Kourtney Rutkowski is majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Psychology. She will graduate with her B.S. in May, 2018, and in 2019 she will complete her M.S. as part of the accelerated B.S./M.S. program in Mechanical Engineering. She is also a member of the Honors College, a CWIT Scholar, a Grand Challenges Scholar, and a member of Tau Beta Pi. She is currently conducting research at the Universidade do Porto in Portugal, as the first UMBC student to study in the UMBC/Porto exchange program.
What are your research interests? I am interested in materials, composites, and additive manufacturing with metals and thermoplastics. This research is applicable for many industries, including the aeronautical, energy, defense, and automotive industries.
Describe your project: My current research project is determining a manufacturing strategy for the production of metal/polymer composite sheets. Currently, I am looking at which types of surface treatments are needed to best adhere the polymer, a thermoplastic prepreg, to sheet metal. The conditions in which the prepreg is applied and cured must also be tested, and material characterization will be performed to determine which process would be optimal for production purposes. The reason that this is important is that polymer/metal composite such as these are low in weight but are high enough in strength to replace heavier materials, especially in the transportation industries to improve safety and fuel economy. When I return from Porto, I will join the research team in Dr. Marcus Zupan’s lab, focusing on the development of tools and methodologies for qualifying additively manufactured parts. This research is in collaboration with JHUAPL and PAX River, and can improve the additive manufacturing technologies and part quality.
Who are your mentors and why did you choose them? I work withProfessors Abel Santos and António Torres Marques at the Universidade do Porto. Professor Abel teaches the Global Engineering class on the Porto side, allowing me to meet him from when I took the class in the Fall 2016 semester at UMBC. Professor Torres Marques was introduced to me by Dr. Zupan and is my main research advisor in Porto. Their dedication to the process, helping me get prepared to come to Porto, and helping with the bureaucracy once I arrived has been invaluable. They also introduced me to their labs and graduate students, and have been very helpful in regards to questions involving my research project.
How did you become interested in this project? As an avid outdoorswoman, I’m passionate about finding solutions for the conservation and preservation of our natural resources and mitigating for and adapting to climate change. This led to an interest in renewable energy sources, and using my skills as an engineer to solve problems related to making renewables for more efficient and economical manufacturing. Through the Global Engineering course, I learned about different international cultures and made some good friends. I also studied abroad in Germany in January and took a course in renewable energy sources in Kassel, Germany. I wanted to study abroad in Porto and open the gate as the first student in the UMBC/Porto collaboration. I worked with Dr. Zupan and Dr. Moreira to complete an application to the Mobile 2+ Erasmus scholarship and was awarded a living stipend, airfare, health insurance, access to cultural events, and opportunities to interact with students from around the world, as well as the engineering faculty from U.Porto.
What has been the most unexpected thing about your experience abroad? I love my time here in Portugal but I have definitely had some mishaps! My second week in Porto a homeless woman stole my jacket at a café, and I still see her wearing it around the downtown area. My first time traveling outside of Porto, I got on the wrong train coming back from Lisbon and got kicked off at a train station in the middle of nowhere because I didn’t have enough cash to pay to the fare. Most recently, I had my mom send me some winter clothes which got held up in the Portuguese customs for a month, but luckily my flatmate lent me some for my travels further North.
What has been the most rewarding part? One of the best things was finally meeting my friends in person were from Porto and I had met through the UMBC Global Engineering course. In that course, students from around the world work in teams on theoretical solutions for global issues. Students interact via Skype and WhatsApp, and for some students, like myself, there were some strong friendships formed across the ocean. Meeting those friends who I had made, as well as making new friends here who are from across the world, has allowed me to learn about a variety of cultures and open my mind more and more every day. Even better, day by day I find myself feeling like a local here in Porto, and know that it will always be a second home for me.
What will you do next with your research? I’m hoping to bring back what I’m learning to Dr. Zupan’s lab and use my experiences as a basis to start my thesis research, which I hope to publish. I will present on my Porto experience and the research I conducted there at URCAD, in April.
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? Be flexible and open minded. Don’t be afraid to take risks- say yes to things and take opportunities as they come. Ask for help- make connections and friends wherever you go. Don’t get locked into graduation dates. Studying abroad won’t take any extra time- you can combine it with Master’s work or do it over the summer or winter, so it won’t take time out of your academic schedule, even in a major with successive classes like engineering! If for some reason it does take extra time, the experience to go abroad is more valuable than graduating in four years. Money is not an issue- there are so many ways to get it paid for and Portugal is really cheap in terms of the cost of living. My rent is 250 euros a month and includes utilities! No one looks back and regrets studying abroad and says, “I’m glad I didn’t do that so that I could graduate on time.”
What else are you involved in on campus? Besides the scholar’s programs and honors organizations that I am involved in, I am also involved with numerous other things on campus. I am an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow for the Mechanical Engineering department, which besides simply teaching the students, has also allowed me to meet and mentor the students in the years below me. I also try to work through my scholar’s program, CWIT to be a role model for the young women in engineering who are in the cohorts after me. I volunteer with an organization that holds its state competition here at UMBC named First Lego League (FLL). FLL is STEM competition for elementary and middle school students that helps to introduce them to topics such as engineering, and seeing the passion and intelligence of these students continuously encourages me in the promotion of STEM and fills me with hope for the next generation of engineers. Last but not least, I am a member of UMBC Cru and the UMBC Rock Climbing Club.
Career goals? After completing my M.S., I plan on obtaining a Ph.D. in environmental engineering. I hope to use my education to pursue a career that can create renewable energy solutions to help the environment, and people, in a large-scale way. After a while in industry, I plan on following the path of some of my mentors and becoming a college professor.
Want to know more about research abroad in Porto and other countries? Contact Dr. April Householder at firstname.lastname@example.org