Graduate student working with Ma2JIC takes advantage of NSF INTERN program over summer
The 2018 Science and Engineering Indicators report revealed that 79% of masters level STEM graduates and 57% of doctoral degree holders work in industry or government, as such it is important to provide the opportunity for graduate students to develop skills to prepare them to be successful for a broad range of academic and non-academic career paths. The National Science Foundation (NSF) INTERN program is meant to provide graduate students exposure to areas beyond their technical expertise, such as communication, innovation and entrepreneurship, leadership and management, and policy and outreach.
The Manufacturing and Materials Joining Innovation Center (Ma²JIC), led by The Ohio State University and located on the school's welding engineering campus, is a National Science Foundation Industry and University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC). This IUCRC is comprised of four domestic universities: The Ohio State University, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Lehigh University, and Colorado School of Mines. Ma2JIC’s research portfolio is entirely industry driven. Most welding engineering MS and PhD students do not join academia, opting to work in industry instead. The NSF INTERN program allows students to leave the lab and classroom environments and submerge themselves in industry, where their project mentors operate, which provides them with an understanding of how private companies and government facilities operate.
"The INTERN program enhances the value proposition for our [Ma2JIC] members as they are not only bringing back to their companies excellent research and tons of new ideas, but with the intern program they are bringing to their companies highly driven and talented graduate students to support their internal research efforts at no extra cost", shared Antonio Ramirez, Director of Ma²JIC and PI on the NSF grant supplement.
Worth the wait
Ma²JIC learned about this supplemental funding opportunity through their NSF Program Manager. Antonio Ramirez, was eager to have Ma²JIC participate given the center’s strong relationship with industry. A year after learning about the NSF INTERN program, that situation presented itself. Dr. Ramirez encouraged Eric Brizes to consider participating in the INTERN program, and they worked together to submit a supplemental funding request to cover Eric’s salary, expenses, and equipment for a summer-long work experience. Eric’s work has clear and immediate industry application, and the knowledge, access, and skills gained outside of the academic setting assured additional growth.
Honda has a long legacy of supporting Ohio State, especially in the areas of engineering, research and development, and career development. A major force in the local and regional economy, Honda values opportunities to shape future members of the workforce. The mutually beneficial conditions allow them to glean welding engineering expertise while a student like Eric builds his professional portfolio. "To work with some of the brightest and best college students is a major benefit. These students bring with them a fresh perspective on the current problems. It's an opportunity for assessing and hiring future associates that have worked in the actual industry environment," shares Honda employee, Tim Abke. Honda was very supportive of the NSF INTERN program and mentored Eric closely throughout his graduate research, whose recent research history took place at Ohio State's SIMCenter. SIMCenter was originally funded by Honda R&D Americas, Inc. through a $5 million gift. Part of the College of Engineering, SIMCenter's focus is "virtual simulation and modeling of product performance and manufacturing processes."¹ Eric's research roots, already established partnerships, and the mutual interest in the NSF INTERN program were in alignment.
Academia meets industry
The project that enriched Eric's resume, research experience and career aspirations centered around a relatively new welding process called friction element welding (FEW). It is used to join aluminum to steel in automotive lap joints. The process uses a consumable steel bit rotating at high velocities to push through a softer aluminum sheet, resulting in a solid-state friction weld to a harder steel sheet. The FEW process has been successfully modeled by collaborators at Clemson University, but Honda was interested in refining the simulation to show aluminum chip formation. The internship focused on adapting the model to show an accurate representation of the chipping phenomena.
Tim Abke, Technical Leader - Design for Manufacturing at Honda, served as Eric's industry mentor and official sponsor at Honda. He worked to mentor the project from the industry perspective, ensuring the research proposed was beneficial to Honda. Tim oversaw research milestones and coordinated interaction among the facilities, the team at Honda Research, and Eric.
Ali Nassiri, Assistant Professor-Research (Integrated Systems Engineering Department), supervised Brizes at SIMCenter and coordinated with Abke on the research program. He steered the project with his experience in finite element analysis of high-speed joining/forming processes.
Antonio Ramirez facilitated weekly meetings on the research, advised Eric, and ensured that the INTERN program was beneficial to Eric’s future research and career. Ramirez monitored the progress throughout the summer to protect Eric's timeline to graduation (2022). Not all of the research conducted by Eric during the INTERN program applies to Eric’s graduate research program.
Eric Brizes, NSF INTERN participant, credits Ohio State and Ma²JIC with providing him with the technical skills necessary for a successful experience at Honda and SIMCenter. "The modeling and simulation coursework at Ohio State was the foundation on which the internship work and experience were built." Brizes graduated with a BS in welding engineering in 2018 and will earn his PhD in welding engineering in 2022. Upon graduation, he sees himself gravitating to a field not far from his research concentration,
"I would like to continue working in either automotive welding or simulation and modeling of welding. An engineering position at a company like Honda would be a great and rewarding career."
- Eric Brizes
Each of the team members involved in this experience benefited from the shared experience.
Eric Brizes witnessed the impact academic research has on major companies like Honda. He was allowed access to advanced modeling and simulation resources at Honda and SIMCenter. Ultimately, Eric has a deeper understanding of what is expected of engineers after graduation, and is better prepared for his post-academic career. He learned about career options beyond academia, stimulating broader aspirations and improved technical practices.
Tim Abke was appreciative of the working relationship with a student involved in day-to-day operations at Honda, "This gave Eric a real-world experience of what it is like to operate in the corporate work environment. Conversely, it gave me a chance to have a dialog with a member outside of our daily work environment to get feedback on how the current system works and to note any improvements that may be helpful in the future. Eric proved to be very industrious and creative regarding the assigned work activities and moved the project forward in a very positive manner."
Ali Nassiri treasured the opportunity to participate as a mentor in a very interesting collaborative research project between two academic institutes (Ohio State and Clemson) and a mass production manufacturer (Honda).
Antonio Ramirez assumes the responsibility of preparing Eric as a scholar and researcher, "[Eric's] participation in the INTERN program provides him with valuable, real-world experience in the workforce, which is something that his time in the lab will not provide. This experience will make him a more marketable candidate and allow him to hit the ground running when he enters the workforce. What is good for our students and their future, is good for the university and our program."
NSF INTERN for others
The university's experience with the NSF INTERN program is fairly lean. Brooke Felts, Program Manager for Ma²JIC, was surprised at its simplicity and encourages more participation in the program by members of the greater Ohio State community,
"Since this was Ma2JIC’s first time applying for the INTERN supplement, it was a learning curve. We didn’t know of anyone else at Ohio State who had one, so we worked very closely with our sponsored programs officer, Mike Hanes, and our NSF program manager, Prakash Balan, in developing and submitting the supplement. Now that we’re aware of how straightforward it is - just a two-page summary of the internship, a student resume, letter of collaboration from industry, letter of support from the PI, and a general IP agreement - we hope to provide more students with this opportunity."
Professors are encouraged to direct graduate students toward the NSF INTERN program to take advantage of the funding and experience it provides. This supplemental funding is available to PI's supporting graduate students through any active NSF award (except in the directorate of computer and information science and engineering, mathematic and physical sciences, and office of integrated activities—in that case only some divisions/programs participate). The graduate student must have completed at least one academic year in their master or doctorate program and be making satisfactory progress toward completion of their degree.
¹SIMCenter. simcenter.osu.edu/content/simcenter-history. Accessed August 28, 2019.