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Student Research at Parks College

At Saint Louis University’s Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, students enrolled in our engineering programs and aviation studies have the opportunity to team up with professors in order to gets hands-on experience applying the concepts they have been learning in the classroom.

Enrolling in SLU’s Parks College can be a huge benefit for students who want to participate in innovative work that is often featured in industry publications.

Graduate Student Research

Graduate students at Parks College conduct innovative research inside and outside the classroom. Graduate-level coursework involves hands-on experiences that enable our students to put their knowledge into practice. Students conducting thesis and dissertation research are building projects that often have immediate and practical real-life applications.

See Current Graduate Students' Projects 

Undergraduate Student Research

Our undergraduate students have opportunities to work on research through senior design projects and faculty research labs. Undergraduates interested in joining a lab should contact the individual faculty who are conducting research in their area of interest. Undergraduate students who participate in research are more likely to receive favorable admissions decisions for graduate schools, and are more likely to be offered a funded position to stay on at Parks as a graduate student.

Read the below profiles on some of our undergraduates conducting research.

Crystal Bell | Civil Engineering
Crystal Bell pictureCrystal Bell

Hometown: Germantown, WI

Program: B.S. in Civil Engineering
Expected Graduation: 2020

Lab: Environmental Engineering Lab
Faculty Supervising: Craig Adams, Ph.D.

Research: Crystal is pleased that her research in drinking water is meaningful and significant. She and her lab mates are experimenting with removing arsenic from water using porous clay self-manufactured pots. Underground arsenic deposits are scattered across the world, so many people are affected by this research. Additionally, she is researching the bacterial quality in point-of-use filters used in developing countries. This, too, is a topic she believes in fully, especially since she has interacted first-hand with people who do not have access to clean safe drinking water through Parks sponsored trips to Belize and other locations.

Crystal says: "I chose Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology after I met the faculty. Before I was even a student  professors took time to speak with me and explore ideas pertaining to  my future college experience and career after school. As a current student I have felt the support even more intensely. They know  and care who I am. They are willing to talk about classwork, internship experiences, career goals, and how to find success in each of these complex steps. I knew Parks was small and emerging. Our professors invest in us and the opportunities I have at Parks are hardly seen in other colleges across the nation, and it’s only getting better. This college has given me a fabulous base to be able to go out and further my career. We are encouraged to develop the whole person; not only are we developing technical problem-solving skills, but we  are encouraged to focus on incorporating our passions and understanding how our interactions impact the greater community."

Evan Capelle | Biomedical Engineering
Evan Capelle picEvan Capelle

Hometown: Highland, IL

Program: B.S. in Biomedical Engineering, Minor in Mechanical Engineering
Expected Graduation: 2021

Faculty Supervising: Jenna Gorlewicz, Ph.D.

Research: Evan is working on adding a robotic arm to a telepresence robot. Telepresence robots are used in offices, hospitals, school districts, and business warehouses to provide immediate video and audio connection to someone working remotely, allowing communication without the time, money, and energy requirements of travel. Adding an arm to the robot enables more advanced social interaction and communication through hand gestures and contact interactions such as handshakes. Specifically, Evan is designing and testing a glove with multiple sensors to be worn during user studies. This glove will provide us with useful data to program the robotic arm to perform more humanlike movements.

Evan says: "Conducting research in the CHROME Lab has provided me with the opportunity to work alongside graduates and other undergraduates with a variety of skillsets, experiences, and interests. These connections have given me well-rounded interests and clarity about my desired career path. Through this research experience, I have learned to combine the knowledge and skills learned in SLU classes with the technical skills learned on my own. I can now effectively apply a variety of skills and knowledge to the research project, and I will be able to translate that ability to any future project. After my undergraduate degree, I hope to secure a position with a large medical device company such as Stryker or Medtronic to have access to abundant resources for designing devices such as artificial joints, surgical tools, and prostheses."

Connor Highlander | Aerospace Engineering
Connor Highlander pictureConnor Highlander

Hometown: Maryville, IL

Program: B.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Expected Graduation: 2020

Lab: Space Systems Research Lab
Faculty Supervising: Michael Swartwout, Ph.D.

Research: Connor is a part of  the Space Systems Research Lab at SLU - a lab that designs, builds, and operates small, space-bound satellites from their campus in St. Louis. He is the head of the integration and testing program for the cube-satellite mission Argus-02 which was delivered in August in Houston and will be launched to the international space station on NG-12 in October and begin operations in January 2019.  The satellite will monitor how solar radiation effects computer memory and will feature advanced software which can determine how valuable different pictures taken from an onboard camera are for future research.

Connor says: "I remember coming in to McDonnell Douglas Hall as a prospective student and seeing a satellite through a big window. That seemed so far beyond the realm of possibility for a student to be a part of; only NASA gets to do cool things like that. Over three years later, I have plugged in all the wires and sensors on my own spacecraft. The most fulfilling part of my education has come from my time in the lab applying what I learned and seeing concept take form in my hands. I'm very grateful to have had this opportunity so early in my education! I plan to pursue jobs in the space industry, specifically small satellites. I'm interested in assembly, integration, and testing within aerospace engineering, but am also interested in thermal management, system level engineering, and mission operations. One day I hope to get a master's in aerospace or electrical engineering as well. I look forward to living a satisfying and balanced life supporting his family and community all while influencing the pioneering fields of engineering and science."

Sergio Penalba | Aerospace Engineering
Sergio Penalba pictureSergio Penalba

Hometown: Madrid, Spain

Program: B.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Expected Graduation: 2020

Lab: Space Systems Research Lab
Faculty Supervising: Michael Swartwout, Ph.D.

Research: The main mission of our spacecraft, Argus-2, is to characterize the effects of radiation in data storage in Low Earth Orbit. While the radiation from the Sun in this region is relatively low compared to that further out from Earth, we know it can easily damage data storage units by causing what is called a bit flip. Argus-2 will serve as a stepping stone for our next mission, DORRE. DORRE’s mission is to demonstrate autonomous event detection, such as thunderstorms, auroras or other objects such as a spacecraft or the Moon! Through a combination of spacecraft and ground stations, DORRE will also attempt to create relations between these different event detections.

Sergio says: "When I first started, I did not think I would be working on a spacecraft, let alone sending something to space, until a decade working in the industry. SSRL has provided me with valuable experience and insight into space missions. Doing research during my undergraduate studies has been a game-changer. Honestly, this is the coolest thing I have ever done to date. Once I graduate, I plan to pursue a Masters, and then a PhD, in something space related, like orbital mechanics, artificial gravity, or astrophysics. My dream is to become an astronaut and do research in a microgravity environment, or to work towards a sustainable and accessible multiplanetary society. I want to help humanity with my work, and hopefully help overcome one of the many challenges that we face nowadays, such as climate change or the societal division between different regions."

Maggi Richard | Mechanical Engineering
Maggi Richard pictureMaggi Richard

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Program: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering
Expected Graduation: 2021

Faculty Supervising: Jenna Gorlewicz, Ph.D.

Research: Maggi has been assisting on a study to design touchscreen graphics for blind and visually impaired individuals. Primarily, she assists with multiple user studies for both local communities and nation-wide conferences. The studies test how individuals gather information and how using a touchscreen compares to using the traditional embossed graphic. Embossed graphics are expensive, time consuming to make, and difficult to transport in large quantities, so they are developing a system of graphics that transmit information using vibrations and audio feedback. As a secondary companion project, Maggi has also been developing a case for the standard Samsung tablet they use to display the graphics. The case is outfitted with a Braille grid system to help with spatial awareness and allow users keep track of important points on the screen. 

Maggi says: "I’m thrilled to be doing research! Especially because I can see it helping real people every time we do a user study. Just by being in the lab, I’ve learned so much more than I could have in a classroom. Nothing is more satisfying than putting newfound knowledge into practice. For example, I learned how to use CAD software freshman year, but using it to build something from scratch, 3D print it and continuously develop your design and see it used by the intended demographic is an incredibly empowering experience. I’m so grateful for the opportunities and challenges research has afforded me. After graduation, I hope to work for an engineering consulting firm. Hopefully my job will allow me to travel, because I love meeting people who are different from myself and learning from them."

Jonathan Williams | Mechanical Engineering
Jonathan Williams pictureJonathan Williams

Hometown: Florissant, MO

Program: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering
Expected Graduation: 2020

Lab: AirCRAFT Lab
Faculty Supervising: Srikanth Gururajan, Ph.D.

Research: Many of the regulatory laws posed by the FAA require that drones remain within the line of sight of the pilot. One of the primary goals of Jonathan's research is to understand the threat of hail against unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). An understanding of the effects of hail damage on a drone midflight will help counter a loss of aircraft and damage to its surroundings in the event of a failure. A better understanding of hail damage might loosen the line of sight regulations and further progress the drone industry.
His research involves shooting ice spheres out of a high-pressure, pneumatic potato cannon onto wing-sections, thus simulating hail. These hail-damaged wing-sections are then put in a wind tunnel to further understand how the aircraft would perform under these circumstances. This data can be analyzed to help UAVs perform better in a hailstorm.

Jonathan says: "For me, undergraduate research is a fantastic way to apply what I learned in the classroom to practical applications in a hands-on manner. Research like this means that the problem at hand has not been solved yet and you are, at times, venturing into the unknown. Being an undergraduate student doing this type of research is a great way to get experience solving real problems with the help of a knowledgeable professor. Rather than using equations or known methods to overcome challenges, most of the problems faced are solved by intuition, failure, and persistence.  I plan on applying for a graduate program in mechanical engineering. I am grateful for the experiences I had with undergraduate research at SLU as many of the skills I learned could not be taught anywhere else."