Summer REU Students Immerse Themselves in Entrepreneurship

The 10 REU students stand outside the UConn Tech Park after their poster presentations. (UConn Photo/Tracy Maheu)

 

By: Eli Freund, Editorial Communications Manager, UConn School of Engineering 

Each year, students from across the country apply to the National Science Foundation REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program, gaining experience in a myriad of different subject areas. In the summer of 2019, the University of Connecticut School of Engineering hosted a select group of 10 engineering students, who hailed from UConn, as well as multiple other schools across the country.

This year’s research theme centered around entrepreneurship and innovation (E-REU), in consultation with Daniel Burkey, associate dean undergraduate education and diversity; Dr. Hadi Bazorgmanesh, UConn Professor of Practice in Engineering Entrepreneurship; Nerac, a Tolland-based global research and advisory firm for companies developing innovative products and technologies, run by President & CEO Kevin Bouley; and multiple UConn faculty members and graduate students. In addition to the mentorship received from faculty, Nerac, and graduate students, participants in the program received funding to cover housing, meal expenses, and a generous stipend.

The ten students worked on entrepreneurial ideas which ran the gamut from converting oils and fats to bio-diesel to using Matlab’s App Designer as a software controller for a whole slide imaging platform.

Below, some of the students and Nerac employees involved in the 10-week program share their experiences:

Name: Colin Fitzsimonds
School: University of Connecticut
Year: Junior
Major: Chemical Engineering
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon
Project:Forward Osmosis and Reverse Osmosis Hybrid System For Water Desalination

 Is your goal to eventually be an entrepreneur?

There may be a future for me to be an entrepreneur, I’m not sure whether that is in my future but this E-REU at least opened my eyes to the possibility.

Why do you think it’s important for engineers to learn these skills?

If you can’t properly explain the value of your work, nobody will buy into your ideas and you won’t succeed as an engineer.

 

Name: Jessica Hornyak
School: University of Florida
Year: Senior
Major: Biomedical Engineering
UConn Faculty Advisor: Dr. Thanh Nguyen
Project: Utilizing the Piezoelectric Properties of Poly-L-lactic Acid for Medical Applications

 Why did you decide to join UConn Engineering’s REU program this summer?

UConn’s E-REU program was unique in comparison to other REU programs because it fused together elements of both entrepreneurship and engineering. These two words to me are not independent of each other. When attempting to solve a problem, which is the intention of the research, I always possess the mindset of how can this solution reach the public and what market would it reside in. The program’s description aligned with this mindset.

How did the experience you had this summer change the way you think about the world?

I have always attempted to look for solutions to the problems in the world around me. However, what I often found was that my solutions started as an idea in my mind and also ended that way. This program taught me that the idea of starting a company should not be a roadblock. The program equipped me with the tools to take my ideas and translate them into something that exists outside of my mind.

 

Name: Robert Beinstein
Company: Nerac
Title: Director, Sustainability Innovation

 After taking a look at all the projects, how confident did you feel in the future of engineering?

These students’ take on their future-focused research topics left me in awe.  In many cases, their poise and presence only added to the effect.  Several of the topics resonated with me, with their multi-benefit solutions that push the boundaries of today’s technology.  Even at their young age, these kids seem to sense the need to look beyond current state-of-the-art, visualizing what the future will need. 

 

Name: Cooper Langanis
School: Binghamton University
Year: Senior
Major: Biomedical Engineering
UConn Faculty Advisor:Dr. Hoshino
Project: Formation of Breast Cancer Spheroids For Analysis of Anti-Cancer Pharmaceuticals

This program was centered around entrepreneurship. What did you work on this summer?

I worked on developing a microscope incubator capable of culturing cancer cell spheroids that could use fluorescent and time lapse imaging. 

Why do you think it’s important for engineers to learn these skills?

Engineers often get stuck thinking under a lot of constraints, entrepreneurship forces you to think of things on a broader scale and consider all possibilities which can be extremely beneficial.

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