Graduate Member Spotlight: Rachal Thomassie

Graduate Member Spotlight

Rachal Thomassie


Interdisciplinary Engineering

Texas A&M University


            Rachal first joined SWE as a freshman at Texas A&M and participated in the section’s mentoring program. As a professional, she attended two society conferences. In 2017, Rachal was awarded the BK Krenzer Memorial Re-entry Scholarship through SWE which financially enables women who have been out of the engineering workforce to pursue an engineering degree on their path to re-entry. As a graduate student, she served in her local section’s GradSWE Group as the liaison to Women in Science and Engineering.  She currently serves at the societal level as the GradSWE Mentoring Communications Coordinator.

Thesis: Systems Engineering Competencies Relevant to Mechanical Engineers

Rachal works to identify systems engineering competencies lacking in mechanical engineering programs based on former student experiences, and uses these findings to implement changes at the program level through creation of student outcomes.

Rachal’s goal is to be an engineering professor, teaching first and second year engineering courses. Additionally, she hopes to be a program director, guiding an engineering academic program. She also plans to advise student organizations on campus.

Outside of work, Rachal enjoys traveling, watching movies, and gardening.

Fun Fact from Rachal: I saw The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark when I was nine years old.



Graduate Member Spotlight: Karla Morrissey

Graduate Member Spotlight

Karla Morrissey


Chemical Engineering

Expected Graduation Date: 2021

University of Arkansas

        Karla has been a member of SWE since she was an undergraduate student. During her first year of Graduate School, Karla co-founded the GradSWE group at UoA as part of the University of Arkansas’s SWE section. Additionally, she was voted to be the Graduate Coordinator for her section at the University of Arkansas. As Graduate Coordinator, she promotes inclusion of graduate students in her local SWE section and plans social and professional development events tailored to graduate student interests. At UoA, she frequently participates in graduate-focused events, and also holds an officer position in the Arkansas Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Organization. As the FY19 Undergraduate Mentoring Coordinator for the societal GradSWE team, Karla hopes to connect graduate students with undergraduate students interested in graduate school, and help them build valuable and supportive relationships as part of GradSWE’s mentoring program.

        Karla’s efforts in research and science communication have been recognized with prestigious awards, including her induction as a Barry Goldwater Scholar in 2016 and as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in 2018.


Thesis Title: Life Cycle Assessment of Struvite Recovery in Wastewater Treatment Plants


Karla’s research centers on determining the environmental implications that could occur with widespread implementation of struvite recovery in the food, energy and waste nexus. Phosphorus is an essential and limited resource that is primarily used in fertilizer for food production. As it is a crucial component for growing crops, its conservation has become a key priority for sustaining future generations. Struvite, or magnesium ammonium phosphate, is an N & P fertilizer that can be produced electrochemically and chemically from wastewater. Struvite recovery provides an opportunity to both reduce N & P content in waste streams and recycle phosphorus.

        Following graduation, Karla plans to work for government agencies, such as the EPA, on science policies pertaining to areas of sustainability, human health, and the environment.

        Outside of work, Karla is currently learning to play the piano, which she finds challenging but very rewarding. She also enjoys exercising and reading books on various topics, ranging from nonfiction to mysteries and thrillers. Her favorite recent read that she recommends to her fellow GradSWE members is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey–a truly inspiring and motivating book for any graduate student!


Fun Fact from Karla: Karla is El Salvadorian!



Graduate Member Spotlight: Mujan Seif

Graduate Member Spotlight

Mujan Seif


Materials Science and Engineering

Expected Graduation Date: 2022

University of Kentucky


            Mujan has been a member of SWE since joining the University of Kentucky’s SWE section as a freshman in Fall 2012. The following spring, she attended the Region G conference. She then held the position of section Treasurer in FY13 until beginning her yearlong co-op at DuPont. Upon returning to campus, she served as the Career Fair Chair for the UK SWE section for the rest of her time as an undergrad, from FY15 through FY17. In this capacity, she was responsible for organizing the College of Engineering’s career fairs – cold-calling companies during the summer, coordinating registration, and handling day-of logistics. During that time, employee attendance at the career fairs steadily rose, breaking 100 for the first time in the event’s history!  Currently, Mujan serves as the Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect (GPC-Elect), working to ensure that graduate students are well served at the annual WE conferences!  Mujan has attended every society conference since 2014, as well as an assortment of regional, WE Local, and leadership conferences. She is always looking forward to the next SWE conference, and is truly thrilled that her role as GPC-Elect allows her to improve upon the events she already loves!

In addition to SWE, as an undergrad Mujan was heavily involved in UK’s chapter of Material Advantage, an MSE student organization. She primarily organized recruitment efforts aimed at 1000+ undeclared engineering freshmen. She represented MSE at several freshmen orientations, designed promotional brochures and posters, produced the MSE program’s first promotional video, and built and maintained the chapter’s first website. She also worked to increase the resources available to her whole program. She wrote a successful proposal that initiated the program’s purchasing of several high-end 3D printers. The printers sparked numerous student projects, relationships with other programs on campus, and the basis for a few senior design projects. She also lobbied to improve the undergraduate MSE curriculum by articulating the concerns of her fellow students in a formal document, gathering dozens of signatures of support, and submitting the result to her Director of Undergraduate Studies and department Chair. For this service to the program, Mujan was named “Outstanding Junior” in 2016 and “Outstanding Senior” in 2017. She also won the ASM Bluegrass Senior Award in 2017, which is awarded to a senior in the UK MSE program who has exceled in and out of the classroom.

Upon graduation, Mujan took a gap year to conduct research full-time in Dr. Katsuyo Thornton’s Group at the University of Michigan. She was a member of UM’s GradSWE group during her time there. During this time, she submitted her undergraduate research to the WE Local Collegiate Competition. She was selected as a finalist and sent to WELocal Tulsa to present a poster and give a talk. She was awarded First Place in both categories!

Mujan is now a graduate student at the University of Kentucky. She works on two distinct projects: (1) using quantum mechanical calculations and microscopy to investigate the underlying structure-property relationships that affect the operation of high-performance thermionic dispenser cathodes and (2) using continuum scale calculations to learn how extracting properties of primitive structures can be used to extrapolate properties of random-ligament structures generated to model nanoporous materials.

Following graduation, Mujan plans to become a post-doctoral researcher at a national lab, and then enter academia at an R1 university.  In addition to conducting materials research, she truly loves teaching and mentoring students, and would very much like to combine those two passions into a career. Hopefully, as a professor she’ll be able to do just that! She would also like to continue her involvement in SWE for the rest of her career.

Outside of work, Mujan enjoys hiking, exercising, and reading. She also enjoys traveling. She is still at a stage of her career where traveling for work is a treat, so she tries to tack on an extra day any time she’s visiting somewhere new or exciting. One of her favorite trips was to a Materials Research Society meeting in November 2017, where she arrived a few days early to explore the city of Boston. It was her first time there and she packed in a ton – attending the symphony, walking the Freedom Trail, and visiting Harvard/MIT.


Fun Fact from Mujan: Jerry Seinfeld is her favorite comedian, and she’s been an avid Seinfeld fan since she was a kid. Her friends will [affectionately] say that her most irritating quality is her unrelenting habit of including Seinfeld quotes in everyday conversations. She understands their complaints but has no intention of stopping.



Graduate Member Spotlight: Cecilia Klauber

Graduate Member Spotlight

Cecilia Klauber


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Expected Graduation Date: 2020

Texas A&M University

       This year, we are excited to have Cecilia Klauber serve as our Graduate Member Coordinator-Elect, where will she take part in leading our Societal GradSWE team and create new resources for graduate students across SWE. Cecilia (Ceci) has been a member of SWE since 2010, when she arrived at Baylor University. She held an officer position at Baylor during FY13. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she held various positions in the GradSWE group. In FY16, she was the SWE Liaison, connecting the grad and undergrad communities through monthly coffee chats about life as a grad student, and also took on the role of Social Chair for the GradSWE group. After serving in these positions, she moved on to hold the position of GradSWE Director, which is a recognised position on the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Section Officer Board. After serving as Director, she held the position of Secretary for GradSWE. Throughout her involvement at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ceci worked as a volunteer to help organize the weSTEM conference, which brings together graduate students from  across the country, providing meaningful training sessions and networking for graduate women in STEM, developing the skills and inspiring the passion needed to succeed in both academia and industry. In addition to attending weSTEM conferences, Ceci has attended WE15, WE16 and WE17. Ceci is also very involved in the power and energy research community, having served as the Treasurer and Chair of the University of Illinois IEEE Power and Energy Society/Power Electronics Society/Industry Applications Society Joint Student Chapter as well as various roles on the planning committees for the student-run conferences the Power and Energy Conference at Illinois and the Texas Power and Energy Conference.

       Ceci’s hard work, both in and out of the lab, has been recognized with numerous awards. She received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2015, which provides significant funding for her graduate education. She was also recognized with a Grainger Power Engineering Award in 2016 at the University of Illinois, as well as a Powell Fellowship in Electrical Power Engineering in 2018 at Texas A&M, which recognize academic achievement, research accomplishment, and commitment to the power and energy community. Additionally, Ceci was awarded 2nd Place in the Graduate Division of the SWE Collegiate Poster Competition at WE15.


Thesis Title: Computational methods for electric power grid monitoring and mitigation techniques during geomagnetic disturbances


Ceci studies how solar flares and space weather affect the power grid and how we can protect the grid during geomagnetic disturbances (GMDs). Massive bursts of magnetic energy from rare but powerful GMDs disrupt the earth’s magnetic field, producing geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) on transmission lines which can damage system components, trigger suboptimal grid operation, and even precipitate large-scale blackouts. Specifically, Ceci is working on developing monitoring methods that would give grid operators a real-time snapshot of how GICs are flowing through the system. She also studies computationally efficient means of generating mitigation schemes that could protect grid assets and maintain secure system operation when the earth is under the influence of space weather.

Ceci’s original goal was to become a professor, and spend as much time at school as possible! Since coming to graduate school, her interests have expanded to include working for a national lab or research institute, as well as going into energy policy. Ultimately, she hopes to be in a role where she can combine her technical abilities and interests with her desire to communicate and inspire a passion for science and engineering.

        Outside of work, Ceci enjoys playing board games, going on road trips, and anything outdoors, from running to hiking! She also enjoys watching collegiate and professional football, where she roots for the Baylor Bears and Seattle Seahawks.  She can often be found eating tacos and queso or doing hipster things like making her own kombucha and granola!

Fun Fact from Ceci: Ceci and some of her girlfriends from engineering started a fantasy football league in undergrad. It’s still going strong and she is the current champion!

Pictured: Ceci (left) and her homemade kombucha (right)!

How & Why you should have a Personal Website

How & Why you should have a Personal Website


Hello fellow graduate students!
If you are active on Twitter, you may have seen some conversations about personal websites over the last week – questions on how to get started, if these websites help get you jobs, and more were discussed. The overarching theme in these conversations is that these websites certainly will not hurt you, and can even be used in the job search by those hoping to hire you!


Pros of having your own website:

  • Self-promotion and personal branding cannot be understated here! This is your chance to say exactly what you want people to know about you – your research, scientific communication interests, diversity work, and more!
  • This can be a visually-appealing version of your resume. You can include research and teaching statements on your website, and fill these in with photos demonstrating your teaching and research abilities (and no one will know if these photos have been staged!)
  • Your website will be looked at during hiring. One tweet highlights this perfectly:CaptureYou can link your other professional profiles so people can find them directly from your website (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Scholar, ORCID, ResearchGate, Github, etc)


Importantly, it is never too late and never too early to start your website. If you start early, you can easily build it up over time, and reap the benefits sooner!


Tips and Ideas for making your website:

  • Make it visually appealing! No one wants to see a wall of text while they are skimming over a site. Show don’t tell.
  • Link to everything you can! (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Scholar, ORCID, ResearchGate, Github, etc) This will help you get more, continued visibility. Even link directly to your CV. If someone is reviewing your website as part of a job search, they will likely want to see your other profiles as well.
  • Link to other sites you may be on – like your lab or department website.
  • Promote yourself! List any awards or accomplishments you have on your CV – don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.
  • Check out what your website looks like on a phone – most web editors will allow you to preview these views and edit them as needed.
  • When uploading photos, tag them with your name or the event name to allow them to come up in google image searches.
  • Add any news coverage you have received for your work
  • Feel free to make a blog to highlight some of your career choices. For example, explain how you came to engineering as a field, or how you chose to go to graduate school, etc.
  • Consider adding a space for those interested to contact you.
  • If you are interested in teaching now or in the future, consider putting sample syllabi on your site, or TA evaluations, to highlight your strengths in teaching.Keep your website up to date! Set yourself a calendar reminder every few months to go back and check on it. Include new awards, update your research projects, and more. Don’t wait until weeks before your job application goes out to edit – you’ll almost certainly forget something important.


If you want to see some good examples of graduate student websites for style, content, and other ideas, check out this list. Add your own website so others can see your great ideas!


What other tips or questions do you have? I look forward to hearing from you!


Carolyn Chlebek

FY19 Graduate Member Coordinator


Making the most of summer in Grad School

Hello Grad SWE community! My name is Amy Zheng. I am the newly elected Developmental Mentoring Coordinator. I am a first year Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University.

Since this is my first summer doing research full-time as a graduate student, I have been thinking about ways to make my summer more fulfilling, in life and in my research.

  1. Set summer and weekly goals


Every semester I schedule a meeting with my advisor to assess my research goals for the semester and come up with next steps. This has been really helpful since I am a goal-orientated person. I love crossing out items on my to-do list.


This strategy also helps me look at the big picture. It is a time where my advisor and I can come to an understanding on where we hope the project will go.


  1. Look up deadlines for upcoming grants and scholarships


Some of the most prestigious fellowships, such as the NSF GRFP, are due in the early fall. The summer is a great time to start looking at previous applications. For the GRFP, I found the website below to be especially helpful.


I also find it helpful to talk with my advisor and mentors about my proposal outline. The summer is also a great time to start looking for workshops and writing seminars for the fellowships and grants you plan to apply for. At many universities, workshops for the NSF GRFP are held in the fall.


  1. Plan time to exercise at least once a week


I try to exercise before lunch. It helps me break up my work day and keeps me from getting drowsy in the afternoon. It also makes my lunch seem extra tasty! I try to hit the gym at least once a week. Many university gyms include exercise classes so it makes creating a weekly schedule much easier.


  1. Leaving your office for lunch


When I feel like I’ve spent too much time at my desk, I go to the outdoor seating area and eat lunch. Smelling the fresh air does wonders for lowering my stress. While I eat lunch, I usually look up recipes that I want to make for future meals or watch Youtube videos. I try to treat my lunch as an opportunity to learn something new outside of work.


  1. Taking a weekend trip


After working in the lab on weekends and not leaving town, I find myself getting sluggish and stir-crazy. Blocking off a weekend to take a short trip has helped me feel refreshed. Being in a new environment and having new experiences can make your struggles in the lab seem less immense. A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Atlanta and explored the city for the weekend. When I return on Monday, my mind was refreshed and ready to work on planning experiments and reading papers.

One Step Closer to your First Job in the US

Written by Keke Chen, International Graduate Team Leader


As an international student myself, I know how hard it can be to land your first job after graduation. As there are many good articles talking about the tips of what we shall do, here I want to share one article from a career advisor at Cornell University. The article gives practical ways to identify the right companies for you in the very first step.

In addition to this, I would like to share some of my own experiences, in particular about what an international student should do when attending career fair or a professional conference.

  1. Always be ready for a conversation. Everyone goes to a professional event to socialize, so you do not want to hide yourself in a corner. Have an approachable attitude instead of a “push-away” face. You can prepare yourself by practicing the questions like “What’s new?” and “How are you?”. If you are attending a career fair, do your homework at least one day ahead by studying the background and technology of the companies. If you are attending a professional conference, you can start by looking into some of your interested speakers and topics. In this way, you will feel more comfortable talking to people.
  2. Do not be afraid to initiate a conversation. If no one comes to talk to you, do not feel isolated. Go to talk to the person you would like to talk to. Nothing can beat an in-person conversation, and you don’t want to waste the opportunity. You do not know when you will next encounter him or her.
  3. Prepare a 1-minute elevator pitch about yourself. This is simply to answer the question of “what do you do?”, and we all know the importance of introducing ourselves. This may be your first and last chance to leave a good impression. Be short and concise about what you want to say, and do not use complicated jargon that only the people in your field would know. Prepare a tailored pitch that is tailored to your audience.
  4. Last but not least, do not ever feel bad about yourself if you didn’t get a passionate feedback during the conversation. Be prepared, but take it easy -practice makes perfect!

After multiple experiences of exposing yourself at a professional event, you will get a hang of what to do and will be more comfortable talking to people. At that time, I am sure you will also be more confident of getting one step closer to land your job after graduation.


Questions about this article, or about the International Graduate Team, can be directed to Keke at