Grad Member Spotlight: Kelly Connelly

22 Feb 2016


Kelly Connelly

PhD Student, Mechanical Engineering, expected graduation 2019



Kelly joined SWE in 2012 as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, and was Evening with Industry director her senior year. She served as outreach chair for GradSWE at UCLA last year and is currently the Vice Director this year. Kelly received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in 2015. Congratulations, Kelly, on all that you’ve accomplished! Keep up the great work!


What is your degree program (MS/PhD, department)? When do you expect to graduate?

I am a second year PhD student in the Mechanical Engineering department, planning on graduating in 2019.


Give a brief explanation of your research

My research project involves studying the fluid properties of the vitreous humour, which is the gel-like fluid that fills the inside of eyes. As we age the vitreous changes at the molecular level, which can affect the development of many age-related diseases that threaten a patient’s vision. My research is mainly experimental, and I use rheology to be able to correlate changes at the molecular level with changes in the fluid properties. Improving the fundamental understanding of vitreous as a complex fluid can help us work with doctors to develop and improve treatments and surgeries for vitreous-related conditions.


What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career goals?

I am very passionate about using my mechanical engineering background to help build and create innovative solutions in healthcare. I am fascinated by the medical device development process and have the goal to work in that field after I graduate.


What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?

I love baking and cake decorating, and running. I am working on training for my first half-marathon in the fall!


What’s a fun fact about you?

I worked part-time at a dessert bakery for two years in Seattle and loved it, sometimes I dream about opening and owning my own bakery someday.


University of Illinois Hosts weSTEM Graduate Student Focused SWE Conference

weSTEM 2013 Conference

Be inspired, Stay motivated, Grow passionate

The Graduate Committee in the Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) is an organization dedicated to promoting diversity in graduate education in engineering and science to enable innovative and creative solutions to the future technical challenges facing society.  While enrollment of women in graduate programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has increased over the last two decades, [1] highlights that attrition among female graduate students in STEM programs may be because women are more likely “missing relationships with advisors or mentors” than men.  Moreover, exposure to the various career options to someone with an advanced degree in a STEM field is lacking at many universities.  Therefore, GradSWE organized the first annual weSTEM (Women Empowered in STEM) Conference, held in the Thomas M. Siebel center for Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Saturday, April 20, 2013.  The goal of the this event, which brought together nearly 60 female graduate students from across 21 disciplines as well as 14 accomplished female professionals, was to provide a forum through which current and future STEM leaders could motivate and inspire each other to develop solutions for the next generation of technical and societal challenges.  The conference was conceived and organized by 8 graduate students working in various STEM disciplines at Illinois: Angeli Gamez and Sofie Leon (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Neera Jain, Danielle Joaquin, Jin Kim, Samantha Knoll, and Ritu Raman (Mechanical Science and Engineering) and Ashley Gupta (Bioengineering).

weSTEM planning committee speakers and national SWE leaders

weSTEM planning committee, speakers, and national SWE leaders





Continue reading

NSF receives the spotlight in the 2014 budget proposal

Last week, the president’s 2014 budget proposal for the STEM (science technology, engineering, and math) programs revealed significant reorganization with its primary focus shifting to the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Currently, twelve different organizations oversee 226 STEM programs, which collectively receive grants totaling in $3 billion from the government.

The administration believes streamlining the agencies will better determine the impact of their investments. However, this restructuring would result in large cuts to mission agencies such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

How could this affect graduate students?

The proposal is allotting an $89 million increase in NSF funding with a portion dedicated to undergraduate and graduate education. This would fund grants and fellowships such as the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, which would see an increase in the number of fellows from 2000 to 2700 per year. Additionally, there is a large push to ramp up the programming for undergrad and grad students.

While increased NSF funding is a step in the right direction, it is unknown what the impact of budget cuts to mission agencies would result in funding to academic labs. Obtaining funding is a notoriously competitive process, and many professors receive grants from NASA, NIH, and DARPA. Cuts at these agencies may negatively impact the same students they are attempting to aid with NSF funds.

So is this revamping a positive for graduate level research? It is important to note that this is a proposal and will need approval from Congress before it can be enacted. Potentially, several iterations of the proposal will be drafted before final approval, but the conversation is already in full swing.

Links to the articles are provided below.


A U.S. Makeover for STEM Education: What It Means for NSF and the Education Department 

Wild Cards Remain After Proposed Reshuffle of STEM Education 

Increasing Women in STEM in Academia

I read this really great post “Women are Not the Problem” from the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) blog yesterday about how to increase the representation of women in academic positions in STEM fields

The two approaches discussed are:

1) Coaching women individually to navigate the academic system.

2) Transforming the academic system to change the system to be more inclusive to women and minorities.

Most efforts are focused on option 1 with coaching individual women, where as the more significant impact on increasing women in academic careers would be made by addressing option 2.  More efforts need to be made to transform the academic system to be inclusive and fair to women and under-represented minorities.

I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore as graduate students because we are trying to decide if we want to go the academic route or not.  What we see and experience in our graduate education gives a perspective of academic life.  We see our advisor’s schedule and work load. We sometimes experience the politics of departments.   What innovation or ideas could we offer as STEM women to improve the current academic system?

When I was getting my Master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I worked as a graduate assistant for an NSF ADVANCE funded program ( The goal of the ADVANCE program is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. At UIC one way their ADVANCE program worked to improve the climate was through developing and adopting more family friendly policies for academics.

As an engineer it makes sense to me that we need to fix the system.  The current system was established in a by-gone era and I agree it is time we modernized the policies and academic culture to include our generation of women.  How would you redefine the tenure track system? Do you see changes in the academic policies at your university?


Is there a Ph.D Bust?

The Atlantic recently published an article detailing the “scientist surplus” that has affected Ph.D employment. Based on National Science Foundation’s data, there has been a slowing trend in the hiring of Ph.D’s directly from graduate school in all fields. The good news is that Ph.D engineers fair better than many other fields, and the article does not discuss how the over all state of the economy has played a large role in budget cuts to universities and the downsizing of many companies, which has affected everyone including Ph.D graduates.

However, near the end of the article, the author states that most Ph.Ds eventually do find work, and the unemployment rate of college graduates is under 4% (as opposed to the national average of 7.7%).

Check out the article here.

2013 Innovation in Graduate Education Challenge

Our world is changing faster than ever before–technology is developing at an unprecedented rate and the world faces extraordinary challenges with solutions based in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). What is needed to prepare STEM graduate students to meet these modern day challenges? Fundamental changes are also occurring in the career options for STEM professionals. What is necessary to navigate the career pathways of the future?

The Division of Graduate Education at the National Science Foundation challenges STEM graduate students across the nation to submit innovative ideas to prepare them for tomorrow’s opportunities and challenges. Entries are solicited for ideas with the potential to improve graduate education and professional development. Ideas can be directed toward, for example, students, faculty, departments, institutions, professional societies, and/or federal agencies. Make your voice heard on STEM graduate education!

Be sure to include the following elements in your submission:

  1. The title of your submission (150 characters or less)
  2. The issue in graduate education you wish to address
  3. Your solution or idea
  4. How your idea will change graduate education