Meet the Grads, Allison Arnold: A diverse journey led her to become a versatile engineer
Allison Arnold was born with a heart condition requiring surgery at just 18 months old. Her life was saved by the treatments she received through outstanding medical techniques and solutions from the West Virginia University Medicine Children’s Hospital. As a result, when she embarked upon a doctoral degree at WVU, Arnold felt driven to study engineered human-compatible materials.
Story by Adrianne Uphold, Multimedia Specialist
From a young age, Arnold was torn between the artistic right side of her brain and the rational left side, and as a result, she was at the crossroads of which pathway her professional life would take.
“I looked to the outstanding people around me and the traits I wanted to develop within myself,” Arnold said. “Most outstanding were my parents and grandparents. While my grandfather and dad were brilliant engineers and businessmen who imparted value in practical problem-solving skills, my mother and grandmother reinforced my creative qualities and common sense.”
This combination allowed Arnold to complete a colorful collegiate education spanning more than 10 years and numerous degrees in engineering, art and history.
Her journey began with enrolling in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in 2010. Over the next 12 years, Arnold graduated with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering simultaneously with two minor degrees in art and history in 2014; followed by the completion of a Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 2015. Along the way she discovered a passion for teaching and mentoring which led her to complete the WVU certificate in university teaching in 2021 concurrently with her doctorate studies in material science and engineering.
This personal interest also led Arnold to mentor eight undergraduate student researchers in projects supported by the WVU STEM Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, the WVU Research Apprenticeship Program and the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium (WVSGC); as well as teach undergraduate courses in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department for several semesters.
“Now, looking back, I am so very thankful that my parents were there to grant me the confidence necessary to take a chance and embark upon a challenging career in engineering. My time learning to become an engineer has been full of personal and professional accomplishments for which I am perpetually grateful,” Arnold said.
Arnold knew she wanted to continue her studies at the Statler College because of her developed network of connections, spanning multiple departments. She attributes her success to the support she received from the Statler College: David Martinelli, Charter Stinespring, John Zondlo, Victor Mucino, Kenneth Means, Majid Jaridi, Candy Cordwell, Kostas Sierros, Bruce Kang, Jack Byrd, Katarzyna Sabolsky; and Arnold’s mentor from the WVU School of Art & Design, Gerald Habarth.
“I hoped that by continuing my education here at WVU, I could continue to learn from their example and experience,” Arnold said. “At one time or another, I have been their teaching assistant, research collaborator, student and/or research mentee. No matter the scenario, they have all given me time, patience and perspective to progress more successfully in my education and as an engineering professional.”
When deciding to embark upon a doctoral degree Arnold quickly thought of Dr. Edward Sabolsky as her research adviser.
“While working with him as a teaching assistant, I saw that he was an outstanding research and professional mentor who would allow me to grow into a more proficient and intellectual engineer,” Arnold said.
As the Morgantown, West Virginia, native found herself completing degrees in multiple disciplines, she identified a personal desire to become a versatile engineer who could efficiently work and communicate between several branches of engineering, while bringing her unique artistic perspective along for the journey.
“When I completed my master’s degree, I saw areas of my skillset and knowledge that needed further development,” Arnold said. “To become a more capable engineer, I chose material science and engineering for my doctoral degree as I felt it would provide me with a stronger understanding of the materials and the associated scientific skills like physics and chemistry, which are fundamental to all branches of engineering.”
Arnold was also fascinated with the recent material and technological accomplishments that this branch of engineering has generated. She wanted to become someone capable of contributing similar advancements to society and found that material science at Statler College was the right fit.
Arnold’s dissertation for her doctorate studies is a comprehensive analysis of ionic polymer-metal composites, a class of ionic-type electroactive polymers that can configure as capacitor actuators with low voltage requirements. Because of their compact, portable and lightweight properties, coupled with a biomimetic or “biological-mimicking” bending actuation response, it makes them ideal for human-machine integrated technologies such as medical implants, active skins and artificial muscles.
“As I studied this material, I learned of its high degree of complexity and challenges associated with its utilization in real-world scenarios,” Arnold said. “The objective of my dissertation is to provide a more pragmatic perspective on the potential of this technology. I aim to experimentally quantify the material’s properties and identify possible courses of action that could produce viable real-world applications that capitalize on the material’s strengths.”
During her time at Statler, Arnold has accomplished a lot – from receiving the Outstanding Merit Fellowship for Continuing Doctoral Students from the WVU Office of Graduate Education and Life to contributing to a grant from the WVU Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
She began her doctoral studies supported by the WVU Provost Graduate Fellowship. After which, she received a NASA Graduate Research Internship at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and a U.S. Department of Energy National Energy and Technology Laboratory ORISE Fellowship. Using her artistic skills, Arnold was awarded first place in the NASA STF-1 Mission Patch Design Competition, while as an engineer, she earned a graduate research fellowship, both from the WVSGC.
She’s been a part of many student organizations at the College, including serving as president of the Materials Advantage & Materials Research Societies for four years, Engineers Without Borders, Society of Women Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers and American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Arnold has continuously attended, presented and acted as a journal publication peer reviewer for several technical conferences.
“My doctoral research has been presented at the Material Science and Technology Conference every year since 2017,” Arnold said. “I have also presented my work and acted as a symposium chair and co-chair at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Smart Materials and Structures conference in 2019.”
Following graduation, Arnold plans to work at the Nuclear Power School as an officer in the U.S. Navy. She was inspired to work in the military by her grandfather, a sergeant in the U.S. Army who fought in both WWII and the Korean War.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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