One of the main advantages of MSE over other engineering disciplines is the size, which makes it an extremely supportive and tight-knit community. Materials... is a family, and I believe that’s what makes it different and better than all others!

We chatted with Thomas to learn more about his experience in the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) undergrad program, and to find out why he chose the University of Maryland for his studies.

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

Originally when I was considering the University of Maryland (UMD), I thought I would pursue a degree in chemical engineering and was drawn to the school because of the prestige of the engineering program and proximity to Washington D.C. Not only would UMD provide me with the skills and education necessary to be an effective engineer, but the area has ample job, internship and research opportunities. Due to UMD’s location, I have been able to begin my research at the Navy Research Lab while simultaneously earning my degree during the semester, which is an invaluable experience that would be impossible at most universities.

How did you learn about MSE, and why did you decide to major in it?

I first arrived at UMD through the SEEDs First Year Student Experience (FYSE) in July 2015. During the three-week program I took courses in math, basic mechanics and Excel/MATLAB. In addition to the courses, I attended seminars led by University professors as well as an engineering fair. During the engineering fair I went to the MSE table, where I was introduced to MSE by current students through tours of the labs and a discussion of the program. These conversations gave me a much clearer understanding of what MSE really was, and as a student who loved both physics and chemistry, it seemed like a great fit.

After the summer program, I started at Maryland as a student in the Letters and Sciences Program. I reached out to several engineering departments to work out a possible degree plan, and MSE immediately agreed to help me. The department was friendly, helpful and clearly very passionate about Materials Science and Engineering. This warm welcome, combined with my previous discussions with students, let me know I was in the right place.

Have you conducted any on- or off-campus research?

From January 2016 to May 2017 I worked on campus in the Laboratory for Plasma Processing of Materials directed by Dr. Gottlieb Oehrlein. After returning from my summer internship at Bell Helicopter, I began working at the Naval Research Laboratory as a SSEP student in the Materials Synthesis and Processes Section of Chemistry Division. My work focuses on phase change materials for thermal energy storage applications and the development of novel polymeric materials.

How has your research affected your undergraduate experience or plans for the future?

Originally, I planned on completing my bachelors’ degree and finding job immediately upon graduation. However, my research experience has made it clear that there is still a lot that I would like to learn. As a result, I have decided to peruse the 5 year combined B.S/M.S degree offered by the department. The new path came about entirely because of my research and the people I have met in the process, who have always been willing to share their own experiences and advise.

What has been your favorite class, and why?

So far, my favorite class has been Radiation Effects of Materials taught by Dr. Tim Koeth. I enjoyed this class because the subject matter was both new to me and incredibly interesting. Dr. Koeth was passionate about the subject and extremely knowledgeable. His lectures, combined with his demonstrations, did a great job of both explaining and showing the concepts to the students. He even brought in excellent guest lecturers. Overall, this class featured interesting material taught in an interesting way, and that’s all you can really hope for out of any class.

What's the best piece of advice you would give to another student, especially one thinking of majoring in MSE?

I think the one of the main reasons I have had such a positive experience in MSE and selected it as a major was my interaction with upper classmen. By going to different department presentations and spending time in the lounge, I discovered my passion for the major. Additionally, by talking to others and spending time in the MSE lounge, I have developed friendships that make classes more enjoyable, have been given practical advice about different classes, and have effectively learned how to collaborate with others on different projects.

So, my best piece of advice for any student in or considering majoring in MSE would be to reach out to current MSE students and spend time in the MSE lounge. The upperclassmen are friendly, willing to help with classes, and provide resources. There is even a student organization dedicated to the mentoring of underclassmen. One of the main advantages of MSE over other engineering disciplines is the size, which makes it an extremely supportive and tight-knit community. Materials, more than any other major, is a family, and I believe that’s what makes us different, and better than all others.

What do you do outside of class and the lab?

Although a very large amount of my time is spent on classes and my research, in my free time, I like to spend time with friends. One of the things I enjoy doing most with my friends is spending time playing board games at Board and Brew. It’s a nice break from the class work and is a way to relax with a little friendly competition. I’ve also been making an attempt to catch up on my long reading list, which currently includes the works of Philip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood and Isaac Asimov.

What would you like to do after graduation?

After I have completed my bachelor’s degree, I plan on continuing my education and pursuing a master’s degree. Although I do not know exactly what I would like to specifically do over the course of my career, I know I want to work in the defense industry. I grew up around people who served in the military, and have many connections to those who currently serve. I want to use my skillset as an engineer to make a difference in the lives of these people, and ensure that their missions are completed as efficiently and safely as possible. 

Thomas is set to graduate in May, 2019.