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Orientation: A first for new graduate students

For freshmen, those wide-eyed youths hovering at only the very beginning of their intellectual journey, universities routinely roll out the red carpet and welcome them to campus with a fanfare of trumpets.

Or, perhaps that is just how it sometimes appears to incoming graduate students.

Graduate students come to campus with considerably less fanfare, generally find their own way around campus, and quickly meld into the scenery by being put to hard work in their laboratories.

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In recent years, however, graduate students at the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) had bewailed the fact that they were missing a sense of community. They said they did not have opportunities to meet other graduate students, nor learn the ins and the outs of the SEAS.

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The first SEAS graduate orientation was capped off with a barbecue and picnic for all SEAS graduate students.

Photos by Frank Wojciechowski

Two years ago the SEAS Office of Graduate Affairs was founded, and under the creative, ambitious tactics of E. David Mendez, assistant dean for graduate affairs, the Princeton experience for engineering graduate students has improved dramatically, including the first ever SEAS graduate orientation.

The first-years gathered in the Friend Center for Engineering Education to learn about engineering at Princeton and see the faces of the people that make SEAS tick.

"You'll be here for some critical years that will really shape the face of the engineering school," said Sanjeev Kulkarni, associate dean for academic affairs, referring to the SEAS strategic planning initiative that is in high gear this fall. "You're a very select group, and we're proud to have you here."

SEAS Dean Maria Klawe could not attend the affair, but she left a special video message for the incoming graduate students.

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SEAS graduate students enjoy the post-orientation barbeque..

Photos by Frank Wojciechowski

"You graduate students are very important to us because you're such a key part of the research that gets done here," Dean Klawe said.

She also advised the students to get out of the lab sometimes and make a point of meeting other people in the University.

"Many areas of research are interdisciplinary now," she said. "Get to know people in other departments."

Indeed, one of the major foci of the SEAS for the future is supporting and initiating more interdisciplinary research. To give a taste of that to the incoming students, the Office of Graduate Affairs invited three junior faculty members to give presentations about their own research, which spans several departments from within and outside of SEAS.

Jeff Carbeck, assistant professor of chemical engineering, explained his collaborative research with faculty in the chemistry and molecular biology departments. Professor Carbeck is working on micro- and meso-scale devices that mimic the capabilities of animals and natural materials. He is working from the idea that perhaps the best way to achieve such capabilities is by creating hybrid devices that use both mechanical robotics and organic processes and materials.

Julie Young, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, presented her research on the Multiscale Simulation of Cavitating Flows. Cavitation is the term used for the phenomenon that occurs when there is a decrease in the pressure of a liquid and bubbles collapse, rebound, and collapse again.

This cycle can cause severe damage to metals, and is thus of particular interest to the Navy. Applied cavitation has many uses in military weaponry and defense, as well as nanotechnology, marine wildlife science, and medical treatments.

"The beauty of interdisciplinary research is that you and your collaborators find all these different applications," Professor Young said. "It's a lot of fun."

Ron Weiss, assistant professor of electrical engineering, presented his research on programming cell communities. Professor Weiss' laboratory designs digital logic circuits using biochemical reactions, and then builds them into cells to program cells to behave in a certain way. His research could have a myriad of applications in medicine. Professor Weiss had some advice for these new graduate students.

"Listen to those people who sound to you to be really ridiculous and crazy," he said. "They've just been trained in a different way. You can learn from these people."

Also in attendance at the orientation were the graduate coordinators from the six engineering departments, as well as Edward Wladas, head of the engineering library.

Members of the three SEAS graduate student organizations introduced themselves. Phil Lenart of the Graduate Social Committee and Rebecca Petersen of the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE) invited all the students to get involved in their events.

The entire 11-membe r Graduate Engineering Council also filed to the front of the room, each providing a tidbit of advice to the students, saying everything from "stay well-rested" to "call this number for good take-out lunch."

After the orientation activities, everyone moved over to the E-Quad courtyard for what was widely considered to be the most happenin' SEAS get-together in years.

All graduate students, faculty, and staff members were invited and enjoyed plenty of freshly barbecued food, drink, music, relaxed conversation, and perfect weather.

Many door prizes donated from local businesses were raffled off to lucky and appreciative winners.

Overall, the "graduate community" that the Office of Graduate Affairs has been working to create appeared alive and well, looking forward to an excellent year.

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