Outstanding Graduate, Spring 2020
Materials science and engineering is a less common major among engineering students, but Serita Sulzman found that it checked all the boxes.
During a summer internship at Oregon State University as a high school student, Sulzman researched weatherization of bio-based wood-plastic composites. It combined her interests in physics, math and chemistry.
“I was happy to find that materials science utilizes all of those to understand the structure and properties of materials to find solutions to engineering challenges,” Sulzman says.
She has also been happy with the diverse practical applications her major offers.
“It encompasses everything including the electrochemistry of batteries, the study of novel 2D nanomaterials, the design of high-strength superalloys and much, much more.”
As Sulzman progressed through her degree program, she was increasingly happy with her choice of major.
“The more I learned in my classes and went through my research, the easier it was for me to identify what topics and projects I liked the most,” Sulzman says.
Many of her projects centered around sustainability and water. In her first year, Sulzman participated in the Engineering Projects in Community Service program to design an aquaponics system for a nonprofit organization. She also worked with the ASU University Sustainability Practices Office on water conservation projects.
“I worked with the University Sustainability Practices team to research, fund and get a polymer called Aqua Cents injected under the root-zone of the turf grass on ASU’s West campus,” she says. “This will save us millions of gallons of irrigation water each year.”
Sulzman volunteered with Tempe commissioners and city employees as the representative for the ASU undergraduate body and helped to draft and implement Tempe’s first Climate Action Plan.
“I am passionate about sustainability and I love engineering, but I wanted hands-on experience working with others to implement real-world solutions to climate-related issues,” she says. “Serving on the commission gave me that opportunity to advocate for the interests of my generation and be a part of something impactful outside of an academic setting.”
Several professors supported Sulzman on her academic journey, giving advice and believing in her when she didn’t believe in herself. She wants to do the same someday — after she earns her doctorate in materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will begin studies in the fall.
“I hope to become a professor who goes above and beyond for my students,” Sulzman says. “In addition, I hope that I could combine my love for engineering and sustainability in research projects aimed at developing or increasing the use of recycled and renewable materials.”