A Look at a Few Graduate Students

Graduate research assistant

Enrollment of women graduate students in our programs has increased by an impressive 30 percent since 2010. They consistently achieve top honors for their work, and many of them boast research funded by fellowships and assistantships. They contribute to faculty research programs in vital ways, go on to careers as leaders in academia, industry, education, and government—and they lead inspiring lives outside the lab, too!  



Rebecca Corman (MSME ’15, PhDME '18), a doctoral candidate in Assistant Professor Randy Ewoldt’s lab, studies rheology, viscoelastic materials, and non-Newtonian fluid mechanics—the study of how materials squish, stretch, flow, and deform. An internship at DuPont allowed her to study yield-stress fluids (think mayonnaise or peanut butter) with the goal of using rheological characterization to determine how materials feel. “Non-Newtonian materials boast wide-ranging untapped potential related to vibration isolation and damping and energy harvesting,” she said. Rebecca is also heavily involved in departmental outreach: Through an effort called the “Rheology Zoo,” she helps make this science more accessible and fun to a wider audience. As president of MechSE Graduate Women, she organizes activities to support other women grad students. 


“Biotechnology has the potential to change how we live in incredible ways. Assistive technology for diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s is improving, but is often bulky and hard to use. I want to help improve the functionality and cost of assistive and prosthetic devices.”When engineering mechanics alumna Liz Livingston wasn’t competing as a pole vaulter for the Illinois Track and Field team, or assisting with research in the Tissue Biomechanics Lab, she was leading the Society for Experimental Mechanics. As president of SEM, she helped the club double in size through increased awareness and worked with department staff to improve the EM curriculum. As a senior, she was one of a select few to work as an Engineering Learning Assistant for a freshmen orientation class. And although her commitments as an undergrad kept her too busy to actively volunteer, Liz helped run a non-profit organization for eight years in Dallas, Texas, repairing and distributing bicycles throughout the city. She earned her bachelor’s degree in May 2017, and is now pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and conducting research on computational bone mechanics in Assistant Professor Mariana Kersh’s Tissue Biomechanics Lab.


“I hope to create viable graft alternatives that could eliminate painful and expensive bone harvest surgery. With 1.5 million graft procedures in the U.S. each year, my research has significant clinical relevance.”While an undergraduate at Notre Dame, Ashley Armstrong was a three-time Academic All-American on the women’s golf team. Now a master’s student in ME and a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellow, she is fabricating a high-precision additive manufacturing machine to print synthetic bone scaffolds. Bone has a remarkable potential for self-repair, but diseases (like arthritis), tumors, and trauma can lead to defects that don’t heal properly. Scaffold design, however, is not yet a clinically viable option since tissue at the center of implanted scaffolds tends to die due to its distance from blood supply.


“The simulators will revolutionize the way clinical training is done by helping to standardize diagnostic procedures across hospitals, varying methods of teaching, and different economic and technological conditions.”With a bachelor’s degree from MIT under her belt, Jiahui (Carrie) Liang is working in Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler’s Human Dynamics and Controls Lab, developing a simulator device to replicate abnormal muscle tone behaviors at the elbow joint. The simulator will be used as a training tool to allow young medical students to experience different muscle disorders without the presence of patients. Existing designs typically involve the use of high-end electromechanical devices and focus heavily on control algorithm development; Carrie and team’s simulator is capable of generating a wide range of resistive feedbacks without the need for a computational scheme.