University of Arkansas
Seeing the need for an organization that catered to the needs of the graduate students at her university, Gurshagan Kandhola, along with a fellow graduate student, established a GradSWE group at the University of Arkansas (UofA) just last year. Starting from a two-member team and a small event last summer, they now have a dedicated team of about ten officers who have successfully conducted various events over the year. Highlights of Gurshagan’s tenure leading the group include bringing in a female scientist who spoke about careers in science policy and a panel of highly accomplished female professors from UofA who spoke about their personal journeys. Both events were inspiring in different ways.
Their efforts have resulted in major expansion in terms of both membership and student involvement! They plan to continue conducting events and providing resources that the graduate students find useful, increase their visibility on campus by collaborating with faculty and other organizations (especially undergraduates in SWE and AWIS), have a website of their own and start a monthly newsletter.
Gurshagan’s work have been widely recognized across her campus. In 2018, she received the William Randolph Hearst Fellowship for outstanding contributions to SWE at the University of Arkansas. Throughout her academic career, she has given a number of oral and poster presentations at multiple conferences including ASABE, ACS, AACC and IFT; she was awarded first place in the graduate student poster presentation at the NSF EPSCoR annual meeting for Arkansas last year. She was one of three finalists selected from 28 National Science Foundation (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) states to present her research in Pecha-Kucha style, a highly concise format of 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide, to a general audience at their annual conference in 2017. She also won the three-minute thesis competition at the University of Arkansas College of Engineering, when the competition was newly introduced at UofA in 2016. For the past couple of years, she has been actively involved in various volunteer opportunities on and off campus as she likes to devote time toward causes she believes in, such as education and sustainability. These include judging local high school science fairs, mentoring local elementary and middle school students through the Passionate About Learning (PAL) program and the annual Women in STEM camp, leading recovery of surplus food from campus dining halls through the Razorback Food Recovery program for redistribution to community partners in need, and working with the City of Fayetteville recycling department to increase adoption of recycling in apartment complexes.
Gurshagan co-founded a start-up company a few years ago. The company received awards and recognition at various business plan competitions, including the Arkansas Governor’s Cup and Louisville’s Brown Forman Cardinal Challenge, and received $50K seed funding from the Delta I-Fund accelerator. The team ended up closing the company due to lack of the right technology-market fit; however, the experience was invaluable. With two other team members, she is in the process of co-founding another start-up, with a focus on the application of nanocellulosic materials in the agricultural sector.
Research Topic: Optimizing the extraction process and evaluating the physicochemical properties of cellulose nanocrystals derived from wood biomass.
The overarching motivation behind Gurshagan’s research is to develop biologically derived nanoscale materials that have the potential to solve some of the biggest problems of our time, such as contaminated food and water, environmental and human health, plastic waste, etc., while reducing our dependence on petroleum derived materials. Nanomaterials derived from cellulose have been shown to have diverse applications in various fields, but bottlenecks preventing widespread commercialization include low process yields and limited raw materials. Gurshagan’s PhD research focuses on improving yields by optimizing the production process and evaluating different wood species for their effect on the yields and physicochemical properties of nanocellulose.
After graduating, Gurshagan wants to be an entrepreneur and would also like to continue pursuing research, communication, consulting and policy-making in the science and technology sector. Eventually, she wants to venture into the non-profit sector with a focus on sustainability.
Outside of academics, Gurshagan likes playing badminton, going for long walks, and reading inspirational books!
Fun Fact: Gurshagan has personally met former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, an iconic Indian scientist she looks up to.