Student News

Read below for the following exciting news items:

·         Jason Arena Awarded Prestigious Fellowship
·         Amanda Card Receives Outstanding Achievement Award
·         Alberto De la Rosa Algarin Admitted to PHK
·         Alicia Echevarria Captures Entrepreneurship Honors
·         Rufat Kulakhmetov to Attend 2013 NASA Academy
·         Joseph Mummert a NSF Grad Honorable Mention
·         Ragini Phansalker Lands Goldwater Scholar Award
·         Carlo Santoro Receives Prestigious Summer Fellowship

Ph.D. candidate Jason Arena received one of just two National Water Research Institute/American Membrane Technology Association Fellowships for 2013.  The two-year fellowships confer $10,000 per year and are awarded for research aimed at advancing membrane technology in the water, wastewater, or water reuse industries. Jason is advised by Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon in the Sustainable Water and Energy Learning Laboratory.  His scope of research centers on the modification of thin film composite membranes to achieve superior performance in forward osmosis processes, which may be used in seawater desalination.  Forward osmosis offers promise for superior efficiencies and performance over the traditional distillation and reverse osmosis processes.  Jason is investigating the application of polydopamines – hydrophilic polymers that share characteristics with mussels’ adhesive discharge – onto the membranes used in desalination to enhance wettability and overall performance.  He expects to test his hypothesis with a pilot scale system and eventually develop a full-scale desalination process.   

Jason was a 2011-12 GK-12 Fellow embedded in science classes at E.C. Goodwin Technical High School, where he taught special classes on water and energy topics to promote interest in engineering and assisted the school’s FIRST Robotics Team and Green Technology Club. 


amanda2Senior Amanda Card (Chemical Engineering) will receive the 2013 Outstanding Student Women Academic Achievement Award for an undergraduate. Amanda has maintained a cumulative GPA of 4.0 while devoting significant time to outreach activities, scholarly research, and leadership duties within the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).  She has served as Collegiate Section President, Conference Committee Chair and Secretary of UConn’s SWE chapter, and worked as a STEM instructor for eighth grade students from underserved communities who participate in UConn’s Pre-Engineering Program (PEP).  Amanda’s undergraduate research, overseen by Dr. Leslie Shor, has involved contributions to the development of an optical method that measures diffusivity through hydrogel-filled microfluidic capillaries. She also interned with both Unilever and Saint-Gobain.   

Acting Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education & Diversity, Dr. Daniel Burkey, said, “Amanda is one of our most talented undergraduates.  She has continually challenged herself and been involved in both the Chemical Engineering program and the larger engineering community through SWE. She has given a tremendous amount back to the university during her time here, and I am eager to see what she tackles as her next challenge.”

Amanda’s interest in engineering was sparked during high school. “I really enjoyed math, chemistry and biology.  I wanted to become a high school teacher; however, most of my favorite teachers did something relating to their field before teaching. Engineering seemed like a perfect field: it incorporates all of the subjects I enjoy and it is not limiting or binding,” she notes. Amanda participated in the summer BRIDGE program prior to her freshman year, and she attributes the dual experiences of SWE and BRIDGE as foundational influences on her success at UConn.  Amanda is excited to begin her career with MPR Associates, Inc. in Alexandria, VA following graduation.


Alberto De la Rosa Algarin, a doctoral candidate in the Computer Science & Engineering Department, has been admitted to the honor society of Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest, most selective and most prestigious all-discipline honor society.  His thesis research centers on creating a security framework for information exchange that integrates and enforces local and global policies (adv.: Dr. Steven Demurjian) defined from different access control models. In addition to his primary academic duties, Alberto contributes to the development of plug-ins allowing secure downloads of the Roper Center’s dataset collection in accordance with the Safe-Archive Project specs.


M.S. candidate and small business CEO Alicia Echevarria (Civil Engineering) recently won the “Judges Favorite” award in the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI) Pitch Competition. Additionally, she was selected a finalist in UConn’s Innovation Quest Competition and was invited to participate in their six-week incubation program in May and June. Her entrepreneurial entry centered on Advanced Column Solutions, LLC (ACS), a company newly founded by Alicia and her thesis advisor, Dr. Arash Zaghi. See a related story here.


Mechanical Engineering junior Rufat Kulakhmetov, has been selected one of just 15 students nationwide to participate in the 2013 NASA Propulsion Academy located at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL.  The 10-week, residential summer research and educational experience is reserved for top students interested in propulsion and is a pipeline intended to prepare young professionals for employment in aerospace positions. As an intern, Rufat will work on a four-person team under the guidance of propulsion engineers at Marshall, local commercial entities, and local universities. A New England Scholar, Rufat currently works in the Combustion and Gas Dynamics Laboratory (adv.: Mike Renfro).


M.S. degree candidate Joseph Mummert (Mechanical Engineering) received an honorable mention for his submission for a 2013 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  Joseph is advised by Dr. Wei Sun, with whom he expects to launch a business, ValveFix, LLC, in the future. ValveFix designs, manufactures and distributes an FDA-approved, durable tissue heart valve for young and old patients that eliminates the need for repeat open-heart surgeries and requires no anti-coagulation drugs. The valve relies on a patented, biocompatible, coated valve that offers superior structural stability and anti-calcification.


Junior Ragini Phansalkar (’14), a dual-degree student majoring in computer science and biology, was selected a 2013 Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.  Named for Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, the Foundation supports scholarships for outstanding students seeking careers in the sciences, mathematics and engineering. 

Ragini, a 2012 Honorable Mention in the Goldwater competition, is a Nutmeg Scholar and aspiring MD/PhD.  Last summer, she interned at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where she developed plug-ins for ICY, an open-source platform for biological image processing that would be used towards the automatic quantification of fibrosis in renal biopsies. At UConn, she carries out original research in the laboratories of Dr. Daniel Schwartz (Physiology and Neurobiology) and Dr. Barbara Mellone (Molecular and Cellular Biology).  In addition, she has spent a summer as a neurosurgery intern and has, since May 2011, served as an Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA UConn) project chair, coordinating the renovation of a primary school in Hyderabad, India.


santoroDoctoral candidate Carlo Santoro (Civil & Environmental Engineering) has received a prestigious Electrochemical Society (ECS) F.M. Becket Summer Research Fellowship award of $5,000. Carlo is currently advised by Dr. Baikun Li and he was one of just five students selected from among 100 applicants worldwide. The fellowship will support his ongoing study involving the research and development of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) using an enzymatic cathode, which will increase the power output and enhance the degradation of organic compounds. This study will be conducted in collaboration with the University of New Mexico. His research focuses on the study, characterization and development of a cheap, platinum-free biological cathode in MFCs for long-term operations.  A recent successful project involved the investigation of human urine as an MFC fuel, with nutrient recovery. Since 2010, Carlo has collaborated with: TU-Graz (Austria), ITAE-CNR (Italy), Bristol Robotics Laboratory (UK), RSE SpA (Italy), Politecnico di Milano (Italy), Technische Universität Braunschweig (Germany) and the University of New Mexico. He was recently also a finalist in the graduate category of UConn’s 2010-2012 Environmental Leadership Awards.