Sarah Dulac '21: The value of role models

Sarah talks about the "aha! moment" that led her to discover her passion in the male-dominated field of mechanical engineering & the role models who’ve mentored her during her time as a student at UMass Dartmouth.

Sarah working on a wind tunnel project in the lab at UMassD. (Photographer: Karl Dominey.)

“A big part of my motivation for continuing my academic focus in mechanical engineering is the female faculty in the department,” says Sarah Dulac who earns her bachelor’s degree from UMass Dartmouth next month. “Dr. Afsoon Amirzadeh Goghari (a full-time lecturer), the only female in the department when I first began my studies at the College of Engineering, was inspiring and assured me of my capabilities. She showed me that we as women are just as capable as men. Susan Cunha, an administrative assistant in the department has also made my college career so much smoother.”

She says Dr. Banafsheh Seyed-Aghazadeh, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, also became a major part of her growth during the latter part of her academic experience. “In fall 2019, when I was enrolled in the fluid mechanics course taught by Dr. Aghazadeh, I developed a high interest in the topic. I began reviewing Dr. Seyed-Aghazadeh’s research publications, where I started to figure out where my passion fits best in the world of research.”

Throughout the semester, Sarah and Dr. Aghazadeh had several meetings to discuss her research on fluid-structure interaction (FSI). By the end of the semester, Sarah received an invitation to join Aghazadeh’s research team. “She keeps me motivated by reminding me that I show strong skills and I have proven myself capable of anything I put my mind to.” An example of the benefit of that mentorship is Sarah’s research project on harbor seal vibrissa morphology. “Harbor seal vibrissa morphology inspires experiments studying the footprints left behind moving objects and helps researchers in the future development of underwater sensors,” Sarah explains.

“The harbor seal accomplishes tracking their prey by using their whiskers, functioning as a sensor, to follow the prey. Harbor seals possess the ability to detect waterborne disturbances through their whiskers by detecting the vibration caused by the ‘footprint’ when the whisker is in the wake of the ‘footprint.’” Sarah says the information about the possible flow characteristics of a left-behind footprint is not available in the literature, which is what motivated her to conduct this research.

“Juggling classwork and research have been a challenge but it has made me find a new and different appreciation for academia,” she says. “I spend the same amount of time on my classwork as before with added hours of research work. This research project has pushed me to go for my master’s degree here at UMass Dartmouth as the next step into my future career.”



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