When Rachel Bruflodt scored an A+ in an electrical engineering class in her sophomore year, her professor, Ananya Sen Gupta, offered the young woman a golden opportunity: a position as a research assistant on a project to identify the sources of oil spills and other contaminants, also known as environmental signal processing.
Not only was she able to apply a mapping method created by her professor to fingerprint the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to another spill in California, but she also was able to spot and correct glitches in the mapping technique and then reboot it to analyze different data sets, including polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. She is currently participating in a research collaboration that involves the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Massachusetts and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“Rachel absolutely astounded me,” says Sen Gupta, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the College of Engineering. “I have cross-checked her work, as I do with all of my students, and I have never found an error. She is truly amazing.”
In recognition of her hard work and contributions, Bruflodt, now a junior, was named UI’s 2016–17 student employee of the year. The Dubuque, Iowa, native and seven other student employees, as well as nine student employee supervisors, was honored April 13 at a reception at the home of UI President J. Bruce Harreld.
“Without student employees, it would be impossible to manage the basic tasks that make university offices, food service, libraries, patient care, and the Cambus run day in and day out,” says Cynthia Seyfer, senior associate director for student financial aid, whose office oversees roughly 7,000 student workers on campus. “In addition, student employees are often on the cutting edge of university research.”
Student employee supervisors—university employees who assign and monitor the work of student employees—make equally important contributions to campus life.
“Supervisors are critical to the educational experience of the student employee,” says Seyfer. “They help students connect their learning in the classroom to their learning on the job, develop transferable skills, and often provide references for professional employment or graduate school applications.”
Student employees earn a salary, but the reward goes beyond dollars and cents, says Seyfer.
“Campus jobs allow students to develop the skills necessary to compete in the workplace,” she says. “Students often comment on how their student employment experiences help them to develop or improve on skills such as time management, organization, critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication.”
Sen Gupta has watched as Bruflodt, a natural introvert, has learned to exert herself among her peers and superiors, even cleaning up computer code and making improvements on her own.
“I find her energy and talent exhilarating and have been delighted to see her blossom from a quiet student to a serious scientist in training,” says Sen Gupta.
Asked about her plans after graduation in 2018, Bruflodt says she’s not sure. For now, she’s just happy to be working on data riddles, forever searching for numeric patterns that could help scientists better understand the effects of contamination on our fragile natural environment.
“I have definitely enjoyed this experience because I wanted to learn about work as a researcher,” Bruflodt says. “I like anything that allows me to apply what I have learned to solve real problems.”
Other student winners include:
Zach Steil, Banquets and Catering (Winner, Student/Campus Services)
During his two-and-a-half years as a student manager for University Catering, Steil has proven that he’s willing to go the extra mile to make sure events are successful. “Zach runs his own events, so we rely on him to act as a supervisor,” says Heather Showalter, assistant director of banquets and catering. “We also rely on him to train our new catering staff, and he has never let us down. He is the standard to which we now train all of our student managers.” In addition to running catering events, Steil also created Excel spreadsheets to make planning for events easier. The spreadsheets allow mangers to generate lists of needed items depending on event type and size. The spreadsheets save the department significant prep time—about 30 minutes on average—and cut down on mistakes. A senior from Stanwood, Iowa, Steil also dresses the part of a professional maître d’, sometimes donning a blazer and tie. He often can be seen chatting with guests to make sure they’re satisfied with their event.
Lauren Himan, Division of Interdisciplinary Programs (Winner, Administrative Support)
Himan has made a lasting impression on her colleagues in the Division of Interdisciplinary Programs. A sophomore from Roland, Iowa, Himan has used her skills as a writer and graphic designer to create posters, brochures, and reports that are “visually appealing, clearly convey information, and meet professional standards,” according to her manager Allison Rockwell, an administrative services specialist within the department. For one of her biggest projects—the design of the 2015–16 department annual report—Himan spent significant time creating a template and then more time adding relevant text and images. She also worked on the vision statement for the Frank N. Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing, a document that has been praised for its aesthetic qualities. But it’s not just Himan’s creativity that has won over her colleagues. “Lauren is also a joy to work with,” says Rockwell. “She is reliable and professional, but also warm, kind, and fun to be around. Truly, Lauren is one of a kind.”
Rojahn Kakavandi, Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) (Certificate of Distinction)
In the four years since Kakavandi, a senior from Decorah, Iowa, started working as a peer mentoring and ambassador assistant for WiSE at the College of Engineering, she has become a strong advocate for women in the STEM fields. “When you talk with Rojahn, it’s clear that she believes in the mission of WiSE and the work we do,” says Linda Varvel, co-director of WiSE. “She always puts great care and effort into the work she does for WiSE, which results in events and programs of a very high caliber.” For example, Kakavandi helped improve participation in an annual mock networking event by soliciting feedback from students who had attended previous events. She also organized a “virtual retreat” over the summer so she and other students could plan WiSE events for the coming academic year. Kakavandi created a PowerPoint presentation that outlined her vision for the year and then sent it to members of the WiSE executive board for feedback. For the first time, WiSE ambassadors started the year with a list of events already in the works. Says Varvel, “When talking about Rojahn, someone once told me: ‘That young woman is amazing. She is truly someone special.’ I couldn’t agree more.”
Gabriela (Bela) Magalhaes, Language Media Center (Certificate of Distinction)
A double major in Portuguese and international relations, Magalhaes’ personal interests align well with the mission of the Language Media Center—the hub of foreign languages and cultures at the UI. Initially hired as a student monitor, Magalhaes’ supervisors quickly promoted her to studio assistant (a 20-hour-per-week commitment) because of her dependability and professionalism. She arrived at the media center during a time of change—a new director and several new staff members were hired during her tenure—and she played a critical role in ensuring a smooth transition. “Looking back at the last year, my job would have been next to impossible without Bela’s support and collaboration,” says Brianna Janssen Sanchez, director of the Language Media Center. “She is eager to learn and happy to help with any task presented to her.” During a recent update to the media center, Magalhaes, a senior from Davenport, Iowa, was the on-site point person for the audio firm tasked with performing the update. After meeting with firm representatives to learn about the update, Magalhaes trained 12 student monitors to use the new software and equipment. She also took over management of the center’s social media accounts. “In sum, Bela possesses a very strong work ethic and demonstrates excellent teamwork,” says Janssen Sanchez.
Rebecca Mansfield, Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology (Certificate of Distinction)
Every student should know about Success at Iowa, an online, two-semester course that all new domestic and international undergraduate students must complete. The course, which offers informational learning modules, introduces new students to resources and information that will help them succeed academically and socially at the UI. An important behind-the-scenes player in putting these learning modules together is Mansfield, a senior from Kalona, Iowa, who this year helped her colleagues create more than a dozen new learning modules—a major feat, says Annette Beck, director of the Enterprise Instructional Technology team in the Office of Teaching, Learning, Technology. A teaching assistant, Mansfield also helped train other student employees to use various software programs to produce the modules, easing the work load on permanent staff members. “Rebecca consistently goes above and beyond what is asked for,” says Beck. “I feel that she challenges our entire team to be better. When she is here, she is fully present.”
Anna Seydel, Center for Computer-Aided Design (Certificate of Distinction)
Imagine working with a digital human. That’s what Seydel, a senior from Iowa City, Iowa, has been doing at the Center for Computer-Aided Design lab at the College of Engineering. As an undergraduate research assistant, she completed a project to compare motion capture files using a task-based, biomechanical range-of-motion score, and then used the data to create a new tool in the Santos™ digital human software. From there, Seydel continued to study existing motion capture processing techniques and devised a way to further improve biomechanics analysis. She is the lead author of a research paper on this work, the abstract of which has already been accepted to the Eighth International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics 2017. “Anna has demonstrated a rare combination of talent in both practical application and research diligence,” says Kimberly Farrell, senior software engineer for the Virtual Soldier Research Program at the Center of Computer-Aided Design. “She works to ensure that the end product of both her code and her research is not just a proof of concept but a robust and reliable solution that can be used in a professional software product.”
Rochelle Yang, College of Pharmacy (Certificate of Distinction)
It’s unusual for students to actively seek positions working in pharmacy implementation research, and when they do, they often are just looking to pad their résumé, says Chris Parker, director of clinical pharmacy services at the College of Pharmacy. But when Yang asked him about work two years ago, it was apparent that she was genuinely interested in learning more about this type of research. Yang, a third-year pharmacy student from Coralville, Iowa, is working on two large, federally funded, multi-site pharmacist intervention studies of patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease. For one study, Yang implemented recruitment and enrollment activities and then contacted patients for initial visits and follow-ups. She was so knowledgeable regarding the study protocol that she soon was training other study coordinators. “Training others to conduct complex research is a role typically reserved for seasoned research staff,” says Parker, “but Rochelle was so trustworthy that we knew she could do it.” Even more impressive, says Parker, is that Yang has presented two posters at two academic conferences, wining first prize for one of them. A manuscript she recently submitted to an academic journal is currently under review. “I have worked with several highly motivated students,” says Parker, “but Rochelle’s intelligence and level of commitment and innovation makes her a stand-out candidate for this award.
Supervisor of the Year 2016–17
- Kelly Flinn, Center for Conferences and Institutes
- Katie Johnson, Center for Conferences and Institutes
Certificate of Distinction
- Sarah Hansen, Office of the Vice President for Student Life
- Kathy Lafaurie, Academic Advising Center
- Amy Lintner, Orientation Services
Certificate of Appreciation
- Josey Bathke, Risk Management
- Jayme Crawford, UIHC Marketing and Communications Collegiate Relations
- Susannah Shive, International Writing Program
- Colton Smith, University Housing Administration