Researching sustainability from South Africa to the South Quad

Experiences

Researching sustainability from South Africa to the South Quad

Fina Healy

November 11, 2021

Hi everyone! My name is Fina Healy and I'm a senior from Bolingbrook, Illinois and Majoring in Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) on the Ecological Engineering Track.

What drew me to ABE was the small size of the department and the family atmosphere. We are the second smallest engineering major on campus which allowed me to experience a small community within a big college which is very unique for engineering students at Illinois. Having more personal connections with other students and faculty members helped me gain research experiences earlier on in my college career. My freshman year summer I was enrolled in the Wildlife Engineers Co-Managing Agricultural and Nature (W.E C.A.N) which was a program created by two professors at UIUC, Dr. Paul Davidon and Dr. Michelle Green, where I had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa for a month.

My W.E C.A.N group program got to meet a cheetah in South Africa
My W.E C.A.N group program got to meet a cheetah in South Africa

My job was assisting senior agricultural engineers in their industry-linked design project class at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. My group project was on designing a system to hold a dynamometer machine to better evaluate the data output with an arduino board. With the combination of engineering and agricultural sciences, I learned about contextual engineering and how understanding the context of a project is critical to understanding how to design effective and locally sustainable infrastructure.

Our W.E C.A.N group program visited Nelson Mandela Memorial Site
Our W.E C.A.N group program visited Nelson Mandela Memorial Site

 Through this experience I had a chance to make a faculty connection with Dr. Davidson who has been very influential in my college career. Through Dr. Davidson and Dr. Kalita, my lab partner, Katie Koproswki, and I were enrolled in the Global Food Security Scholars Program (GFSS) during the fall and spring semesters of 2021-2022. GFSS is a College of Aces International Program which supports undergraduate student research on food/water insecurity issues in developing countries. Our research was on testing the effectiveness of oregano, thyme, lavender, lemon, basil, and various combinations of essential oils on the growth of Salmonella in water.

In my lab in the ABE Building 
In my lab in the ABE Building 

Ultimately, we found that oregano and thyme killed all Salmonella colonies even at low concentrations. The data from our experiments indicate that essential oils have great promise in disinfecting the food and water we consume and can provide a good alternative to common antibacterials like bleach. This experience made me interested in graduate school and that I was interested in pursuing a master’s degree. 

My friend Katie Koprowski and I after finishing our research
My friend Katie Koprowski and I after finishing our research

Overall, because of the family atmosphere of the ABE department, I was able to make connections with my professors early on in my college career which helped me gain more professional experience and make lifelong connections. I love ABE!