Sowmya Raghu’s journey in mechanical engineering has positively impacted the CEC community
Mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate Sowmya Raghu has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades for the 2023-24 academic year. After graduating next May, she plans to continue her career in research and development.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) awarded Raghu with the International Gas Turbine Institute and ASME/STEM scholarships. These awards recognize students who show promise in the field of turbomachinery and gas turbine engines, and who demonstrate leadership, scholastic ability and potential contribution to the mechanical engineering and the broader engineering profession, respectively.
Raghu, who is currently a Grace Jordan McFadden Professors Program Scholar, is also a recipient of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Emerging Scholar Fellowship. In October, she will participate in the SEC Emerging Scholars Conference at the University of Arkansas. The workshop brings together scholars from across the SEC to network and engage in professional development in preparation for faculty careers. Recipients also attend other professional development workshops to support their growth as scholars and prepare for the job market.
Raghu was also awarded a University of South Carolina Center for Teaching Excellence grant for creating a new Makerspace module for Introduction to Engineering (ENCP 101). The grant provides resources and support for graduate students interested in exploring new and cutting-edge approaches to teaching that enhance student learning.
Raghu’s impressive collection of awards is the result of her dedication to the College of Engineering and Computing community, including extensive efforts to enhance collaboration among students and faculty and advance experiential learning techniques.
“These awards give me validation for the path I have chosen. They motivate me to continue to strive towards excellence in my research and outreach activities and better myself every single day,” Raghu says.
Travis Knight, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, says that Raghu embodies all the qualities of a natural leader in science and engineering.
“She’s energetic, enthusiastic, engaging, technically and scientifically talented, and wide thinking. She also demonstrates selflessness. In most of my interactions with her, she has been looking to acknowledge or promote others,” Knight says.
Raghu also served as the Graduate Student Association president for 2021-22 academic year and helped establish the Graduate Women Mentorship program as well as graduate student recognition and awards.
Raghu was instrumental in the launch of the Maker Lab, a student-run makerspace designed to enhance interdisciplinary collaboration and create a community of makers. The lab has additive manufacturing capabilities with state-of-the-art 3D printers and software, equipment such as Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos, as well as soldering and wire-cutting capabilities. Raghu helped launch the Maker Lab in 2021 under the leadership of Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jed Lyons. She now serves as director of the Rapid Prototyping Lab and Makerspace instructor.
“I am very passionate about learning by doing and had previously done research with 3D printing and electronics. When I had the opportunity to put the Makerspace together with these tools, it allowed us to bring the creative side out in engineers in a collaborative environment,” Raghu says.
Jamil Khan, director of college faculty affairs, is Raghu’s Ph.D. advisor. He recalled an example of Raghu’s initiative in March 2020 as the country began to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and experienced a shortage of personal protective equipment. Raghu created 3,000 face shields using the college’s 3D printers and distributed them at the Medical University of South Carolina and throughout the Columbia area.
“The first thing she did during the pandemic was come to me and ask if she could make face shields,” Khan says. “That’s the type of person she is. She did that on her own.”
Last year, Raghu’s undergraduate students won four awards at Discover USC, which showcases research, scholarship, leadership and creative projects by students and postdoctoral candidates representing the USC System. She also began an initiative called Women Makers with the Excellence grant from Office of Access and Opportunity and has evolved the program to Minority Makers for 2023-24, which is currently supported by Beyond the Classroom grant from the Center for Integrative and Experiential Learning.
Rori Pumphrey, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, is one of Raghu’s students. “Sowmya has been my single greatest inspiration while pursuing my degree thus far. She always challenges me and my fellow Maker Mentors to bring our ideas to the next level while simultaneously creating an environment of inclusivity and infallible support,” Pumphrey says.
Khan describes both Raghu’s teaching and learning styles as innovation focused. For her Ph.D. research, she is working on a traditional topic in gas turbines, but she uses newer ideas in machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance the research. In her teaching, she introduces new experiments designed to yield varied results to encourage students to look at things differently.
“Sowmya wants to think out of the box,” Khan says. “She makes contributions by taking older things and looking at them in a new way. With students like her, you only get one in so many years.”
Raghu says that this varied approach to learning is what propelled her to become a teacher.
“There are different types of learners. Some learn by doing, some learn by listening, but we can all come together and use our different ways of navigating the material to create a prototype,” Raghu says. “I’ve learned this through the Makerspace, and it has made me a better educator.”