Program Offers Research, Work Opportunities

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Jaclyn Solimine, a mechanical engineering major, researched methods for detecting damage in wind turbines as part of the Co-op Scholar program, which is offered to high-achieving students.

By Jill Gambon

Mechanical engineering major Jaclyn Solimine spent her summer applying principles she learned in freshman courses to investigate the use of acoustics to detect wind turbine damage. Problems with turbine blades can impact performance, so early detection of damage is key to reliability.

Working with a faculty mentor, Asst. Prof. Murat Inapolat, Solimine researched techniques for detecting damage, conducted experiments and documented her progress. In the process, she learned about engineering and research methods and got her first hands-on professional experience, all before starting her sophomore year.

“It was a great opportunity to learn and I got to meet a lot of graduate students and professors,” said Solimine, one of 104 rising sophomores who participated in this summer’s Co-op Scholar program, which places high-achieving students in jobs both on and off campus.

The students, who were offered spots in the program before they started their freshman year, earned money while getting professional experience in their chosen disciplines. Students worked in teams or individually. They researched topics ranging from the packaging materials of soldiers’ rations to the use of robots in treating autism.

“I developed hard skills with programming languages like HTML, CSS [Cascading Style Sheets] and JavaScript, and I also got to know more about Linux,” said Tyler Puleo, a dual computer science and electrical engineering major who researched development of mobile applications for a data visualization project. “It was a great introduction to an actual work experience. I had high expectations for the  Co-op Scholar program and it was even better than I expected.”

Puleo worked with Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin of the Computer Science department on his iSense initiative, an Internet-based platform designed for data collection in middle and high school science classes.

Puleo and the other students presented posters of their work at an Aug. 7 event that was attended by professors, administrators and family members. In all, the students worked on 60 different projects. 

“A year ago, most of you had just graduated high school – did you ever think you’d be doing this kind of research? The quality of the experiences you had and the work you are doing is amazing,” Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney told the students at a lunch following the poster session.

Nursing student Katherine Gibbons said she gained invaluable experience through her work at the Lowell Community Health Center targeting teen pregnancies. 

“I loved working directly with patients and working with my professor,” said Gibbons, whose faculty mentor was Assoc. Prof. Ainat Koren.

The Co-op Scholar program was launched in 2011 with a small pilot group of engineering students, and has since grown to include students in all schools. Students must sign a learning contract and have a faculty mentor to participate. They can work the summer following their freshman year or during the school year when they are sophomores.