Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Sisters Who Became Research Partners

What do soap and sweet potatoes have in common? Not much; but both did lead sisters Melinda and Carolyn Hoyt to study chemistry at LETU.

The two out of ten siblings from Ackley, Iowa, didn’t always plan on attending college together, but after discovering the combination of LETU’s serious academics and faith focus, they both felt it was the place for each of them.

Melinda, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry in May, and Carolyn Hoyt, who will be a junior chemistry major this fall, eventually ended up not only choosing the same major, but also joining the same research team.
Melinda (left) and Carolyn Hoyt

Their mutual interest in chemistry began long before their shared time at LETU.

“This may seem like a strange story,” Carolyn said, “But I initially was drawn to chemistry because of soap. When I was taking high school chemistry, I learned that soap works to remove stains and dirt because it has a hydrophobic end (attracted to the stain) and a hydrophilic end (attracted to water). Around that time I had an article of clothing that had a stain. I wanted to remove it, but we had no stain-remover in the house. I simply applied a concentrated amount of soap to the affected area and, lo and behold, the stain was completely removed!

“I was so fascinated by this proof of chemistry that I decided I wanted to pursue it in college. I wanted to learn more about why things work the way they do and felt chemistry could best answer my questions.”

Melinda credits her interest in chemistry to an early inventor and his work with crops:

I read a biography on George Washington Carver and was astonished that he was able to create over a hundred products from the peanut and sweet potato through chemistry. I loved the idea of creating entirely new materials or household goods that everyone buys. The knowledge of chemistry allows you to make such new materials from the ground up, or from molecular scale to final product.”

At LETU, they’ve worked side-by-side for the past two summers on Dr. Vivian Fernand’s research project, optimizing sensors, testing reagents, and earning valuable research credit – a rarity in the undergraduate world. The sisters are still far from ending their research days.

Carolyn will continue to research while pursuing her chemistry degree. Melinda’s preparing to begin classes for Iowa State’s Ph.D program in Materials Science and Engineering this fall, which she credits in part to having done research during her time at LETU.

My undergraduate research experience built a solid recommendation to being accepted into grad school. I’m pretty determined I want to do it full-time,” Melinda said. “That’s why I chose to pursue a Ph.D. Ultimately, I'd like to work at a company like IBM or Apple and design new computer-chip or circuitry materials to improve their electronic devices.”

Most sisters don’t get to attend college together, but Melinda and Carolyn recommend it.

“It's been a great time to grow closer together. Since we were both in the same major we could, of course, talk about classes. But more than that, we simply spent more time together. Carolyn's been a great help in taking pauses to look at happenings in life and laugh, in between intervals of hard studying,” Melinda said.

“I have enjoyed getting to spend more time with my sister here at school,” Carolyn added. “We didn't really do much together when we were in high school, but here we've been able to do more. We've participated in research together, been on long road-trips together, talked chemistry together. I value the time I've been able to spend with Melinda here very highly. I've gotten to know her better and have been privileged to learn from her. I hope to be like her in many respects some day.”

For the first time in years, they’re attending different schools, but they’ll always share a sisterly bond, scientific interest, and alma mater. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Where Science Meets Engineering: Dr. Vivian Fernand's Research Team

It’s summer break on LeTourneau University’s campus, but that doesn’t mean the work comes to a halt. Labs are still put to good use on a daily basis, and they’ve even been the workplace for several LETU students.

Assembled by chemistry professor Dr. Vivian Fernand, an LETU team of two chemistry, one biology, and three biomedical engineering students are pioneering new types of sensors that will be used for detecting harmful chemicals.

Dr. Vivian Fernand
The sensors, which resemble small squares of paper, will be an easy method to detect chemicals harmful to the body. Placed on a surface in question, they will turn certain colors that indicate whether a dangerous substance is present.

 The final product will be especially useful for law enforcement investigating crime scenes and cleaning crews in situations where hazardous materials may be a concern.

Funded by a $25,000 departmental grant from The Welch Foundation, these scientists- and engineers-in-training are being paid to develop valuable skills that they’ll one day use in professional laboratories in addition to receiving research credit for the project.

“The nice thing is, everyone can get a degree, especially in science and engineering, but how you want to distinguish yourself is through research,” Fernand, the project’s faculty advisor said. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to participate in research at the undergraduate level.”

“Research during undergrad is not that common,” she added. “If a student graduates with research experience along with a published paper, they are directly accepted into graduate or medical school. Research is a big plus, but the maximum plus is a published paper. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with these students. Many of them are starting to write their own papers on this project.”

Each student was also required to present their work at the end of every week to perfect their presentation skills. “Because of that, whenever they present in a professional setting, they’re really confident,” Fernand said.

After the project is completed, each student will have the opportunity to present their findings at seminars and conferences.

The research team
The experience will also benefit the students should they decide to enter the workforce directly after they complete their undergraduate degrees. They’re establishing the same skills used universally in labs: safety, working individually and
in a group, developing and analyzing new ideas, and problem solving.

The strength in her team, as Fernand points out, lies in its variance of areas of study among the students.

“I believe every one of us has different gifts and capabilities. That’s why I’m trying to utilize both engineering and science students,” she said. “Whenever you have diversity in your team, you come up with better ideas as a whole.”

Developing the sensors – and students’ lab skills – is an ongoing project. The team grows in number every year, moving forward with LETU’s mission to develop competency in the workforce and commitment to effective hands-on experience.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Nothing is Out of Reach": LETU Women Pilots Make School History

It began in 1929, when Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilot pioneers started the First Women’s Air Derby, America’s inaugural women-only air race.

Today, LeTourneau University takes part in this now 86-year-old tradition with its own pioneering female pilots.  Recent LETU aviation graduates Rebecca Davidson and Jovita Perez-Segovia are currently flying across the country in today’s premier female-only air race, the Air Race Classic—and are LETU’s first pilots to do so.

The First Women’s Air Derby later became the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race until 1977, when the Air Race Classic interceded to become America’s leading female air race.
Entry in the Air Race Classic isn’t easy. There are only 55 spots available, and the race is open to pilots worldwide. Davidson and Perez-Segovia were accepted, meeting all race requirements, which stipulates that both participants have 500 pilot-in-command hours or 100 hours plus an instrument rating. They also diligently fundraised the registration fee on their own. Thus, their team, named “Texas Tailwinds,” was born.

Starting in Virginia, the race takes them to eight other states and covers nearly 2,500 miles. However, it’s about more than who finishes first. Pilots must strategize and execute what Air Race Classic officials refer to as a “perfect cross-country flight.” 

Jovita Perez-Segovia (left) and Rebecca
“LeTourneau University competing in the Air Race Classic sets a historic precedent for the School of Aviation,” LETU Director of Flight Operations Laura Laster said. “No students have done this before, so we’re learning a lot along the way! I hope that future female aviators in our program will continue competing in this race.”

According to the FAA, only six percent of professional pilots are women. LeTourneau University’s School of Aviation challenges this stat, since more than double that number of LETU aviation students are female. The school hopes to encourage even more women to enter the field. They’re accomplishing that goal, as proven by the Texas Tailwinds—who serve to inspire young women that, in the words of Davidson, “nothing is out of reach.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Incredible Scholars: 2015 Heritage Scholarship Winners

As soon as the spring commencement ceremony closes, we at LETU begin anticipating the next academic year and the students it brings. One group that will be joining us in Fall 2015 is the latest Heritage Scholarship Competition winners. These are students who have shown exemplary academic standing through GPA, SAT and ACT scores. They submit an essay and video and then undergo a rigorous interview process with faculty. The ten winners of the competition are awarded over $100,000 in scholarships. As we look forward to the 2015-2016 school year, we'd like to take a moment to introduce you to three of these incredible students who have won the prestigious Heritage Scholarship Competition:

Noah Bronner of Thompson Falls, Montana plans on studying Professional Flight, Maintenance Concentration. Our favorite quote from Noah: "I hope I can gain a strong foundation of understanding and knowledge so I can ask and learn to ask intelligent questions." 

Ian Fore of Stillwater, Oklahoma will pursue a degree in Computer Engineering. Our favorite quote from Ian: "I seek to build a network of peers and professors who are not only interested in my academic and career progression, but also my spiritual growth and well-being."

Kristen Villareal will study Engineering, Materials Joining Concentration. Our favorite quote from Kristen: "The party don't Spock til I Vulcan." (Ok, she doesn't actually say it in the video, but it's there.) 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

LETU's Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Drone) Programs: The Future of Aviation

This week, LeTourneau University's Dean of Aviation, Fred Ritchey, is traveling to Austin, Texas, to testify before the Texas State Senate in regard to HB2167, a bill that clarifies the use of remotely piloted aircraft in Texas for a number of purposes. Dean Ritchey is testifying about LETU’s new program and the need for our faculty, staff and students to be able to operate drones legally and safely as they train for their degree completion. 

When R.G. LeTourneau was alive, back in the 1950s and 60s, the world was filled with fantastic visions of the future. These dreams included flat-screen televisions built into walls and cars that zipped around quietly and without pollution. We are truly living in the Jetsons' world today. One of the most vexing challenges for technology, though, exists in the constraints placed on us by that ever present physical force: gravity. We haven’t beaten it completely, but with the advent of improved battery technologies, the GPS satellite system and radio control technologies, we are ever closer to seeing skies filled with new and exciting unmanned aircraft. 

Drones rose to prominence, as many technologies do, in the military. But the invention of smaller drones, sometimes called quad-copters or hexa-copters (depending on how many rotors they have), is taking the aviation world by storm. It is estimated that in the next ten years, the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) industry will grow by more than $82 billion. This industry is expected to create more than 100,000 new jobs. And that’s where LeTourneau University steps in. LETU has been on the cutting edge of aviation training since 1956. Just a few years ago, we were the first university in Texas to offer FAA-approved training for students to become air traffic controllers. Today, our aviation programs continue to excel in every way. And we look to the future of aviation as we step into the world of remotely piloted aircraft. 

Beginning this Fall, LeTourneau University is offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems with pilot, technician and electronics concentrations. What could graduates do with this degree? Those 100,000 expected jobs will certainly include fantastic opportunities in agriculture, search and rescue, aerial videography, inspection of oil refineries and power lines, police work and firefighting—and even commercial delivery of products as companies like Amazon.com explore that potential. LETU alumni are already pioneering this new field of aviation at industry leading corporations including Textron Systems, UA Tacsolutions, Neany Inc and UAV Aviation Services. Our Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems instructor and LETU alumnus, Ruedi Schubarth, worked for a defense contractor operating unmanned aircraft systems in support of training and contingency operations in the U.S. and overseas.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to date, has expressed concern over flight safety when drones are flown in the same air space as commercial and private planes. Stories about close calls with commercial aircraft are making the news almost weekly. The FAA’s regulations continue to build and evolve over time. This shouldn’t be viewed as a limitation to the future of unmanned aircraft, but in fact a great opportunity for LeTourneau. It is anticipated that drones used for commercial purposes will require certified pilots to fly them. As both federal and state legislators thoughtfully consider the legalities of these new technologies, LETU is at the forefront of the conversation, and we look forward to seeing our own Dean Fred Ritchey advocate on behalf of our new program this week in front of the Texas Legislature. 

For more information about LETU's exciting new program, click here

To learn more about the proposed legislation in the Texas Senate, click here