Tufts University: Nurturing tomorrow’s world-changing engineers
Promoted by Tufts University School of Engineering

Tufts University: Changing the world, one engineering student at a time

In a world where the boundaries of possibility are constantly expanding, the students at Tufts University’s School of Engineering stand at the forefront of progress. Their stories are woven with a common thread — passion, curiosity, and an unwavering commitment to transforming challenges into opportunities.

Students’ projects transcend traditional boundaries, embracing fields as diverse as sustainable energy, biotechnology, robotics, inclusion, water treatment, and beyond. Read on to explore how Tufts School of Engineering graduate students are building a better world.

Tufts University: Nurturing tomorrow’s world-changing engineers

Kat Allen is dedicated to helping others through her research. Source: Tufts University

Innovating spaces open to all

Kat Allen came to Tufts with an academic background in aerospace engineering and information technology. Influenced by research prowess, she pursued a PhD in mechanical engineering and human-robot interaction. It wasn’t long until the human-centred research led by Elaine Short, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in the Assistive Agent Behavior and Learning Lab (AABL), caught her attention.

“When inventing anything, the human connection is essential,” Allen says. “You have to see the time that you spend with the customer as a precious resource. It requires a lot of perspective taking, a lot of soft skills. You can’t solve the problem if you don’t start with what the person needs and wants; you can’t do good engineering.”

Today, the doctoral student is exploring the creation of innovative makerspaces tailored to the needs of diverse inventors. Her focus centres on developing a hybrid environment that accommodates individuals facing access challenges, encompassing those with disabilities, ADHD, or chronic pain. Throughout her research, Allen engaged with individuals with unique experiences, including a woman managing life with a limb difference.

“She has one hand with fingers and one hand without,” Allen explains. “Her solution is one that a person with two-handed repetitive strain injury might also need. What I’ve found is essential is that we can work with each other, we can inspire each other, we can create things and remix ideas that work together in new ways. And that’s ultimately what we want to make in this makerspace. It should be a space where people can be inspirational.”

Tufts University: Nurturing tomorrow’s world-changing engineers

Avis Carrero once served as a graduate academic mentor for the StAAR Center at Tufts. Source: Tufts University

Shifting gears

As a civil and environmental engineering graduate student at Tufts with an interest in geosystems engineering, Avis Carrero discovered a calling close to his heart. In 2020, the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of the COVID-19 global pandemic sparked his interest in the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in engineering education. Carrero, as a Black, Latinx, gay, first-generation college graduate, recognised that he had no choice but to confront the realities he personally experienced and perceived. While geosystems engineering and DEI may appear to exist as separate disciplines, Carrero believes they go hand-in-hand.

“They don’t take away from each other,” he says. “In fact, my engineering background trained me to think methodically, allowing me to navigate these complex DEI-related issues within a larger societal framework and my local engineering education context.”

His current perspective centres on his work within education. He’s exploring how engineering faculty understand and engage with diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how their conception of DEI influences their teachings and approaches. “I view this as necessary in pursuing racial and educational equity in engineering,” says Carrero. “Each decision has implications, especially for students of colour or students who have been historically excluded and exist at the margins of engineering.”

Carrero’s research on faculty pedagogical decisions in engineering and DEI is currently being guided by Trevion Henderson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Last year, Carrero’s service and leadership were honoured with a Presidential Award for Civil Life from the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

Nurturing tomorrow’s world-changing engineers

Luca Mazzaferro collaborated with ZwitterCo, a start-up that has commercialised a wastewater treatment technology developed at Tufts. Source: Tufts University

Bridging the gap between chemical engineering and entrepreneurship

Born and raised in Brazil, Luca Mazzaferro was always intrigued by innovation, hence his decision to achieve doctoral success abroad. “If you think of innovation where I come from, you think of the US,” he says. “I always wanted to pursue a PhD, and I knew that the country had the best researchers and institutions.”

He found an endless source of inspiration within Tufts’ vibrant intellectual community. The exchange of ideas, the camaraderie of minds, and the shared pursuit of excellence ignited an inexhaustible well of motivation. Even sleep sometimes fell victim to his curiosity — he was often kept awake by the thought of exploring new horizons. Thankfully, his advisors always encouraged him to execute his ideas. “The first two years, I tried so many things,” Mazzaferro said. “But from my perspective, that means I was able to learn a lot, and in the end, fortune does favour the bold.”

Today, the student works closely with Ayse Asatekin, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. The team’s research focuses on designing novel membranes that enhance water treatment with many potential applications, including biological separations. Over the years, Mazzaferro has conducted research developing polymers that have shown groundbreaking promise as on-demand dissoluble burn dressings. The entrepreneurship enthusiast has even worked closely with ZwitterCo, a start-up co-founded by a School of Engineering alumnus, that has commercialised a technology developed in Asatekin’s lab at Tufts.

“Invention is at the core of what polymer scientists do: we synthesise polymers that have never existed before,” Mazzaferro explains. “There is still a lot to be discovered in the field. At the moment, the inventions we are creating can tackle a range of problems, from health to environmental issues, such as wastewater treatment.”

Eager to follow in the footsteps of these students? Begin engineering your future at Tufts School of Engineering.
Learn more at https://grad.tufts.edu/engineering-masters/ or start your application today!

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