repairing and stabilizing streams, restoring their function, and protecting aquatic life, as well as developing sustainable solutions for hydraulic design projects that reduce flooding and environmental impacts. For her accomplishments, she was named the 2018 Young Professional of the Year by the Society of American Military Engineers Pittsburgh Post.

“SAME’s award provided me an opportunity to tell my career story, which will hopefully inspire others,” she said. “I had kind of a breakout year in my career, so it was nice to earn the recognition.” Berkes said that being involved with the professional engineering organization has benefitted her in many ways. “There are monthly meetings, which are good for networking, and continuing education opportunities, which I need to retain my professional engineer license. Plus, I love being involved in SAME outreach at engineering weeks and STEM fairs, all efforts to inspire the next generation.”

Berkes also values opportunities to inspire other women in engineering. In fact, her whole stream design team is made up of female scientists and engineers.

Gender is not much of an issue in many aspects of her career, but when working with construction crews, she has encountered some inaccurate assumptions, “until I start talking,” she said, laughing.

“The key is to not be intimidated and to know your stuff,” Berkes said.

After her junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her civil engineering degree, she spent a summer as a research assistant at the University of Notre Dame. There, she developed a cross-hazard approach to coastal design for areas subjected to tsunamis. This research program ended with a field study in Thailand to conduct reconnaissance following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Inspired, Berkes decided she wanted to study sustainable engineering.

“Oregon State had a great program that would allow me that opportunity,” she said, noting the College of Engineering’s reputation for interdisciplinary and nontraditional research, experiential learning focus, highly respected faculty, and unique research facilities.

At the College of Engineering, Berkes designed and conducted a large-scale experiment in the large wave flume at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory.

“I studied the effects of small seawalls on reducing wave forces on onshore vertical walls and compared experimental results to predictive equations for engineering design,” she explained. “At Oregon State, I developed my hazard-mitigation, flooding, and hydraulic engineering focus. I learned how to run experiments and present my results in an effective way.”

Civil and Construction Engineering Professor Daniel Cox, then director of the Wave Research Laboratory, and the whole team there supported Berkes in her research. Professor Solomon Yim, Professor Peter Ruggiero, and others involved in the university’s coastal engineering and hazard mitigation programs also played a big part in her education and career aspirations.

When she moved back to Pittsburgh to be closer to family and her now-husband, GAI’s environmental work, especially with streams, drew her to the job. Her many years there are a testament to the opportunities for exploration and career progression GAI has offered her, as well as the camaraderie she shares with her colleagues.

“Stream restoration is really cool because every project is different and you’re always out in the field or at interesting meetings, not stuck in an office,” Berkes said.

When she is not hard at work, Berkes and her husband spend lots of time enjoying the great outdoors — kayaking, paddle-boarding, and going on stream hikes with their dog. She is appreciative of the beauty and enjoyment her local natural resources offer and is committed to protecting them. “I’m a conservationist at heart, so I get to use engineering to support the things that are important to me,” Berkes said.

April 3, 2020
Subscribe to women-in-engineering