Students take time off from college for various reasons, ranging from personal challenges to opportunities for work or travel.
Diana Kelly took a year off to intern at a particle accelerator, a massive machine that uses electromagnetic fields to move charged particles – think protons and electrons – at velocities close to the speed of light. Perhaps best known for their role in particle physics research, accelerators are also used in medicine, industry and even national security.
A Danby native, Diana first visited Cornell University’s Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory on an Ithaca High School field trip.
“I went and I loved it, and I was completely blown away. It was fascinating how they used engineering and science to do something that powerful,” she remembered.
She arranged another tour, and ran into a family friend who connected her with the Synchrotron staff. A formal interview led to a weeklong volunteer opportunity and a summer internship. She ended up working for two years at Cornell University’s Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory, an incredible opportunity for the SUNY Broome Engineering Science major.
She learned AutoCAD, audited courses at Cornell – as the only undergraduate in accelerator physics – and collaborated with professors and engineers on engineering design.
“It was a phenomenal opportunity and I learned so much,” she said. “Not only was I a minion for the engineers, I was doing full-fledged engineering design work.”
In fact, much of that work would have otherwise been done by a full-fledged engineer, including projects that she ran as the only non-physicist, she pointed out.
While accelerators and particle physics expand our future knowledge and technology, Diana’s interests originally took her in the other direction: archaeology. A member of the New York State Archaeological Association since the age of 14, her passion shifted when she took a Project Lead the Way course in engineering design in high school.
“I fell in love with it, the combination of art and science. I loved Leonardo da Vinci as a kid, and I found that I loved doing technical drawings,” she said.
And, as unlikely as it seems, there is a thematic connection between her two interests. “Archaeology is reverse-engineering the past. With engineering, you take the scientific method a step further and see how you can do something new with what you have learned,” she explained.
‘A welcoming environment’
Diana initially attended York College of Pennsylvania, but health issues prompted her to return home. The opportunity at the Synchrotron followed, but soon she needed a path to complete her education.
Because she has severe food allergies and must carry an EpiPen, residential colleges are risky for Diana, and commuting from her Candor home is the best option. Welcoming to commuter students, SUNY Broome also offers a path to Binghamton University, where she plans to transfer after graduating in May 2020.
Still, she didn’t know what to expect at her new school and initially felt nervous – a feeling that soon abated.
“I found such a wonderful, welcoming environment. The professors here are so helpful! I really like it here and have learned a lot,” she said. “It’s different from a four-year school, and the way people interact with it; more student treat going here like a job. It made it easier to be a commuter student here.”
She enjoyed the class in sustainability she took with Engineering Science Professor Robert Lofthouse and her physics class with Professor Glenn Modrak, as well as Calculus II with Professor Tom Reid. “He was so good at explaining calculus, how it works and why it works the way it does,” she said.
The engineering science orientation was invaluable, too, including speakers that linked students with local engineering firms – connections that may prove valuable as they embark on their careers.
In addition to preparing her academically, SUNY Broome offered multiple opportunities for Diana to apply her skills and knowledge in the field, and even educate the larger community. She demonstrated green technologies during the Clean Energy Open House last semester, joined her fellow Hornets in presenting research at the Chancellor’s Showcase in Albany, and chatted with SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson herself during her first visit to campus in Fall 2018. During the summer, she interned at AMETEK Aerospace, working with engineering documents.
Outside of the classroom, she is a member of the Engineering Science Club and Hiking Club, trekking out to the Adirondacks with the latter.
Long-term, Diana plans to become a mechanical engineer. Her horizons are open: perhaps aerospace, or sustainability, or particle acceleration.
“I like research, design, the entire process,” she said.