Here in materials science and engineering, we have few better examples of program success than 2014 graduate Kao Zoua Yang, materials science major with a mathematics emphasis. Kao came to this program as a computer science major looking to make a change within STEM, and Dr. Doug Dunham opened his eyes to the wonders of materials. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Marc McEllistrem, Kao's research mentor, had the following reflection about Kao and his standout abilities as a MS+E student and his equal passion for helping others:
"While Kao has a passion for STEM and Materials Science in particular, he is more passionate about helping other students succeed. Toward that end, he has mentored and tutored students for many years - before he came to UW-EC, while he was here, and since he has graduated. Now, between completing his Master degree and starting his doctoral studies, he finds that he has a summer free. And, true to his passion, he is spending his time working with Upward Bound and teaching students Materials Science. I find his dedication to others remarkable, and his dedication to helping others is one of his hallmarks that truly sets him apart."
A busy PH.D. candidate at UW-Milwaukee, Kao recently took a little time to relate his Blugold journey to us, in sincere hopes of inspiring current and future Blugolds to take a good look at this innovative program and consider the vast array of career and academic opportunities that exist in this field.
Kao Zoua Yang, '14, mathematics of materials major
I was involved with the TRIO programs (Upward Bound, Student Support Services, Ronald E. McNair Program) during my academic career. I started at UWEC in the fall of 2009 as a Computer Science - Engineering major. However, after taking some introduction and programming courses I decided to rethink degree options, and changed my major to undecided. I knew that I wanted to stay in the STEM fields but wasn't sure what particularly though. After talking with my academic adviser, he recommended me to the newly introduced Materials Science program.
I was directed to talk to Dr. Duhnam where he showed me some examples and explained what materials science is. Knowing my interest in engineering, Dr. Duhnam was able to explain to me how engineering is a very important component to materials science. What hooked me onto materials science was that everything in the world relies on materials. Most bottlenecking or restricting component of research these days are materials related, meaning we need better and smarter materials to advance the technology. This made it easy to chose materials science.
After declaring this new major, I had intended to graduate and find a job in the field. That all changed when Dr. McEllistrem approached me about graduate studies. He recommended me for the McNair program here at UWEC, a program works with undergraduates to help pursue graduate studies in research oriented fields. I'd never even thought about graduate studies —simply going to college at all was groundbreaking for my family. I was first child in my family to graduate high school and first to enter college. Earning a bachelor's degree was already impressive and a great opportunity. With Dr. McEllistrem's advice and support, I saw the potential in graduate studies and the ability to further my knowledge and research capabilities, and happily joined the McNair program.
For the duration of my studies, Dr. McEllistrem was my adviser and mentor in my research in making gold nanoparticles from methanobactin and conducting kinetics studies on particle growth and formation. I had another close mentor who was the director of the McNair Program at that time, Dr. Patricia Quinn where she encouraged and helped me tremendously in graduate school preparations. With Dr. McEllistrem and Dr. Quinn's support, I was able to graduate from UWEC in the materials science program with an emphasis in math and continue my education at Florida International University (FIU).
At FIU, I took the engineering path so the program was Materials Science and Engineering. I was a thesis based master's student, and because I had been a McNair scholar, I was able to land the prestigious McNair Graduate Fellowship where it covered my entire costs of graduate school. For my master's degree, I did research on fracture toughness of epoxy structural adhesives and Magneto-Electric Nanoparticles. I was able to complete my masters program in 2 years and graduated from FIU with a Masters of Science in Materials Science and Engineering in May of 2016. My passion for research still remains so I had also applied and was accepted into the Ph.D. program in Materials Science and Engineering at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee starting in the Fall of 2016 with full funding support.
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