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Nicole Hegele

What advice do you have for undergraduates who are just starting out in research?

Ask your professors about their research. They know you and they’ve seen how you work in class. Keep in mind they’ve spent innumerable years on their research and enjoy seeing students invested in what they, personally, have found to be their life’s calling. Also, explore your future field and look at the developments currently happening and those that are projected to happen in the upcoming years. Find the three topics that jump out at you and begin asking your professors. Use the University’s resources to your advantage; they are there to help you be the best student you can be and want you to ask as many questions as you need to get started.

When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An astronaut or the Boston Red Sox game announcer.

What are your current plans/career goals beyond the undergraduate?

Further Education: Doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Masters in Political Science; Career Goals: I plan to work in public policy as a liaison between research and policy considerations. Taking note of the low numbers of engineers currently in Congress (8/535 in the 114th U.S. Congress), I also plan to strive for education of STEM students in public policy and administration; encouraging students to become evermore involved in the processes that shape the academic and research atmosphere in our nation.

When did you get involved in undergraduate research?

Fall semester of my freshman year.

How long have you been involved in undergraduate research?

Over a year.

Why did you choose get involved in undergraduate research?

I had never considered undergraduate research until I met Dr. Hota GangaRao. Having been raised in the hot-bed of the coal controversy, I had always been concerned with how to answer problems by introducing overall positive change for industry, society, and environment. I didn’t know research was a viable avenue for addressing these concerns, until I met Dr. Hota. His focus is rehabilitation of failing structures, which improves peoples’ lives and reduces time and money ultimately spent on infrastructure. He showed me that I could realize my goals with an engineering degree and emphasis on investment, understanding, and appreciation of research.

How did you find/connect with your first faculty research adviser?

My first research adviser was the faculty member who was assigned to my table at an awards dinner. After the event, he invited me to take a tour of his lab and encouraged me to do undergraduate research. When I returned to the university the following fall, I contacted him via e-mail and met with him and his graduate student to establish a research schedule.

What is your current research?

I am investigating the relationships between contaminants in the West Run Watershed north of Morgantown, with a focus on developing a treatment technology that can effectively remove phosphates from water systems. West Run is heavily impacted by both acid mine drainage (AMD), acidic leaching from inadequately sealed mine sites, and high nutrient concentrations from excrement and fertilizers. High levels of dissolved contaminants in this system provide a unique opportunity to investigate how contaminants interact with and impact the system. Studies indicate that iron and aluminum in AMD have the potential to clean water systems by absorbing phosphate upon precipitation. Thus, AMD has the tendency to remove phosphate from water resources. We are currently in the process of studying the deposition rate of these precipitates and monitoring whether they remain in the system or leave over time and/or as the result of mass events (i.e., rain, melt, etc.).

What skills have you learned by doing research that you would not have learned otherwise (i.e., from lecture alone)?

Research encourages you to remember and utilize the information and theories you are learning in lecture. No amount of information that is necessary for your foundation as a college student, including your high school course material, is insignificant. Furthermore, in working in the lab, I have developed problem solving skills that would never have developed from lecture alone. Everyday in the lab is not only a measure of your knowledge of theory, but also your ability to answer real-world problems with the pressures that accompany them.