MSE Undergraduate Student Profile: Stephen Kitt

stephen kitt
Stephen Kitt (B.S. '10). During his time so far at the Clark School, he took second place in the ENES 100 hovercraft competition and has been on the Dean's list twice.

We chatted with Stephen to learn more about his experiences in the undergraduate program in materials science and engineering, and to find out why he chose the University of Maryland for his studies.

"One of the best things you can do is participate in undergraduate research. It gives you valuable skills you won't get in any class, and future employers realize this."

Materials Science and Engineering Undergraduate Student Stephen Kitt

Why did you choose to study at the University of Maryland?

I grew up in Baltimore, so Maryland was a natural choice for me. In high school, as I began studying physics and engineering. I decided that engineering was the best academic route, and I began doing research on schools with good engineering programs. The University of Maryland is one of the country's top engineering schools, so I was easily drawn here. I had visited the campus several times and found it to be very welcoming. Also, rooting for the Terps since I was young helped push my decision!

Why did you decide to major in Materials Science and Engineering?

To be honest, I had never heard of materials science and engineering before I came to Maryland. I came in as an undecided engineering major, and I had no idea which discipline to choose. All I knew was that I was very curious about the nature of the universe, matter, and all of the most fundamental laws of physics—things like why certain materials are certain colors, or how we are able to make powerful computers as small as laptops.

However, I didn't want to just learn and theorize about these things—I knew that I also wanted to apply them to new technologies. After taking an intro to nanotechnology course [ENMA 181], I knew that materials science and engineering could give me the skills I needed to do this in my career. It combines physics and chemistry in such a way that you learn how the chemistry of an object will affect its physical properties. Now I know exactly why materials have certain colors, and even more so how to tailor new materials to have specific colors.

What's been the best thing about your academic experience here so far?

The amount of teamwork and interaction between the students in my classes has been the best thing about my academic experience so far. From working together to build a hovercraft to just working on some homework sets together, these opportunities have given me a definite sense of how working with a professional group of engineers will actually feel. It's good to know that you can rely on your peers to help with projects and work, because after all, we are the future of engineering.

What has been your favorite class, and why?

My favorite class has probably been Physics of Solid Materials (ENMA460) because it was the first time we were actually taught at the most fundamental level how electronic devices work. We learned the quantum mechanical reasons silicon is the preferred material for computer chips, as well as other interesting physical phenomena such as tunneling. However, the class was also very challenging. There is a lot of material presented very quickly, and if a student can't follow closely, it's easy to get lost. Also, concepts like quantum mechanics can be daunting to students who have not learned about them previously. That being said, if a student puts in the work and regularly studies with classmates, this is a very rewarding and intellectually stimulating course.

Have you worked on any research projects?

I had a summer internship at the Naval Research Lab in [Washington] D.C. where I studied the properties of graphene grown from silicon carbide wafers.

Recently I started working for Dr. [Ichiro] Takeuchi. We've been researching the magnetic and microwave properties of a ferromagnetic material using a Ferromagnetic Resonator (FMR) machine. It's a technique that gives us information about the electron spins and spin waves of sample materials. These factors are important in selecting materials for particular purposes.

What's been the best thing about living in the Washington, D.C. area?

The amount of events held in the D.C. area is staggering. From concerts to conventions to rallies, there's always something fun to do. And of course there are also the tourist locations, like the monuments and museums. The amount of diversity of people in the area—including students at Maryland—is also a very positive thing about living here.

What do you recommend undergraduates do or get involved in to have the best experience here?

The best thing to do here regardless of major is to find an academic group or club that shares your interests. That way you'll meet people in your major, and from there can easily set up work or study groups for your classes. It also builds relationships with people that turn into great networking opportunities after graduation. Besides these, there are many other groups to think about—professional, social, and recreational ones.

For engineering majors, one of the best things you can do is participate in undergraduate research. This gives you valuable skills you won't get in any class, and future employers realize this—they take more interest in applicants with academic research experience. Plus, you can get paid!

What would you like to do after graduating?

Unlike a lot Materials Science and Engineering students, I plan to work right after graduation. Graduate school is very important, but for me, I think taking a few years to work in the field will help me if and when I eventually do come back to school. Now the only question is—where to work?

Stephen Kitt received his B.S. in May 2010. He currently works at the U.S. Patent Office.