Student Ingenuity Shines at 10th Annual SEAS R&D Showcase

“Innovation Awards” given to honor showcase founder, alumnus Randy Graves.

February 29, 2016


A George Washington University student speaks with GW President Steven Knapp about his project at the School of Engineering and Applied Science Student R&D showcase. (Photo/Eleanor Kaufman)

By Brittney Dunkins

Randy Graves, D. Sc. ’78, launched the George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science Student Research and Development Showcase about a decade ago with just two staff members, three interns and $1,000 in prize money that he put up himself.

The program has evolved from 47 participating students in 2007 to 101 undergraduate and graduate students in 2016. The finalists presented their research Wednesday evening in the hopes of winning prizes totaling more than $32,000 at the showcase that spanned two floors of the state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Hall .

The showcase was an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to show and discuss their work with the university community. (Photo/Eleanor Kaufman)

Dr. Graves was honored for his contributions at the 2016 showcase award ceremony held in SEH Lehman Auditorium. SEAS Dean David Dolling thanked Dr. Graves and said that the university has a lot to celebrate when reflecting on the continued success of the program.

“When I suggested the showcase to the former dean he kept resisting, but I kept pushing,” Dr. Graves said, laughing. “I wanted to expose the great research that students were doing at GW. To look around now and see so many impressive projects is wonderful.”

SEAS Dean David S. Dolling presented showcase founder Randy Graves, D. Sc. ’78, with an award for his dedication to the competition. (Photo/Eleanor Kaufman)

The importance of innovation at the collegiate level was a running theme at the showcase, which included a discussion with moderator Naeem Hussain, founder of AgileTrailblazers, and panelists Ed Albrigo, president and CEO of the Center for Innovative Technology, S. Gulu Gambhir, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Leidos, and Glenn Roberts, chief engineer for the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development at Mitre.

M34 Capital Founder Errol Arkilic, B.S. ’91, was the keynote speaker. The panelists and Dr. Arkilic said that companies are looking to the rising crop of graduates to inject the industry with a “fresh perspective.”

Dr. Arkilic advised students “to use the power of the scientific method” to pursue innovation and entrepreneurship.

Panelists said that companies are on the hunt for inquisitive, innovative graduates. (Photo/Eleanor Kaufman)

Awards were given for research projects in four categories: Experimental Prize, Theoretical Prize, Undergraduate Prize and Entrepreneurship Prize. In addition, two special Randolph A. Graves Innovation awards were given in honor of Dr. Graves.

George Washington President Steven Knapp, who spent time observing projects at the showcase, said what he saw was “all very impressive.”

“I’m always dazzled by the projects when I come to this event,” Dr. Knapp said. “I’ve learned about real-time observations of a beating heart, and I learned about robots that find and conserve energy as they travel.”

Among the winners were seniors Katherine Stasaski, Elsbeth Turcan and Jennifer Hill. They took home the top “Undergraduate Prize” for CAPITAL Words, a project that tackles literacy issues through reading and spelling exercises automatically generated by algorithms. Through research, they identified common spelling and reading mistakes and created a mobile application that takes in a list of words and creates exercises that address those skills.

Ms. Turcan brought expertise in natural language processing, while Ms. Stasaski was the go-to for computer science skills. Both say the pilot application—in limited use at the Washington Literacy Center—was a way to channel their coursework into their passion for education.

“I didn’t realize that 29 million people in the United States are functionally illiterate, and I feel like that is something I’m really passionate about addressing since working on the project,” Ms. Stasaski said.

The Randolph A. Graves Innovation awards went to senior Jessica Hinke and graduate student Angel Moreno. The Office of Industry and Corporate Research in the Office of the Vice President for Research endowed the awards.

(l-r) Dr. Graves, Angel Moreno, Jessica Hinke, Dr. Dolling, and Assistant Vice President for Corporate and Industry Research Thomas P. Russo. (Photo/Eleanor Kaufman)

Ms. Hinke developed and tested blood analog fluids, synthetic fluids that mimic the pressure, action and viscosity of blood when flowing through a model artery. She said that working in the labs on campus during her sophomore year and during the summer gave her unique lab experiences.

“I would advise other students to not be scared to reach out to professors because there are so many opportunities here for students to be a part of research,” Ms. Hinke said.

Dr. Graves said seeing the excitement and accomplishments of students at the showcase is meaningful because this could be their first step toward a future career.

“Now students not only show their research but also have the opportunity to meet with employers,” Dr. Graves said. “It’s great practice, because when students talk about their research, what they are really talking about is themselves. It’s an important skill to develop.”