Richard Barrett Scholar Program gives UVM students hands-on engineering experience and faculty collaboration

“What I Did On My Summer Vacation” has never seen material like this. “Nanotechnology,” “Combined hormonal contraceptives,” “Augmented reality sandboxes,” “Wireless sensors in Burlington’s Cambrian Rise neighborhood,” “Extracting and quantifying the organic composition of biodiesel exhaust particulate matter,” are the titles of the summer projects undertaken by the current cohort of Richard Barrett Scholars.  The 5-7 Barrett scholars, chosen from a pool of ~25 applicants, have the opportunity to develop faculty relationships while pursuing high-level research in a wide variety of engineering fields.

Created by successful entrepreneur Richard Barrett, ’66, the eponymous program is a unique blend of learning, collaborating and working. “This program allows students to get full time research experience during the summer,” says Lauren Petrie, MS, Coordinator of the CEMS Career Readiness Program and the director of the Richard Barrett Scholarships (RBS).

Throughout the summer, students attend a series of workshops to share research, disclose challenges and build a toolbox of a skills including presentation skills. For the final workshop, they dress professionally and deliver a 15-minute presentation on what they accomplished throughout the summer.

“Research is more than just taking your engineering skills outside the classroom,” says Bella Barbera, ‘21 a Barrett Scholar who worked with Dr. Frederic Sansoz on experimenting with silver nanowire networks. “It’s about exploring the incredibly diverse scientific world and discovering what inspires you.”

What inspired fellow Barrett Scholar Frances Eisinger ‘19 was biodiesel, and she partnered with Dr. Britt Holmén. “I’m very interested in air quality and renewable energies, and having the opportunity to research them has been incredible,” says Eisinger. “Research can be slow going and doesn’t always go as expected, but I know that I am working toward something that will hopefully have a widespread positive impact one day.”

As Petrie points out, the Barrett Scholar program is positively impacting the world in profound ways, as employers and grad schools highly value the skills accumulated during the experience. One past scholar practiced field work at Vermont’s Lake Iroquois — and is now working with the Peace Corps in Panama. Another is interning with a top engineering firm in Williston, VT. Prestigious jobs stem from this hands-on research, faculty collaboration and real-world practice. “The more opportunities we’re building in the college,” she says, “the more we’re seeing students, after sophomore year, getting into these really high profile external internship experiences.”

For Sierra McConnell ‘19, working with faculty advisor Dr. Rachael Oldinski allowed her to study aloe vera as a sustainable delivery method for birth control and receive the type of feedback that can craft a career. After reaching out to a CEO of a pharmaceutical company to ask about his work, and sending along her résumé, McConnell heard back in four hours. “This scholarship is a wonderful way to test your durability, resourcefulness and creativity as an engineer,” she says.

Plenty of people play in the sand during the summer, but only a few get to play with an augmented reality sandbox, which is how Eliza Jobin-Davis ‘19 focused her Barrett Scholar work. This tool allows engineers to visualize watershed hydrology and surface topography, and she partnered with Dr. Mandar Dewoolkar to share them. “The Sandbox is such an engaging and entertaining device to play with and teach with,” she says, “so having others recognize that was fulfilling.”

“All of the RBS scholars worked very independently on some very advanced projects,” says Benjamin Schorn ‘20, who teamed up with AJ Rossman to help deploy a wireless sensor network in the new Cambrian Rise neighborhood with the objective of mitigating environmental impact. “The scholarship is a great way to further professional development while really increasing technical engineering skills. It’s also a great way to build self confidence.”


Sarah Tuff Dunn