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Research Experience Brings Professional and Personal Growth

Strong and flexible — those are the words UD student Julian Pabon uses to describe the materials needed for a morphing wing, the subject of his research in UD’s wind tunnel. They also describe the mindset he gained from his research experience.

Pabon, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace, started working in the Low-Speed Wind Tunnel his sophomore year. Surrounded by students and faculty, he was trying to absorb as much information as he could, and there was a lot.

“It can be a super overwhelming experience,” Pabon said. “It’s easy to think, ‘I don’t deserve to be here,’ ‘I don’t know that much,’ ‘I didn’t complete what I was supposed to because I didn’t know enough,’ and it can be discouraging. But, at the same time, when you have the faculty and resources to support you, push you along and teach you lessons every step of the way, then you’re learning and pushing yourself further. Even though you can feel kind of vulnerable in the process, you eventually learn.”

Sidaard Gunasekaran, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Low-Speed Wind Tunnel, has been working with Pabon for over a year. Gunasekaran said his philosophy is to build a sense of empowerment and community in the lab. According to Gunasekaran, students shouldn’t only learn how to problem solve, but how to identify what problem they should be solving.

“We want students to get the skill set and the mindset,” Gunasekaran said. “As engineers, we’re all trying to solve problems, but that’s not enough to be an engineer anymore. When the skill sets for students are the same, that’s when your approach to a problem, your mindset, comes into play. No matter how much you grow, there will always be things you don’t know, so instead of being discouraged because you don’t know something, have the confidence to pursue it. By pursuing things they don’t know, they gain confidence.”

Since joining the lab, Pabon added coding and data processing to his growing skill set, two things he struggled with previously. He applied those skills on researching a new morphing wing design with Gunasekaran and Jacky Cai, graduate student and lab technician, for the School of Engineering’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program, a semester dedicated to research and professional development.

Pabon is presenting his research findings in January at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 2024 Science and Technology Forum and Exposition conference.

He also can add mentorship to his resume as he helps a new student learn the ropes in the lab, something else Gunasekaran encourages to foster learning, engagement and community.

“Being involved with undergrad research has been really nice because, here at UD, I feel 100% that as much work as I put in is as much I gain from it,” Pabon said. “It's such a rewarding experience.”

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