Statement of Purpose 4 - NSF STEM
During middle school, I lived in an area where violence surrounded the public schools. Even though these schools lacked key resources and were not the best educational environment, there were still a few great teachers. I was fortunate to receive strong guidance from both my parents and those teachers. My parents taught me to avoid violent situations and to strive for success through hard work and dedication. My teachers taught me to strive for excellence by always challenging myself. For example, my middle school did not offer Algebra 1, so I was encouraged to attend a high school nearby for math. I got up very early every morning to catch the school bus with the high school students. Afterwards, I would ride a second bus back to my middle school before my classes started there. I was passionate about mathematics then, and I am still passionate about mathematics now. I knew I had made the right decision – despite the negative peer pressure from my school environment. Like Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” I took the road less traveled in order to pursue higher education.
I was accepted into a high school International Baccalaureate (IB) program which challenged me to want to do even more with my life. The primary tenet of this IB program was Rene Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” I was encouraged to think about my future and what I wanted to become. Since I had always had a fascination for the universe and what lies beyond the vastness of the unknown, I chose aerospace engineering as my college field of study and the University of Central Florida (UCF) because of the close proximity to the Kennedy Space Center. With this decision, I became the first person in my family to attend college.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are the future of our country and the foundation of global competiveness. I want to be a part of the STEM movement that takes today’s imagination and turns it into tomorrow’s reality. I extend Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” by asserting that my thoughts today can influence everyone’s tomorrow if I dedicate myself to the advancement of knowledge in the scientific community. The challenges we confront in these difficult times are profound; however, I believe in the principle that opportunities exist for future scientists to propel our nation forward.
In my freshman year at UCF, the NSF-funded EXCEL Program selected me as a member of their inaugural class. The EXCEL Program’s mission is to increase students’ success in the first two years of their college career in a STEM discipline and provide opportunities for research. The EXCEL Program provided me with faculty and staff mentoring in the early stages of my undergraduate career and emphasized the importance of STEM majors and their interaction with each other. I contributed by working with faculty and staff to improve student learning. I gave encouraging speeches to incoming EXCEL students about the importance of mathematics as an early foundation to their scholarly pursuits. I also tutored and mentored new EXCEL students.
The EXCEL Program was only the start of my undergraduate research. I also had the opportunity to conduct research through UCF’s Research and Mentoring Program (RAMP) in my junior year. In addition, I had the privilege of being accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The McNair Scholars Program prepares underrepresented and disadvantaged students for doctoral studies. As a result of this professional socialization, I am more cognizant about what is required to be a successful researcher. The McNair Scholars Program strengthened my academic growth, especially in terms of expanding my understanding of different disciplines and through interactions with other academics.
My research experiences have been immensely valuable, and I understand the importance of encouraging other undergraduates to participate in research. I inform my department’s undergraduate advisor about research opportunities for interested students. I promote undergraduate research through organizations like Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Gamma Tau by giving presentations about the importance of undergraduate research, as well as assisting STEM students in their preparation for graduate school. In addition, Tau Beta Pi has an initiative called MindSET where engineers give back to K-12 students by formulating projects that capture the imagination of these students and engage them in STEM disciplines. At the PhD level, I plan to continue outreach initiatives by collaborating with the graduate school and diversity programs to challenge K-12 students to take the road less traveled to strengthen their academic and career pursuits.
My passion is aerospace engineering with an emphasis on advanced spacecraft propulsion systems. As Descartes’ philosophy embodies, my thoughts have driven me toward a new apex or goal. Through many interactions with engineers and scientists from the Kennedy Space Center, that apex has emerged in the form of a PhD specializing in advanced spacecraft propulsion. Doctoral studies will enable me to pursue high-quality research, as well as disseminate my knowledge about spacecraft propulsion to the public. Obtaining low cost access to space is a goal of both our nation as well as the world. Advanced spacecraft propulsion systems will assist with Low Earth Orbit (LEO) drag compensation, enhanced energy capabilities, lunar missions, and deep space missions. The University of Washington Aeronautics and Astronautics program can mold me into an expert in spacecraft propulsion. These research facilities would provide opportunities for me to acquire skill sets about plasma physics and fusion energy for space applications from a multitude of professors.
As I face difficult challenges ahead, I will need to draw upon past experiences.
As an undergraduate researcher, I acquired instrumentation skills under the guidance of a senior lab technician while constructing an experiment to investigate bubble dynamics of refrigerant R-134a in a vertical channel. Eventually, I performed independent research on bubble dynamics in a flow boiling system. One of the lessons I learned in conducting experiments is that we learn from failures. I collaborated with a post-doc to perform data analysis on bubble dynamics and to disseminate our work through conferences and journal papers. As I transitioned into my accelerated one year master’s program which is strengthening my background in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer, I was able to draw upon my past research experiences to avoid known pitfalls and contribute valuable research to the scientific community.
By earning a PhD in aerospace engineering specializing in spacecraft propulsion, I will be ready to tackle significant problems in the globally competitive 21st century. I want to contribute to the development of new space propulsion systems to pave the way for fellow scientists to explore and conduct research. An NSF Graduate Fellowship would enable me to pursue this research as well as fulfill my dream of obtaining a PhD in aerospace engineering. Ultimately, my broader impact will include research within academia and industry, while continuing my outreach efforts to increase the involvement of underrepresented and disadvantaged students in STEM disciplines.
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The University of Washington McNair Scholars Program is a TRIO Program funded by the United States Department of Education, and the University of Washington, and the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity(OMAD).