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Featured Student

Alaina Dickason

CEMS Undergraduate Student Mixes It Up — Engineering, Swimming and Spanish!

Alaina Dickason"I truly love UVM!" says Alaina Dickason, undergraduate student majoring in civil engineering in the School of Engineering in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS). But four years ago, UVM was not Alaina's first choice. "When I graduated from high school, all I wanted to do was to get out of Vermont," said Alaina, "so I didn't even apply to UVM. I applied and was accepted at the University of Massachusetts. During my first semester, I realized I missed my home state."

Alaina ended up meeting with Profs. David Hemenway and Donna Rizzo during a weekend back in Vermont. "Dr. Hemenway suggested I transfer to UVM for my 2nd semester," said Alaina. "I was thrilled, I hadn't even considered that as a possibility — and my transfer request was approved! UVM had so much more to offer. UVM has given me what I need to thrive."

In her first semester at UVM, Alaina joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and within a year was its president. "SWE has given me a lot of opportunities to meet successful women engineers, especially through their regional and national conferences. It's inspiring to see so many successful women with leadership roles in technology."

Alaina's first taste of engineering success came from constructing a pasta bridge during high school. Her team's bridge took 1st place in the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences Engineers Week "Pasta Bridge Challenge" for middle and high school students when Alaina attended Mount Abraham Union HS. "I have always been fascinated by structures," said Alaina, "so engineering was a natural choice for me."

Broadening Her Horizons

Alaina has also pursued her passion for foreign language and swimming. "It's been a challenge to juggle it all: an exercise in time management! I fell in love with Spanish in 8th grade," said Alaina. Travel to Spain increased her enthrallment with the Spanish culture. As for being a varsity athlete on the UVM swim team, Alaina says, "Swimming is a big commitment, but it's important to me. That, and liberal arts courses, keep me sane. It's a lot! I know only a few other students who are engaged in similar activities and curriculum."

Alaina will graduate in May 2007 with a major in civil engineering and a minor in Spanish. Her electives have included Astronomy and the History of Jazz. "I wanted to take courses that both challenged and interested me, not just fill spots for the necessary credits," said Dickason.  Alaina is also a member of Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society) and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in November of 2006.

Domenico Grasso, Dean of CEMS since his appointment in 2004, has challenged students to realize the power of engineering thought by including liberal arts courses and focusing on service to humanity. "My goal for CEMS is to ensure that every engineering student obtains not only an engineering degree but also, in the spirit of our land-grant mission, a substantial liberal arts education. I want students to become the future leaders in our technological world," says Grasso.

Achieving Success

Alaina was one of four students in 2004 to receive $6500 from the Barrett Scholarships for her research proposal to investigate surface wetness in grape leaves, a major factor in predicting crop disease. Her research results will be published in a professional research journal.

"This is a truly noteworthy accomplishment for an undergraduate student," says Dr. Rizzo, her faculty advisor. (Dr. Rizzo, who also holds an MA in Art History from the University of Florence, Italy, can easily understand Alaina's passion for the liberal arts.) Richard Barrett, a UVM alumni, began funding Barrett Scholarships to facilitate undergraduate research experiences over and above research normally conducted in the context of courses taken for academic credit. Dr. Rizzo added, "Alaina has been incredible to work with — she has all the ingredients for success: drive, persistence, tenacity, and a genuine desire to improve the world through her research."

"Dr. Rizzo has been very helpful to me personally. Through my classes and research I see the world differently," said Alaina, "from cars to swimming pools. Cars remind me of friction and acceleration principles from physics; pools, of hydraulics. My research into grape leaf wetness could eliminate the need for so many pesticides now used to control crop disease."

Looking Forward

As for her future, Alaina says, "I want to stay in Vermont — I'd like to get some work experience. Once I've worked for a while, I plan to apply for graduate school. I regret not applying to UVM to begin with! I've learned just how much UVM has to offer."

As for her biggest ah-ha moment, Alaina says, "I understand why alumni want to give back to UVM — giving back to your alma mater was a concept that was lost to me before I came here!"

We're honored to have you at UVM, Alaina! It is students, faculty and staff that make UVM such a great place!