At a Glance
Major(s): Mechanical Engineering
Activities: RAMP, SEED, Pi Tau Sigma
Why UML? “I really like that UML is like a living laboratory for sustainability."
Alanna Smith spent her undergraduate years doing research for professors who share her commitment to building a more sustainable future. She plans to continue this path while working on her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at UML.
“My main reason for choosing engineering is because I know engineers can have a really big impact on helping the environment,” she says. “There was a time where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career, so I thought about looking for something that I liked the most but I realized it’s not about what you like, but what bothers you the most.”
Smith, who received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in December 2022, was also the president of Pi Tau Sigma, the International Honor Society for Mechanical Engineers.
She became involved in campus sustainability efforts as a participant in the Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) program, which is offered to incoming first-year engineering students during the summer before they begin classes. Her RAMP mentor, Assoc. Dean Kavitha Chandra, connected Smith with Asst. Prof. Jasmina Burek. Under Burek’s direction, Smith got involved with a life cycle assessment project, which analyzes the life span of materials from their creation until they are no longer used.
“Since I found life cycle assessment, it has changed the way I think about sustainability, and it’s something that I want to research further and find ways to help,” she says.
Smith also served as a peer mentor in RAMP in the summer of 2022, leading students in their own life cycle assessment projects.
“It was a nice full-circle moment for me,” she says.
Smith continues to work with Burek on other projects.
The first, labeled the Hemp Biodigestor Project, aims to take residual hemp waste generated from the cannabidiol (CBD) production process and put it into an aerobic biodigester to produce biogas that can be used to augment the heating process.
Smith was chosen to present her findings on the project at the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technology 2022 Conference. Her talk won the oral presentation award.
Western Carolina University is collaborating with Smith and Burek on the project.
Smith’s work to make UML a more sustainable environment doesn’t end there. She won a $7,500 S.E.E.D (Sustainability Encouragement & Enrichment Development) Fund grant to grow a seven-layer permaculture design for edible plants in the backyard of the Centers for Women and Work on South Campus. She is hoping to break ground in spring 2023. The S.E.E.D Fund, started in 2017 by the Office of Sustainability, provides up to $10,000 in grants to projects that advance the university’s sustainability goals.
In October 2022, she attended the Society of Women Engineers' undergraduate poster competition in Chicago, presenting her idea for the food forest project. Her poster won third place.
“It was cool because I got to attend with other members from the society’s chapter at UML,” Smith says. The conference is the largest in the world for women engineers, and UML provides a stipend for the students to attend."
“It was really inspiring to see these other strong women and what they're doing in their careers and share stories,” she says.
“I really like that UML is like a living laboratory for sustainability,” Smith says. “I appreciate the dedication to sustainability and the community around that. So many people are interested in it. It’s refreshing.”