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Research skills help engineering student win Ford Fellowship

May 13, 2011

You would not have foreseen where Charlie Corredor is today had you come upon him eight  years ago, at 18, arriving on his own in New York City, with only several hundred dollars and no ideas about any particular career path.

He soon decided that “obtaining a higher education was the only way to attain my dreams,” he says.

He would eventually enroll at The City College of New York and discover his aptitude for research and analytics.

There he found opportunities to assist in projects to identify pigments in artworks at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and help the New York Police Department crime lab identify various inks and dyes.

Those experiences sparked interests that led him to a chemical engineering major.

Today Corredor is working to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Now he’ll get help reaching that goal through funding support from a prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship administered by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

The fellowship is awarded to students based on academic performance as well as their potential “for future achievement as a scholar, researcher, and teacher.”

Only about 30 to 40 students from among thousands of applicants are chosen each year to receive the fellowship recently awarded to Corredor.

What most likely helped him stand out among applicants is a record of achievement beyond most Ph.D.  candidates, says Jonathan Posner, an ASU associate professor of chemical and mechanical engineering who is Corredor’s adviser.

His budding prowess in the lab as an undergraduate earned Corredor apprentice roles with teams involved in a range of research pursuits – including work in chemical and materials engineering, art preservation and physical chemistry. He worked at The Energy Institute at The City University of New York, at Jilin University in China, the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris.

He is the lead author on two research articles published in notable science and engineering journals, and among co-authors of four other articles. He has made presentations of his work at a number of national and international science and engineering conferences.

“That’s six publications as an undergraduate. Most students don’t publish that much even when they’ve earned a Ph.D.,” Posner says. “His international experience has given him research skills well beyond his years.”

Corredor’s exceptional talents are displayed most strikingly when he’s “making extremely difficult experiments work, even in the face of many uncontrollable factors that can impact the outcome,” Posner explains.

“This is a valuable skill Charlie possesses that is not easily learned,” he adds.

Corredor is now an assistant in Posner’s research group.  His work focuses on devising chemical engineering solutions to environmental protection and management challenges. It requires gaining expertise in a wide range of areas.

His efforts can be applied to the engineering of benign nanomaterials, to examining the impacts of nanoparticles on humans and the environment, to better understanding the complex workings of the human body’s cells, and to new methods of delivering medicinal drugs into specific parts of the body.

Corredor says Posner strongly influenced his decision to come to ASU, primarily by showing him he could pursue research with that kind of depth and breadth.

He expresses gratitude to Posner for encouraging him to apply for the Ford Foundation Fellowship and an Ira A.  Fulton Schools of Engineering Dean’s Graduate Fellowship that is also helping support his studies.

Corredor has also been involved at ASU in the More Graduate Education program. Supported by the National Science Foundation, the program’s goal is to encourage and assist American citizens in seeking careers as professors of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students are mentored as they pursue education in those fields at the master’s degree and Ph.D. levels, with a major emphasis on research.

Corredor says he supports the program because “science and engineering are not always seen as hip [by young students]. That has to change, because we need them to become good researchers if the United States is going to stay on top.”

Though born in the United States, Corredor spent most of his youth moving with his family to various locales in South America and Europe.

On his travels he has been awed by the Great Wall of China, charmed by Paris and enthralled by Vienna. But now, he says emphatically, thanks to a vibrant chemical engineering program, “I’m an ASU Sun Devil.”