The College of Engineering recently announced three da Vinci scholars for 2010. At the same time, Tucson-based nonprofit Community Finance Corporation awarded $100,000 over 4 years to fund the da Vinci scholarship program.
The da Vinci Circle is the College of Engineering's donor society. Its patrons support faculty and students with gifts and contributions, and by funding fellowships and scholarships.
This year's da Vinci Scholars are civil engineering senior Lauren Case, materials science and engineering and optical sciences senior Alexander Miles, and engineering management senior Becky Witte. Each receives a $2,500 scholarship.
Lauren Case said she was first inspired to become an engineer by her father. "His practical and resourceful problem solving skills and willingness to lend a helping hand showed me how useful engineering is," she said. "This is how I formed my definition of an engineer as someone who practically solves problems for the betterment of individuals, communities, and societies all over the world."
Case has pursued that concept of engineers as improvers of society for most of her life. Since she was 11 years old, she has traveled to Mexico five times to build homes for destitute families. In 2006, she went to Mississippi to help with Hurricane Katrina relief. And this summer she spent two months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a missionary. "These experiences helped establish in me a strong sense of the importance of meeting basic human needs," Case said.
When she started at UA as a freshman in 2007, her goal was to become an engineer and work on design projects in underdeveloped and developing countries to provide clean water, housing, and electricity.
"Since then I have narrowed my major to specifically civil engineering and have focused on Engineers Without Borders and Navigators, a Christian campus ministry," Case said. "This major and these clubs connect with who I am and the vision I have for my professional career."
Case is the 2010 president of the UA student chapter of Engineers Without Borders and traveled to Africa to work on a project in the village of Mandoli in Mali centered on rainwater catchment and health education.
Case was nominated for the da Vinci scholarship by professor Kevin Lansey, head of the civil engineering and engineering mechanics department.
"Lauren displays exceptional problem solving skills and is always willing to help other students, and she is motivated to use engineering to improve the lives of everyday people," Lansey said. "Her drive and spirit inspire her classmates. Her intelligence, passion and creativity provide Lauren a strong basis for success and she will undoubtedly prove to be a leader in the civil engineering field."
Alex Miles first became interested in engineering in middle school when a guest speaker in a science class told him about space travel and the importance of physics. When he asked how he might get to work on space projects, he was told: Go to the best university you can find, never stop working hard, and never stop learning.
"I held on to that mantra and the belief that technical advancements were almost always driven by science and math," Miles said. "And that I'd need to work hard if I wanted to be a part of them."
Miles took up photography as a hobby in high school, and kept it up at UA. "I did well with math and science, and felt like I could use these skills to make a positive difference, to do things that wouldn't otherwise be possible," he said.
Miles sought out a more technical field to make use of his skills, which led him to the College of Optical Sciences. "During a College of Engineering open house event I visited the Department of Materials Science Engineering and was immediately hooked," he said.
He didn't want to abandon the program in optics, so decided to focus on the area of material optics. "This meant studying glass," Miles said, "which led to an internship doing research and development with Schott AG, a German firm that produces some of the highest quality scientific glass in the world."
Robert Erdmann, assistant professor in the materials science and engineering department, nominated Miles for the da Vinci scholarship.
"Alex is undertaking an extremely ambitious course of study in optics and materials," Erdmann said. "He has accrued significant laboratory experience and now, with his position on the NASA Space Grant, is also performing sophisticated numerical simulation of the solidification experiments we are carrying out aboard the International Space Station."
Erdmann described Miles as "universally admired by students and faculty alike, and a natural leader," and added: "Alex personally holds tutoring sessions for students in both thermodynamics and numerical methods courses. He embodies all the traits of a highly successful engineer: intelligence, integrity, dedication, and leadership."
Becky Witte has developed life goals that include pursuing a path that will lead to improving the lives of others. "Engineering is the right field for this because engineers not only design and build but also solve problems and make products more efficient," Witte said.
She knew engineering was for her after attending a summer engineering program at UA while in high school. "I had learned about the engineering management major and that degree appealed to me because I wanted to incorporate my communication and leadership skills into my future career," Witte said.
Witte is combining engineering management with a chemical engineering minor, and is interested in water quality and management. As an intern with Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative and a research assistant with the hydrology department, she became motivated to follow a career in hydrology. "The internship reinforced my commitment to preserve the environment for future generations," she said.
Witte's ambitions are shaped by her desire to promote social responsibility. As public outreach coordinator for Engineering Student Council she organized 90 volunteer hours for engineering students to help 200 middle school students learn about math and science. She was elected 2009 president of the Engineering Student Council and planned Engineers Week. Various engineering clubs participated in this weeklong set of events to highlight the accomplishments of engineering students.
Jane Hunter, associate director of the Engineering Management Program, nominated Witte for the Da Vinci scholarship. "Becky has been on outstanding member of our program from the start," said Hunter. "She uses her outstanding leadership skills to coordinate an array of activities that involve many students, faculty members and industry representatives."
Hunter points out that Witte regularly participates in volunteer activities and often takes a leadership role coordinating philanthropic activities and recruiting fellow students to participate in these important community service events. "Her enthusiasm is contagious and she finds ways to make significant contributions while ensuring that she and her peers have fun along the way," Hunter said.