The floor in Qiana Curcuru’s dorm room is always clean, thanks to the robotic vacuum cleaner she got when she began a professional co-op at iRobot her sophomore year.
“My roommates think it’s great,” she laughs.
Curcuru is an honors mechanical engineering major with a minor in business administration for engineers who has created and earned all kinds of research and hands-on learning opportunities for herself at UMass Lowell – and beyond.
She received a Co-op Scholarship to work with Computer Science Prof. Fred Martin on his iSense project the summer after her freshman year. She helped him develop apps for computer tablets that middle-school students could use to collect, analyze and visualize data on field trips at the Tsongas Industrial History Center.
At iRobot the spring of her sophomore year, she was challenged to design and build a friction test track for prototypes of the next generation of Braava Jets, the company’s floor-mopping robots. She made the track with surfaces from tile to hardwood, ran tests and then gathered data on each prototype’s ability to power itself across different types of flooring without slipping and sliding.
“My co-op at iRobot was a great experience,” Curcuru says. “I like working with my hands and the physical aspects of engineering.”
Immediately afterward, she spent the summer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, teaching the basics of radar engineering to high school students. She got the job through Jamal Grant ’15, who works at MIT Lincoln Lab and had reached out to student groups, including the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), to find teaching assistants.
“I love teaching, so I jumped on that,” says Curcuru, who has been involved with SWE since freshman year and is now the campus chapter’s president.
Last summer, Curcuru became head teaching assistant for the Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers program and also interned part-time with another former UML student, David Scott, manager of Lincoln Lab’s Technology Office Innovation Laboratory. She worked on computerized signal processing for a new seismograph – and also helped fabricate parts for the prototype, using 3-D printers.
Now a senior, she just won the Toby and Larry Hodes Honors Fellowship to do research with Asst. Prof. Zhu Mao on using high-resolution video cameras to analyze the structural integrity of utility poles when hit by different objects with varying degrees of force. The research is her honors capstone project.
As a resident advisor in the first-year Commonwealth Honors Living-Learning Community and the recipient of multiple scholarships, Curcuru will graduate debt-free. And, thanks to all her research experiences, she plans to continue on for her master’s degree.
Meantime, she invests all her spare time in SWE, working with the other officers and alumna Cynthia Conde ’87, ’91, former chief information officer at Sanofi, to connect the group with more alumnae and corporate sponsors. Complementing that, Curcuru is taking a new honors seminar in Gender and Engineering with Asst. Prof. of Sociology Kacey Beddoes.
“I’m passionate about helping women engineers,” Curcuru says. “I’m learning about a lot of different issues that could affect me as a woman and a minority.”