Chemical engineering student explores research career through CoRPs program and wins award


By Tayte Miller

Deciding how to spend the summer is often a struggle for college students with seemingly endless opportunities to study abroad, intern, work at cooperatives, or pursue other unique programs. The pressing question for students is deciding which avenue will be most beneficial in advancing their careers and how that experience furthers their own development at school and in their lives.

For Taylor McCarthy, a junior chemical engineering student at the University of Dayton, the prospects were daunting. However, after choosing the school’s Integrative Science and Engineering Center’s Summer CoRPs (Collaborative Research Projects) Program, McCarthy could not be happier with her decision.

CoRPs is a 10-week program in which students conduct full-time research with two or three mentors from different areas of expertise. McCarthy worked with three faculty mentors: Kenya Crosson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering mechanics; Garry Crosson, associate professor of chemistry; and Erick Vasquez, assistant professor of chemical and materials engineering.

There were 10 students involved in CoRPs this summer, and the cohort would meet once a week for a workshop to share their findings and discuss technical skills. Her summer days mostly involved time in the lab performing experiments and observations as well as presenting or reporting updates to her mentors.

She worked most closely with Dr. Erick Vasquez’s research on electrospinning – a process used to produce nanofibers – in order to make a water filter designed to remove harmful contaminants. The research focused on the extraction and removal of a toxic chemical known as bisphenol S (BPS). McCarthy’s project used nanofibers and the organic polymer lignin because of the challenge presented by the incredibly small size of the BPS chemical molecule.

“Taylor kept a well-detailed record of her experiments and persevered through many initial failures that she encountered in her research,” says Vasquez. “She definitely has the needed tenacity and curiosity to become a great researcher.”

For McCarthy, there were many moments in which the research did not turn out quite as expected and she found herself right back at the beginning, what she described as a frustrating process. However, she feels as if this real-world experience changed how she sees research as she now knows it is about trying different things, learning what to do differently, and ultimately fostering a curious and open mind.

“Research is very rewarding because even when things don’t go as planned, you still learn from your failure, which brings you one step closer to success,” says McCarthy. “I connected with faculty across different departments, and I would say the CoRPs Program is a great opportunity to learn about the research side of the industry – it’s a fun and rewarding process.”

At the end of the program, McCarthy orally presented her research at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium. She was honored with the award of best oral presentation after a summer of dedication and hard work. The presentation showcased the skills McCarthy acquired throughout her summer journey and was a great end to a fulfilling experience.

Prior to her summer with CoRPs, McCarthy had not considered research as a career. However, after a wonderful experience last summer, her thoughts about research have changed, and she is now open to considering research as a potential career path.

There is no doubt that McCarthy’s success in her summer research will follow her throughout her academic career and in her future research. With a natural sense of curiosity and love for the sciences, it appears McCarthy has a bright future ahead.