Kent State University is trending toward interdisciplinary research, and pushing students to find their passion, while national business trends favor a focus on sustainability.
So one might say that Angela Deibel is a trendy young woman.
She is one of 35 students who participated in Kent State’s inaugural Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, and might just be the poster child for KSU’s inspiring drive to lead students toward their life’s purpose. She’s also not a bad model for the new research mantra: Innovation Occurs Where Fields Collide.
With a major in marketing and a newly declared sustainability minor, the first-year transfer from Ohio Northern University has settled into a sweet spot where her talents and passions merge.
“I have always been passionate about the Earth and protecting our world,” Deibel said. “I can’t do it through politics, but I can help by actually working to save the resources we have.”
In her spring 2016 “Introduction to Sustainability” course, Deibel impressed her instructor — Assistant Professor of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology, Dr. Yanhai Du.
Du said when he volunteered to be a SURE mentor, he knew the opportunity was perfect for Deibel.
In Du’s lab, she learned about fuel cells — the technology Du hopes is the future of energy efficiency and sustainability. He also thinks Deibel is destined to play a part in shaping that future.
“She’s not an engineer academically, but she looks like she’s falling in love with engineering,” Du said. “I don’t need to spend much time standing over her. We talk about what needs done and how to do it, and she does it.”
Deibel is harder on herself than her mentor is.
“If they let the clumsy intern handle the heavy, expensive fuel cell, then you know it’s as durable as they say it is,” she said. But her self-deprecating humor comes with a healthy dose of wisdom. “The thing I learned most from my SURE internship was how to make mistakes. I learned to understand that with every mistake I made, I was one step closer to my goal. That was a big life lesson.”
Deibel’s determination during SURE led Du to put her in charge of a project to build a zero-emission vehicle — “ZEV” — prototype. Working toward an individual investigation credit, Deibel is the only undergraduate on the three-person team she’s leading, with electrical engineering graduate student Sriram Matturi and mechanical engineering grad student Chaitran Chakilam.
“I knew that for her alone, it was too challenging, so I put together a team,” Du said. “Angie is focused on the environmental impact.”
The proposed vehicle is a golf cart. They’ll replace the engine with a hybrid fuel cell and lithium-ion battery system, powered by a solar panel on the roof.
Deibel said ZEV will serve the Kent State community by providing tours and transportation for visitors, alumni, VIPs and handicapped people. Beyond utility, though, is a greater purpose.
“I told her we need people to tell the world there is such a thing as sustainability,” Du said.
That’s where her other talent comes in. Deibel the marketing student has big plans to let the world know about ZEV and sustainability.
“I’ve always been a natural at marketing, so I want to use my voice to better the world through media,” Deibel said. “The goal is to raise awareness and generate engagement with students. The best way to do that is to make lots of noise.”
The cart will be outfitted with a state-of-the-art sound system and flashing light panel. The students will drive it around campus, blasting music, and bring it to big events like FlashFest. Deibel said they also plan to rent it out to student groups, but the first ride is reserved for a very special passenger.
“President Beverly Warren will receive an official invitation to be the first to tour campus in ZEV,” Deibel said.
Deibel offered a three-minute summary of her research at the Oct. 21 SURE Presentation event, for which she won third place. She intends to pursue her master’s degree in sustainability.
“I’d be a sustainability major, but it’s not offered for undergraduates,” she said.
Research Vice President Paul DiCorleto said he’s pleased about Deibel’s tie to the College of Business Administration, which Kent State hopes to engage in more research initiatives.
“Business has not had a reputation for being a research-intensive field. It's remarkable that in its first year, the SURE Program not only provided great student experiences, but also highlighted some clear and present opportunities for scientific research to merge with business,” he said.
Yet DiCorleto said Deibel should be seen more as a role model for other students who are looking for their place.
“Students like Angela make us proud because they show what a passion-driven student can do when they have the right environment and good opportunities,” he said. “They’re vital to our efforts to grow research here, so we’re doing our part to provide that environment through opportunities like SURE. We need students like her to set these examples, though, so more students take advantage and bring that same innovative spirit.”
Read more student research profiles at https://www.kent.edu/student_research/student-profiles