CLEVELAND – 11 Feb 11
"STEM Pipeline" Breeds New Opportunities
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Undergraduates from around the nation pass through what is commonly referred to by NASA Education as the “STEM Pipeline.” The goal of the NASA’s “STEM Pipeline” is to connect with middle school to pre-college students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in order to foster a lasting relationship which leads them through undergraduate internships to graduate fellowships and into the STEM workforce.
Daniel Miladinovich, a senior aerospace and material science engineering dual major at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), is no stranger to the internship experience. He has completed two research projects at IIT as well as multiple engineering internships at Chicago-based companies to include Farrodyne USA, Inc., A. Finkl and Sons, and the Adler Planetarium. This fall, Miladinovich joined the Undergraduate Student Research Project (USRP) team at NASA’s Glenn Research Center (GRC) in Cleveland to complete a 15 week hands-on project with Dongming Zhu. At the end of his term, Miladinovich captured his USRP experience in a technical report and poster entitled, “Mechanical Properties and Durability of Environmental Barrier Coatings in a Calcium-Magnesium-Alumino-Silicate (CMAS) Environment.”
Miladinovich explains, “Basically the work I did was to measure fracture toughness, hardness, and recession of CMAS reacted and non-reacted coating materials. I took CMAS (which is...simulated desert/beach sand) and sprinkled it onto samples of different coating materials until I reached the fixed surface concentration. Then I put the CMAS covered samples into a furnace near the operating temperatures of gas turbine engines for 50 hour cycles.” By the end of his first USRP internship, he was able to collect many measurements, which accounted for initial reacted and non-reacted recession data, and in the process, he became certified as an x-ray diffractometer operator.
Now, as a second term intern with USRP, he has been given the opportunity to present at an international technical conference, a completely new experience for the veteran intern. Zhu encouraged Miladinovich to submit his poster from his USRP project to the 35th International Conference and Exposition on Advanced Ceramics and Composites (ICACC’11). His entry was accepted, and he was then invited to be 1 of 144 poster presenters during the 5-day conference in Daytona Beach, Fla., this January.
Miladinovich remarked, “As a student, I am always looking for opportunities, [and] there couldn’t be anything better than a week long excursion into the world of advanced ceramics and composites. Also, I’ve never attended a conference before and I wanted the opportunity to show what I can do.”
Once there, Miladinovich was welcomed into the world of conference culture. He said, “Presenting at the conference was a great experience. While it was only a poster presentation, I was still asked many questions and met many people. I also learned how important it is to share contact information.” By the end of the conference, Miladinovich had handed out all of his business cards and had exponentially increased his network of possible future STEM employers.
According to Miladinovich, “The best thing about being able to attend was to be immersed in a crowd that is interested in [the] same fields as you. It was amazing to meet so many people and how willing they are to talk and share their experiences.”
Currently, Miladinovich is working on a project with Kevin Witzberger entitled “Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) Trajectory Simulation and Optimization,” and if he is able to create functioning software for the MAV, he plans to submit his technical report to another conference where he hopes to gain experience as an oral presenter.
With a total of 8 internship awards including experiences with NASA, academia and commercial industry, Miladinovich is a prime example of the “STEM Pipeline” at work. Each experience has opened new doors, has continued his professional development, and has allowed him to develop a network that will one day lead to a career in the STEM workforce.