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Undergraduate research brings theory to life for Sarah AL-Issa

Students at The Ohio State University have many opportunities to nurture their passion and learning by taking on real-life engineering challenges. Taking part in undergraduate research brought engineering theory to life for Sarah AL-Issa, who graduated spring 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

“I recommend doing undergrad research. Just go to a professor who works in a field you are interested in and ask them about research,” says AL-Issa. “A lot of our professors have ongoing research, and it's really, really helpful.”

Ohio State engineering students have the opportunity to work with world-class faculty and researchers within the College of Engineering and across the university. AL-Issa consulted with Paul Berger, professor of electrical and computer engineering, because she wanted to learn more about the field of solid state electronics and how the concepts she learned in class work in real-life.  

“I have been working with Prof. Berger for the past two semesters on undergrad research,” says AL-Issa. “It really helps a lot and makes you see the big picture. Because when you take one class, then the one that comes after it, you don't make a connection between what's going on unless you see it actually happening.”

Working with a team of fellow undergrads, graduate students and even high school students in Prof. Berger’s research group, AL-Issa works on organic devices. She has gained hands-on experience using professional laboratory equipment such as a glovebox with spin-coater and analyzer, as well as producing samples, testing them and analyzing the results.

“Sarah is a dedicated experimentalist who takes initiative and attacks problems.” says Berger. “I rely on undergraduate students like her to conduct exploratory research, which takes our work in new and exciting directions.”

Berger, who has mentored more than 75 undergraduate researchers during his faculty career, explains that the benefits of undergraduate research extend far beyond the experience gained.

“Not only does undergraduate research provide students with valuable hands-on experience that often leads to more and better career opportunities after graduation, it also builds a sense of community. Within that community there is greater recruitment and retention of engineers, especially women engineers,” he says.

While AL-Issa’s parents inspired her to become an engineer—her father is an electrical engineer and her mother is a chemical engineer—working in the lab has exposed her to new career possibilities. She now aims to attend graduate school and continue her research work.