Student Profile: Arlene Smith, Materials Science and Engineering
LUCERO FIERRO | December 21, 2018
Arlene Smith is the definition of success. The metallurgical, materials and biomedical engineering doctoral student at The University of Texas at El Paso has proven her aptitude for science while working for the Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR) at UTEP.
A native of El Paso, Smith was driven by her desire to become a science teacher. Initially pursuing a degree in cellular and molecular biochemistry at El Paso Community College, she was introduced to the Bridge to the Baccalaureate program, which allowed Smith to transition to UTEP and pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree. Advised by her peers, Smith took an introductory course in materials engineering, which spurred her to change her major to metallurgical, materials and biomedical engineering. She received her bachelor’s degree in May 2017.
“I found that this field was the perfect fit for my interdisciplinary interests,” Smith said. “I am not the traditional student and it took me a long time to achieve my goal.”
Since making the transition, Smith has thrived. A first-generation college student, she was admitted to the Fast-Track program beginning in fall 2017 and began working for her doctorate through CASSMAR. She is the recipient of an NSF Louis Stokes Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, which will allow her to advance on her doctoral studies and conduct research for the next two years. Focusing on the physiological changes astronauts undergo due to factors of space-flight environments such as microgravity conditions, Smith aims to create a dental restorative composite that can be utilized as a filling material for use in remote areas. This will ensure astronauts a way to avoid the loss of function of their teeth and avoid cavity formations on long-term missions.
Her mentor, Steve Stafford, Ph.D., professor of metallurgical, materials and biomedical engineering, describes Smith as one of the most driven students he has encountered.
“Arlene has so much initiative,” Stafford said. “She is always asking questions that go deeper than the material covered in class and I admire her for that. I know that if she wants to go beyond in biomedical applications and materials she will definitely succeed because she has the skills necessary to do that.”
Smith will also be collaborating with a scientist from Johnson Space Center, a polymer chemist from Colorado State University and a dental researcher from Notre Dame University.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), BD provides funding and financial support to a cohort of 12 doctoral students in the STEM field for two years. Stipends have a total of $64,000 and help cover cost-of-education allowances such as tuition and health insurance.
“This fellowship will enable me to reach my academic goals and not only that but it also gives me a platform to encourage other minority students to strive and reach their goals as well,” Smith said.