Importance of the Student Expo: Q & A with Laura Nicklaus

April 3, 2013

Laura Nicklaus is a 2011 Bradley graduate currently working as an environmental engineer at John Deere in Moline. During her undergraduate career, Laura conducted research under the guidance of her advisors, Dr. Robert Fuessle, Department of Civil Engineering and Construction, and Dr. Max Taylor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, focusing on the stabilization of hazardous wastes in cement. Their research shows the effect of various levels of magnesium and lead on the treatment effectiveness after short- and long-term curing in cement stabilization. Laura displayed her research results at the Bradley Student Scholarship Expo in the spring of 2009. In the fall of 2009, she gave a platform presentation of the research results at the University of Massachusetts Amherst International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water and Energy. Laura won one of three best student presentation awards at the conference after being selected among undergraduate and graduate professionals from around the world.

1. Why did you choose Bradley University for your undergraduate education?

I chose Bradley because it gives all students a distinguished, well-rounded education. Bradley is well respected in the civil engineering and construction industry, and I was honored to be a part of this tradition. I came to the hilltop expecting a valuable education in civil and environmental engineering, and my expectations were well exceeded.

2. What is your best memory of being an undergraduate student?

The best memories I have at Bradley are the interactions between students, faculty and campus employees. The relationships that occur on campus are spectacular to watch unfold: students helping other students, students assisting faculty, and faculty assisting students. Seeing the Bradley community interact with each other on a daily basis gave me many great memories with professors and students on campus.

3. Why should students be involved in research with faculty?

Research is a great way to use your education beyond the classroom. Learning about hazardous waste stabilization technologies in class, and then being able to contribute to those methods in the lab was a great hands-on experience. I would highly recommend that students be involved with faculty research; it enables the students to see the interconnectedness of research and education.

4. Tell us about your research experiences as an undergraduate student in Civil Engineering and Construction at Bradley. Did your research involve a team? Were any of your collaborations multidisciplinary?

In the Civil Engineering and Construction Department, I was definitely a part of a multi-disciplinary team. I worked with fellow students in the lab and professors in our department as well as the Department of Chemistry. Getting the perspectives from each of the members of our team enabled our interpretations to be comprehensive across all relative industries. We sent a consistent message in our results. Interpreting results was much easier with the help of our multidisciplinary team.

5. How did working with others, including faculty and students, affect the quality of your research experience at Bradley?

The research that I conducted at Bradley would not have been possible without the help of others. The students and faculty that I worked with during my research experience put in numerous long hours to help make our research possible. From analyzing samples during the summer months, campaigning for funding, compiling results on the weekend, and going through many draft revisions to prepare for publication, we all worked many hours to make a contribution to hazardous waste technologies.

6. What challenges did you face as an undergraduate student while conducting research? What did you learn from working through these challenges?

There was obviously a learning curve when I took part in research as an undergraduate student. I worked with Bradley professors who have researched hazardous waste stabilization and solidification technologies for many years, and it took me a while to get up to speed. I spent countless hours reading similar research articles and saw what research is currently present in the industry so that I could interpret our results in the same context.

7. What do you see as the benefits of having the opportunity to share your experiences with others at the Student Scholarship Expo?

The Student Scholarship Expo is a great outlet to showcase students’ research experience during their time at Bradley. I enjoyed presenting our research poster board as well as looking at other research from around campus. Seeing that Bradley students are making a difference in many industries, not just civil and environmental engineering, is exciting to witness.

8. What was the most exciting part about conducting research at Bradley?

The best part about my research at BU was my involvement in the process from start to finish. I enjoyed learning and contributing to the normal steps that a research project takes: project proposal, scope and parameters, laboratory preparations, sample analysis and interpretation of results. Completing the steps of the research process, and then finally presenting the results and preparing for journal publication, was exciting to learn and experience.

9. How do you think your undergraduate scholarly activities better prepared you for your chosen career?

The process that research takes can be applied to many projects in my current job as an environmental engineer. When I approach tasks, I use the same systematic steps as I did in my research: define the problem, develop solutions, and implement. Having a Bradley education and experience in research during my studies has better enabled me to conquer obstacles in my career.

10. How did your involvement with student research impact your life?

I see the implications of my research daily in my current position as an environmental engineer. When my facility has industrial hazardous waste to dispose of, I am confident that when I send it off site, there are technologies available to properly dispose of this waste. Knowing that my research at Bradley contributed to the process of hazardous waste disposal, no matter what industry I work in, is a great reward.

Please consider attending the Undergraduate Student Expo on Thursday, April 18, 2013, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Renaissance Coliseum and see research from our students and faculty. The event is free and open to the public.