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Honors Students Bring Summer Research Experiences Back to Campus

By Brian Peters

Release Date: September 26, 2011

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While in Missouri on a internship with GE, UB aerospace engineering student Rich Kennedy helped clean up tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Creating drinkable water for rural Indonesia, helping to clean up tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., and researching how diesel exhaust may harm those living near the Peace Bridge are just a few of the ways the intellectually curious students of the University at Buffalo's Honors College spent their summer.

They've returned to campus this fall energized by the experiences, ready to carry on their research or use what they learned to add depth to coursework.

Esther Buckwalter, a junior studying environmental engineering, had applied to spend her summer working on a ceramic water filtration project in her hometown of Alfred. When it was announced that the project was moving to Indonesia, she was surprised to be invited along.

"I chose to spend my summer there because I feel that potable water is a basic human right," says Buckwalter. "I was excited to be part of an initiative that was working to make drinkable water for survivors of natural disasters."

Using what she had learned at UB, Buckwalter set up a microbiology lab, managed the filter initiative budget and wrote a procedural manual for water quality tests.

"Learning about a new culture and living in a country halfway across the world was rewarding, refreshing and challenging," says Buckwalter. "I feel newly impassioned about my major having lived without drinkable water coming out of a tap. I better understand the world of international aid, met some amazing people, learned the basics of a new language and felt good about the work I was doing."

Rich Kennedy, a Duanesburg native and junior in UB's aerospace engineering program, landed an internship this summer with G.E. Transportation after attending a UB career fair. He and about 20 other students from around the country were selected to work in GE's intelligent control systems division in Kansas City, Mo.

"I got an amazing amount of exposure to senior level management across the business and engineering spectrum," says Kennedy. "I also obtained a greater appreciation for the difference between engineering in industry and engineering in the academic world."

But engineering experience wasn't all Kennedy got out of his time in Missouri.

After seeing televised scenes of the widespread damage caused by the tornado in Joplin, Kennedy and his fellow interns realized the internship had brought them close enough to directly help. They decided as a group to travel to Joplin and assist with the clean-up.

"We had all seen the images of destruction on television back home and we figured now that we were so close we should go out as a group and do our part," says Kennedy. "Seeing the destruction on television definitely did not do it justice, and my experience will definitely stick with me for the rest of my life."

Kristina Blank, a Craryville native and senior environmental studies major, traveled to the University of Washington to participate in their Environmental Health Research Experience Program. Blank joined a study examining the negative cardiovascular effects of diesel exhaust air pollution.

"This topic was of particular interest to me because I had interned with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, working to empower the West Side community of Buffalo," says Blank. "The population there suffers staggering rates of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases, likely due to their proximity to the Peace Bridge and its relentless diesel truck traffic.

"I hoped that my participation in this summer program would enhance my academic studies and give me experience and knowledge to bring back to the West Side community."

More than 1,000 exceptional students from around the globe are enrolled in UB's Honors College. The Honors College provides opportunities for UB honors students to engage in research and creative activities throughout the world, be involved in internships and study abroad programs and compete for national awards and fellowships. For more information about the UB Honors College, go to http://honors.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system that is its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.