In a brightly lit materials lab in Votey Hall, senior civil engineering major Nate Dagesse mixes up a batch of cob, a clay-and-sand mixture that, when shaped into bricks and dried, is a building material similar to adobe. The cob mix Dagesse experiments with today was excavated from a site in Derby, Vermont, near his hometown of Newport. But he's also explored the potential of cob through fieldwork in Honduras, the sort of developing country where a new sustainable building material could play a crucial role.
An $8,000 Richard Barrett Scholarship funded Dagesse's summer study of cob, part of research being conducted by civil engineering faculty members Mandar Dewoolkar and Nancy Hayden. The scholarships provide engineering students with attractive experiences in pursuing funded research: articulating a problem, putting together a proposal for funding, and executing the work in an academically rigorous manner.
"I didn't even know what cob was when I started on this project — I thought I wanted to work on skyscrapers or something," Dagesse says. "Not everyone gets to do research like this, but the opportunity is here if you want it."
Richard Barrett, '66, founded the scholarship. A mechanical engineering student during his UVM days, Barrett credits a summer undergraduate internship as having a crucial role in launching his successful career and sought to create the same opportunity for others.
"There aren't many chances out there for undergraduates to do paid research," says Donna Rizzo, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering who oversees the Barrett Scholarship program at UVM. "And the mentoring experience they receive with faculty is incredibly valuable in helping students apply what they've learned in the classroom to all kinds of real-world problems."