Spotlight on our Students: Heat Pumps & Hostels

“I want to experience everything that this amazing country has to offer, and I’m thankful that USP cultivated that desire to explore the world around me.”

In this edition of Spotlight on Our Students, we chat with Anna Ahlers about her experiences in Nuremberg, Germany as a part of her DAAD RISE experience. Anna is a rising senior from Raleigh majoring in Mechanical Engineering. She is also participating in the DAAD RISE program which pairs students from the United States, Canada, and the UK witPh.D. candidates in Germany to lend a hand in research in STEM fields. Read on to learn more about her time in Germany and the interesting research she is conducting while abroad.

USP: Anna, can you tell us what exactly the DAAD RISE program is and what inspired you to participate?

AA: DAAD RISE (translates to German Academic Exchange Service – Research Internships in Science and Engineering) is an organization that pairs undergraduate students from the USA, Canada, and Great Britain with Ph.D. students all over Germany. The research projects are extremely diverse and cover just about every field of interest within STEM majors. For the most part, it is a matching service. They provide a stipend for housing and food and coordinate a conference in the middle of the summer, but finding housing and other details are up to us to figure out. There are about 300 other students with this program spread out all over Germany at different Universities here. I’m the only one at my University, but there are 5 other DAAD scholarship holders in the neighboring town.

I found out about DAAD RISE through Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society that I am a part of. Someone from the Fellowship Advising Office at NCSU gave a presentation during one of our meetings. The FAO office was extremely helpful later on during my application process. I also had a friend participate in the program two years beforehand, and she was able to help me with a lot of my logistical questions about Germany and moving to a new country.

USP: That’s such a great way to see a new country and experience a new culture while furthering your studies and also getting paid a little bit. What is the focus of the research you’ll be doing while you are in Germany?

AA: My project this summer is to design, simulate, and build a small-scale refrigerator that incorporates a new oil-free scroll compressor.

USP: That’s very specific and concise – how German! What do you hope to accomplish while you are there?

AA: There’s a lot! I’d like to work on my German language skills. I’m a German minor, but so far I’ve had a difficult time understanding people here. I’m getting better, but the thick Franconian accent mixed with fast-talking make it a challenge. Most people I work with have very good English, so that helps. I just made a hair appointment over the phone in German and I feel pretty accomplished.

I also want to travel as much as possible. I’ve already been to Munich, Paris, Prague, and Regensburg this month (and of course Nuremberg – my home for the summer). Traveling within Europe is so affordable and easy!
And of course, I want to learn about heat pumps and refrigeration cycles in addition to new simulation and design software. This is my first research project ever and my first opportunity to use Thermodynamics (my favorite aspect of Mechanical Engineering) outside of the classroom. Most of my colleagues are much more advanced in their studies, so I have excellent resources and support this summer.

USP: YES! Sounds like you have quite the “to-do” list while you are there: language, travel, research, and more! Can you tell us how your time in the University Scholars Program has helped prepare you for this experience?

AA: The Scholars Program has taught me to find learning experiences outside of the classroom and embrace new cultures. Every single day in Germany is a new adventure – from going to the grocery store to finding the laundromat down a cobblestone street with my bicycle. There is definitely a steep learning curve, but I am already falling in love with Nuremberg and my new friends and co-workers. I want to experience everything that this amazing country has to offer, and I’m thankful that USP cultivated that desire to explore the world around me. The lessons and experiences I have outside of the lab in Germany are equally as important in shaping me into a well-rounded professional.

USP: That’s right – you’re jumping right in there and becoming a citizen of the world – that’s awesome! How can other University Scholar prepare for a similar experience in research abroad?

AA: Hunt out opportunities that interest you, be your own advocate, and know that it’s okay to not know everything. I almost didn’t apply for RISE as I was skeptical of my chances to be accepted. Yes, sometimes you can get lucky and have a research project fall in your lap – but to get the “what if” opportunities you need to be ambitious. I’m working mainly with Ph.D. and Master level students this summer, which causes me to feel in over my head most of the time. But that’s okay, it’s these experiences that teach you the most about yourself and your project.

USP: Sounds like the lesson here is to try new things and commit to new experiences. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

AA: “If you’re on the fence about trying anything, just do it – you never know what it will lead to.” My best friend told me this after high school graduation, and it opened my eyes to so many new opportunities and friends as I entered college. Don’t be afraid to try a new club, explore a new career direction, or start up a conversation with anyone.

USP: That’s fantastic – just take a chance from time to time. It builds character. Well Anna, thank you for sharing a bit of your experience with us. We’ll be lookig forward to hearing about the culmination of your research when you get back to camus in the Fall. Best of luck and enjoy yourself!