Alyssa Calder - Undergraduate Researcher Recognition

Alyssa Calder 2011  College of Enineering's Undergraduate Researcher of the Year at Utah State Capitol

Calder Engineers Top Undergraduate Researcher Recognition

With a job teaching engineering classes in the stead of a professor from time to time, maintaining a near-perfect GPA, and just the challenges of being an engineering student, you’d think senior Alyssa Calder wouldn’t have the time to take yet another road as an undergraduate researcher. Yet, she chose to do so anyway—and the light at the end of the tunnel is more than bright for the senior.

Calder was named the 2011 College of Engineering Undergraduate Researcher of the Year, an award that comes after two years of extensive research with UAES researchers David Britt, associate professor of biological engineering and Anne Anderson, professor of biology. The work focuses on how nanoparticles in a gel can be used to combat bacteria in ways that rival conventional antibiotics because there is less chance of bacteria developing resistance to treatment.

“I was very honored,” Calder said about hearing she had been selected. “It’s nice to know that what I‘ve been doing is being recognized. I’ve really enjoyed doing research, so having that experience has been nice.”

One might say that such a road must lead to very promising horizons for the St. George, Utah native, and Britt would agree.

“What makes Alyssa the incredible student that she is, is that she has helped develop and run laboratory experiments that involve high-end instrumentation and some challenging concepts,” Britt said. He added that Calder has twice been a teaching assistant, and helped “hold down the fort” in teaching some of Britt’s classes with a graduate student while Britt was on sabbatical leave.

“She somehow finds time to do research, handle her classes, get a 3.97 GPA, help with weekly group (research) meetings; she does it all,” he said. “I definitely see this as someone who is going to make in impact in the world—she is really determined to make a difference.”

Britt said besides her teaching, research and leadership abilities, Calder is an effective technical writer, presents the research so it’s easy to understand, and is also involved in activities outside the classroom and laboratory.

Calder is heavily involved in USU’s 60-member chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. She utilizes her musical talents accompanying the choir in her church and was a Cub Scout leader for 11-year-old scouts during the 2009-10 school year. Relaxing comes with yoga in USU’s Fun, Fit, Forever program.

When she is in the lab, however, Calder said she has discovered things about herself in addition to discoveries about the gels and nanoparticles she studies.

“I’ve learned that I really would like to have a job that’s more research-based,” she said.

“I’ve also learned that I’ve gained valuable public speaking skills with the opportunity to present research. I’ve also learned how valuable a research mentor is.”

The compliment appreciated, but Britt has only praise for Calder’s skills.

“She’s really the complete package,” Britt said. “Now, she’s not just good enough in just engineering. She’s not just book smart, she’s beyond that. She can teach a principle to someone else, side-by-side. She’s happy to troubleshoot problems right on the spot. We’re all very sad to see her leave, but she could probably go to any university she wants to (for graduate school.)”

Calder graduates at the end of the semester. She hopes to be able to teach and share what she has learned in her research work in the near future. She credits the university for opening doors to her.

“When I first came it seemed too foreign,” Calder said about the notion of doing research as an undergrad. “What is great at Utah State is you are able to build those skills even before you graduate. It gives you a competitive edge when you are applying for grad schools and jobs.”

Alyssa Calder, 2011 College of Engineering Undergraduate Researcher of the Year, St. George, UT
David Britt, Faculty Mentor, Biological Engineering

Writer: Rhett Wilkinson