Engineering Meets Business Economics Meets Nanotechology 

Let’s face it—long before move-in day, college-bound students hear enough opinions, advice, reminders, and suggestions to fill up a 10-week course. Even so, one of the oldest refrains still applies: Your undergraduate years are for discovering what you most want to do in life—and for helping you get there.
Of course, some students have wanted to be doctors, research scientists, artists, or engineers ever since they first climbed on a skateboard—and many stay their original course. But since all students encounter electives, broad requirements, and new perspectives, even the most single-minded can change their minds.

Ana Arias is a case in point. In her senior year, Ana switched her major from computer engineering to business economics with an emphasis in accounting. When she first came to the campus from Santa Maria, California, she was determined to be an engineer. “I took all my hard-core science, engineering, and mathematics courses in my first three years, and I really enjoyed my classes,” says Ana, who was on the board of Los Ingenieros; a student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. But as she completed electives, acknowledged her own personality (“I’m very people-oriented!”), and assessed her strong interests beyond the workplace, Ana realized she wanted a different kind of career. Her goal became to creatively blend her engineering background and strong writing skills with her affinity for business by working in a company like Boeing, where her path could include accounting, auditing, communications, and more.

A nanotech internship that will enhance a business career

Despite of Ana’s decision to change her focus, she continued to build on her knowledge and skills by applying in her junior year to a highly competitive internship program of the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, or NNIN. (The nanotech network consists of 13 university research centers, each focusing on a different aspect of nanoscale science, technology, and engineering; one node is Nanotech at UCSB.)

National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network interns.

Ana was accepted to an NNIN Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which sends talented and highly motivated college sophomores and juniors to sites (not their own campus) including UCSB. A native Californian, Ana traveled to Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, to work in a new NNIN area, Social and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology. The field bridges engineering and the social sciences and is a departure from the network’s traditional technical efforts.

“I worked directly with Bruce Lewenstein, associate professor of science communication,” Ana says. “My project, which was part of his research, focused on the media’s coverage of nanotechnology in order to explore the extent to which social and ethical issues surrounding the new field are reflected in the media and public opinion.” In addition to everything she learned from her research, Ana mastered a highly sophisticated statistics program during her stay.

“It was a wonderful experience!” she adds. ” I enjoyed working with my faculty mentor and as a team with graduate students, and it was great to bond with the other NNIN interns from different universities. Three on the campus were from UCSB!”

Twelve UCSB undergrads did research at other campuses; nine other university students came to UCSB to work with senior faculty and graduate students. At the end of the summer, all NNIN interns (see photo above) presented their research findings as part of a network convocation at Pennsylvania State University.

For more information about NNIN REUs, contact Angela Berenstein, at