Thirst for Knowledge

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

By Matt Hawkins
June 16, 2014

Alyssa Macuk ’12 MS ’14 quickly found her passion for mechanical engineering research on the Hilltop. Working as an undergrad with Dr. Kalyani Nair and as a graduate student with Dr. Shannon Timpe, she published several conference papers and two journal papers, with two more journal publications on the way.

That research agenda is competitive with the quantity and quality of work at the doctorate level.

“Her work has shown itself to be competitive with top scientists and researchers all over the world,” Timpe said. “The fact that she is publishing four articles is amazing. The university should be very proud of her tremendously productive research activities.”

An early conversation with Timpe sparked an interest in research for the once-hesitant scholar. That conversation, coupled with an internship at Lisle, Illinois,-based Navistar, led to a life-altering decision.

“I felt like if I started doing research it would change my life, and somehow it did,” Macuk said. “I get excited about finding new knowledge, and that drives my passion for research.”

She focused on nano and micro technology with an interest in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). MEMS are tiny mechanical systems incorporated into everyday computers, cell phones and other devices.

Broad research interests fueled her quest to understand the diverse sciences that converge in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).

“She is more concerned about understanding things than she is about the external rewards of her hard work,” Timpe said. “She needed to understand the material and this ‘attack mode’ has helped her develop into a successful student and researcher.”

“I love the connection of so many fields like electrical engineering and basic physics,” Macuk said. “I definitely veered off the traditional engineering path, but more people will be doing that in the future because you have to have that knowledge.”

She participated in Timpe’s research group, which blossomed from a handful of students to more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate researchers. The group has produced scholars who continued research at prestigious schools such as Georgia Tech and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The research group challenged her to grow both as a scholar and leader. Initially, she hesitated to touch lab equipment. Once she became involved with research, she quickly learned skills and knowledge to make things happen in the lab.

“To go from a student who wouldn’t actively get involved in labs to the person who travel to the University of Illinois alone to work independently on multimillion-dollar machines was is a huge step,” she said. “Being able to take these steps helped me gain confidence and realize that I was the only one holding myself back.”

Macuk leaves Bradley with a job at Knowles Electronics in Itasca, Illinois, largely because of her broad research experience. At Knowles, she will continue her quest for knowledge as a member of a research and development group. The group will focus on MEMS microphone devices.

“My biggest career goal is to keep learning, growing and staying active in pursuit of knowledge and skills,” she said. “I don’t just want to get the right answer.”

She wants to understand the answer.