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Perseverance is more important than brilliance: Dr. Sherry Yennello from the Cyclotron Institute

Perseverance is more important than brilliance: Dr. Sherry Yennello from the Cyclotron Institute

Not that long ago, the only women’s restroom at Texas A&M’s Cyclotron Institute was in the administrative area, far from where the science was done. “There are more women now,” said Dr. Sherry Yennello, Chemistry Professor and Cyclotron Institute Bright Chair in Nuclear Science at Texas A&M University. “And I think more women have the mindset that they can be scientists. They know it’s possible.”

Dr. Sherry Yennello

Dr. Yennello spoke recently to a group of UD students following her lecture, “Stellar Secrets: Earth Bound Insights into Elements Through Heavy-ion Reactions.” Her visit was part of the Clare Booth Luce Speaker Series, a program designed to attract women into physical science, engineering, and mathematical areas and to support them once there.

Dr. Yennello told students that research experiences are invaluable on a number of levels. “You’ll learn what it’s like to really do research every day,” she said. “And you’ll learn how you function best, whether in a structured environment where a professor gives you explicit instructions, or in an environment like mine, where I give you the big picture, show you the resources, and you have to step up and ask questions.”

Dr. Yennello encouraged students to attend regional and national meetings of groups associated with their majors (like American Chemical Society and American Physical Society) in order to network with their peers. “Students that attend these meetings will tell you what their lives are really like at their REUs and give you a good feel for the way an institution or a department works.” She added that networking at these events creates relationships that can form the basis of not only lifelong scientific collaborations, but also true friendships. “Science is done in groups,” she said. “And you need networks of people to get it done.”

In describing which characteristics students need to be successful, Dr. Yennello emphasized perseverance above any other trait. “Not giving up far outweighs brilliance,” she said. According to Dr. Yennello, high achieving students often get frustrated when their experiments don’t go the way they think they will. “When I’m looking at potential students for REUs, I’m looking for someone who wants to learn, someone who wants to figure out how to overcome errors and mistakes and understands that there isn’t always a straight path to the answer,” she said. Dr. Yennello recommended that students use the personal statements and cover letters with their REU applications to talk about their resilience, curiosity and perseverance when they don’t get an answer on the first try.

Dr. Yennello closed by saying that conducting research is only part of the benefit of an REU: “The real questions are: did you learn something and did you meet people?”

For more information on applying for REUs or other internships, contact OPCD or your department chair.

Students Forming
Women in STEM Club at UD

Students Forming
Women in STEM Club at UD

Why are there so few women in STEM fields and what can we do about it? Last year, students at the University of Dallas decided to tackle those questions head-on by forming a Women in STEM club at UD.

Patricia Hahn and Rebecca Kolbeck

Last spring, Rebecca Kolbeck, a senior biology major, joined a few friends for informal talks about starting a Women in STEM club at UD. “Some of the women who were in the STEM majors and were about to graduate mentored us and encouraged us to think about forming a club,” she said. They started out with a few informal events, including discussions about what the club would look like and even a trip to see the movie Hidden Figures for inspiration. Patricia Hahn, senior biochemistry major, and Tessa Rosenberger, junior physics major, are two other founding members of the group.

As the fall 2017 semester begins, Kolbeck and other members have turned to Dr. Sally Hicks, Chair of the Physics Department, and Dr. Ellen Steinmiller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, as mentors for the club. “We’re really in the formative stages now,” Kolbeck said. “So we’d like to research statistics on women in STEM majors at UD. We’d like to find out if female STEM grads actually go into STEM fields after graduation. And if not, why?”

Kolbeck hopes to eventually bring speakers to campus that can not only inspire young women to pursue STEM careers, but also prepare them for the challenges they might face in the traditionally male-dominated STEM fields. “We’d like to hear from alumni, female professionals, and UD professors about how they overcame the obstacles to being women in STEM,” she said. 

Kolbeck visualizes the Women in STEM Club inspiring the next generation as well. “We’d eventually like to talk about women in STEM fields in a broader sense, including how we, as college students, can motivate high school and middle school girls into pursuing STEM education,” she said.

For more information on women in STEM fields, read the American Association of University Women’s research report on the subject here.

For help in choosing a major or career field, make an appointment with an OPCD career counselor.


UD Science Majors Take On Summer Research

UD Science Majors Take On Summer Research

University of Dallas science majors are having an outsized impact at research institutions across the country this summer. Close to 50 students are conducting research, and many of them have been awarded highly competitive positions at external institutions. Others are conducting important research with University of Dallas faculty.

Twelve REUs [Research Experience for Undergraduates], two SURPs [Summer Undergraduate Research Program], two SURFs [Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships], and the quality of the other opportunities represent an outstanding showing for our science majors getting in summer research. Other science majors are doing research with UD faculty.  I think it is probably one of the best years ever for UD students with respect to science research opportunities’” said Dr. Sally Hicks, Chair and Professor of Physics.

Dr. Hicks said that research can be an invaluable part of any science major’s education. “These opportunities allow students to attend a research institution, conduct cutting edge research and learn more about the scientific investigative process,” she said. Dr. Hicks also said that the experience can help students discern whether they want to go to graduate school, become a research scientist, or pursue another path.

MacKenzie Warrens (Physics ‘17), said that her two summer research experiences helped her make big decisions about her future. “My first summer research project showed me what kind of research I don’t want to do,” she said. “But the one before my senior year changed my life. I learned a lot about experimental atomic physics and decided that was what I would pursue in graduate school.”

Dr. William Cody, Assistant Professor of Biology, said that most summer research programs are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with a focus on increasing the number of STEM workers entering the workforce. He added that although strong letters of recommendation and an effective personal statement go a long way in securing one of these positions, another factor is even more important: “Conducting research on campus during the year has the biggest impact,” he said.

Blake Torrance, a Senior Biology major, is spending his summer at the Medical University of South Carolina, conducting research through their SURP program. He said that summer research is the best way to determine if the lifestyle of a professional researcher is the best path for you. “It is a unique experience that has allowed me to develop a passion for basic scientific research and to be solidified in my own career and professional goals,” he said.

And although research opportunities are available across the country, Dr. Hicks said that the programs are very competitive and require a strong application. “There are many students applying from universities like UD that don’t have extensive on-campus research facilities,” she said. “And because even students from top-tier research institutions apply for these posts, it’s not unusual for hundreds of applicants to apply to a program with 8-10 openings.”

Both Warrens and Torrance agreed that although the application requires careful attention, the process is not difficult. “It basically consists of a CV, a personal statement and two or three letters of recommendation,” she said. Torrance said the key is to stay organized: “I actually applied to 11 programs this summer, so it wasn’t too difficult to get them all done, although the key is to be as organized as possible.”

According to Dr. Cody, summer research can show students what a career in science might look like. “When high school students are good at science, everyone tells them they should become a physician,” he said. “But research experiences are a chance for them to explore their love of science and discover the many possibilities to use the knowledge they gain as an undergraduate student to benefit society.”

University of Dallas biology, chemistry, computer science, math and physics majors are working in the following outside research experiences and internships:

  • 12 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
  • 2 Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)
  • 2 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)

Other prestigious outside research opportunities:

  • Harvard School of Public Health
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Franciscan Institute of World Health, University of Claude Bernard–Lyon, France
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program
  • James Loudspeaker Corporation
  • Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • University of Houston
  • Sonic Corporation
  • MD Anderson Medical Center
  • Whitespace Innovations

Several others are conducting research with UD faculty in a variety of disciplines. For a list of physics research projects, click here.

To make an appointment to speak to a career counselor about your resumé, writing a personal statement or any other career-related questions, click here.






STEM Panel Encourages Lifelong Learning

STEM Panel Encourages Lifelong Learning

Although graduating with a degree in chemistry, physics or math often leads to job heavy on technical expertise or specific scientific skills, the variety of a career paths represented at a recent panel consisting of University of Dallas STEM field graduates underscores the fact that these degrees can open doors to many fulfilling careers. And according to the panelists, a liberal arts degree from UD uniquely prepares graduates to become lifelong learners–a characteristic that is crucial to success in the knowledge economy. The panel was presented as part of the Clare Booth Luce Speaker Series.

Dominic Hilario, a self-employed chemical consultant, said that his degree in chemistry from UD gave him the technical skills he needed to start his career. “But my job in the lab wasn’t that exciting,” he said. “So I decided to learn the business side of things.” Although he didn’t have a business background, Hilario believes that his liberal arts degree gave him the tools to be able to learn from others.

Joe Constantino
Joe Constantino

MacKenzie Warrens, a junior physics major and a Clare Boothe Luce scholar, said that her experience doing undergraduate research last summer highlighted the contrast between herself and other students. “Liberal arts students are able to talk about so much more than just physics,” she said. “You can have conversations with other majors as well.”

Alessandra Marchi, another CBL scholar, said that her boss specifically noted her problem solving ability. “He called me a hard worker,” she said. “And said that I could grasp concepts without having learned them previously.” According to the alumni on the panel, this ability to grasp complex situations, along with an ongoing desire to learn, is the key to success in any field.

Joe Constantino, owner and president of Einstein’s Eyes, said part of the learning process after graduation includes taking chances on a job you’re not sure if you’ll like. “Don’t resist doing something for just a year,” he said. “You’ll find out something about yourself in the process. As an employer, I don’t look down on that.”

Anne Hoeschler
Anne Hoelscher

Anne Hoelscher, senior manager of product development at BMC Software agreed. “It used to be that you would probably be in a job for the rest of your life,” she said. “Now, I see resumes where people stay at a job for a year, fifteen-months, two-years. That’s not a big deal any more. But I do want to know what you learned from each of those experiences.”

For Kara Earle, working for Fidelity Investments has allowed her to try different career paths, all while staying with the same company for sixteen years. “Fidelity really invests in its people and in their career development,” she said. “I would recommend looking for a company whose culture values its people learning and growing.”

Along with becoming a lifelong learner, Dr. Carla Tiernan, Assistant Dean, UTA College of Engineering, said that being flexible and open to opportunity is also an important part of future success. “I never wanted to be an academic,” she said. “But you never know where your career is going to end up. Be open to possibilities,” Tiernan added that internships and research experiences can also be help with discernment. “Find out what you don’t like to do is really helpful,” she said.

Kara Earle
Kara Earle

An audience member remarked that University of Dallas President Thomas Keefe often says that students are preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet. He asked how undergraduates should prepare for those job without knowing what they will entail.

Hoelscher said that adaptation is the key: “UD grads are continually learning. Because of that, when a new industry comes out, you’ll be capable of adapting your skills to meet the challenge.”

Hilario’s answer came complete with a graphs entitled “Knowledge Acquisition of Normal Humans Over Time” and “Knowledge Acquisition of Lifelong Learners Over Time.”

He explained them like this: “Normal humans are born and continually acquire knowledge until they graduate college. Then they get a job and learn just enough to keep the boss happy, completely flattening out until retirement. Lifelong learners, on the other hand, know that just keeping the boss happy isn’t enough. They have to keep learning and growing. A couple of years at this pace and they’re managers. Then maybe CEOs. And finally, if they keep learning and innovating, they might even make it out of the cave.”

Graphics by Dominic Hilario

Graphics by Dominic Hilario

Hilario added that the real engine of the kind of growth represented on his graph is innovation. “When you keep learning, you can become a specialist in your field,” he said. “Then you can leverage your knowledge and begin to innovate.

The Henry Luce Foundation has provided a grant for one-year full-tuition scholarships for female students at the University of Dallas majoring in computer science, mathematics, physics or engineering. These scholarships are named Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Scholarships, and students receiving these scholarships are named as CBL Scholars.

In addition to the scholarships, the University has established a Clare Boothe Luce Speaker Series, Clare Boothe Luce Discussion Panels for Undecided Students, and a support organization for women in the sciences.  These initiatives are designed to attract women into physical science, engineering, and mathematical areas and to support them once there.

Physicists address students as part of Clare Boothe Luce Speaker Program

Physicists address students as part of Clare Boothe Luce Speaker Program

“Get your hands dirty.” That’s the advice Dr. Stephanie Wissel, Assistant Professor of Physics at the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo and a University of Dallas alumna, gave to students during her visit to UD on September 3, 2015. Wissel and her husband, Dr. Nathan Keim, were here as part of the Clare Boothe Luce Speaker Series, sponsored by the Physics Department.

“You have to try out what interests you,” Wissel continued. “If you don’t like it, try something else. Find someone who does research in an area you’re interested in and try to work with them. It’s a lot better than doing a Google search.” Wissel’s remarks came during a breakfast in which she and Keim answered students’ questions about everything from working for NASA to getting into graduate school.

Keim, Assistant Professor of Physics at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, agreed with Wissel’s remarks and added, “Your work has to be something that excites you, especially if you are going for a Ph.D. It’s a long journey so you have to be doing something you love.”

Keim’s talk, titled “Memory in Cyclically Driven Systems,” focused on behavior of particles in soft condensed matter and their ability to retain memory of previous states. Although his experiments were successful, he faced many challenges at the outset of his research. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no background in chemistry and I made a big mess. I also had to make a perfect apparatus with which to test my materials,” Keim said.

Keim’s research has far reaching implications for materials science. It can help engineers understand the causes of metal fatigue and predict how specific materials will behave under the pressures of temperature fluctuations. It could potentially help scientists understand how memories are formed in our own neural networks.

Wissel’s talk, titled “Searching for the Highest Energy Cosmic Particles at the Ends of the Earth,” focused on her research on detecting the highest energy particles in the universe using detectors in Polar Regions such as Antarctica and Greenland.

While at the University of Dallas, Wissel was awarded the Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship as well as the Cardinal Spellman Award and Montosorri Award for Outstanding Physics Student. The Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship program, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, provides scholarships for female students at the University of Dallas majoring in Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, or Engineering. In addition to the scholarships, the University sponsors the Clare Boothe Luce Speaker Series, one of several initiatives designed to attract women into physical science, engineering, and mathematical areas and to support them once there. For more information on events sponsored by the University of Dallas’ Office of Personal Career Development, click here.