Interview with an Engineering major student

Posted 12 March 2018

Christine Gatto

Last week we talked to Christine Gatto, a JMU student studying Engineering, about her major, why she decided to study Engineering, and what projects she has worked on.

1. What made you choose James Madison University to study Engineering?

I chose JMU because I did not know the type of engineering I wanted to focus on. JMU's program gives you exposure to many disciplines within engineering.

2. What made you choose Engineering and, specifically, the kind of engineering you are studying?

I am particularly interested in problems with the environment, which my capstone project* is on. I will likely focus on renewable energy or mechanics when I graduate.

3. Can you describe the project that you are working on?

My capstone project is the Waste-management Education Research Consortium (WERC) environmental design competition. It is an annual contest held at New Mexico State University. There are several tasks within the competition that teams can choose to address. I am working on task 1 "Sulfate Removal from Mine Impacted Waters". Within the tasks there are also various tracks. I am working on track one which is industry need. The sponsor for this part of the competition is Freeport MacMoran, a large mining company. Our team has decided to do a one step process in order to remove sulfate. We will be using chemical precipitation with barium in order to remove sulfate. The system that we are designing is a clarifier.

4. Why do you think it is important to study this?

I think this is important because the problem associated with sulfate in mine impacted waters is called Acid Mine Drainage, which has various negative environmental impacts.

5. How can your project make this world a better place?

This project aims to reuse this mine impacted water for drinking purposes that are acceptable to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. This is important because according to the United Nations, water scarcity is already an existing problem that will only worsen with time.

6. What are your professional dreams and aspirations once you finish your program at JMU?

I want to better the future of our planet via improving understanding and usage of renewable energy.

7. What tools and resources has JMU offered you in order to make these aspirations come true?

I think the structure at JMU itself will make me an asset to my jobs in the future. I have a lot of background knowledge and understanding of numerous topics from circuits, to material sciences, to thermodynamics. Additionally the size of the program is rather small. My class is around 80 students, which has not only helped me get very close with my peers but with the faculty as well. As a result of this I have been offered two research experiences with two of my professors. One topic is multi scale mechanics, where I work on understanding a cell's ability to move through the ECM via fiber alignment. The second topic is material sciences, where I work on understanding the effect of cold work on a given low carbon steel. I am looking at the effect on the steels mechanical properties (strength & hardness) and its microstructure (grain elongation).

8. What professor has had the biggest impact on your growth at JMU and why?

The professor that has had the biggest impact on my growth at JMU is Dr. Callie Miller. She is the professor I do the multi scale research for. Dr. Miller has had the biggest impact on me because she not only cares about my success at JMU but my success after as well. She has provided me with great advice over the last year that has helped me think about what I want to do after JMU. She has also proposed ways to help me get there. She has offered to reach out to some of her contacts at other universities for summer research opportunities for my entire research group.

9. What has been your favorite class at JMU so far and why?

My favorite class at JMU so far has been Engineering Design 2. We designed a bike for Elena Handy, a 11 year old girl with cerebral palsy. I liked this class because we got to interact with the client (Elena’s mom) and the user (Elena) in order to come up with our own specifications and design requirements. At the end of the semester Elena was presented with all the bikes and got to try them all out. Then over the summer a few students worked to create the perfected version of the bikes she liked the best, which the engineering department gave to her in September.

10. Have you interacted with international students at JMU? Why do you think it is helpful to study with students from other countries and backgrounds?

I have learned that different backgrounds and perspectives are very beneficial to coming up with ideas and different ways of looking at problems. Additionally, it prevents group think, which is a serious problem when designing. Group think is basically when everyone agrees with each other and there is no constructive conflict. Diversity of background also contributes to diversity of thought.


*Note: The capstone project is the culminating experience of your academic career. The capstone project represents an opportunity to conduct research or engage in a creative endeavor in which you work independently, with faculty guidance, to synthesize and share a final product or handiwork related to a topic and skill sets of your own choosing.