Alex Ashley

Majors: Chemical Engineering, Mathematics

Thesis Title: Manipulation of the Degradation of PEO-b-PCL Through Preparation Techniques and Thermal Variations

Personal Statement

To attain the Lafayette Ideal is often thought of as an attainable success. The problem with that model is that it often fails to accommodate the more complex edges of Lafayette’s periphery. Despite the success one might attain as a person of color, it’s often peripheral to what seems to be the spirit of Lafayette. It begs the question: can I ever attain the Lafayette Ideal?

The Lafayette Ideal seems to be one who is bold, assertive, and critically intellectual. These things are merely markers of a deeper comfort for students who do not find the culture unalien. Where I wrestle with questions of personhood and self-worth, the central Ideal players can easily glide through, unaware of the environment that is in itself a challenge.

Thus, despite my work in research, academics, community service, and sustainability, the most important thing to me has been an equal dedication to creating a space for students like me to find comfort in their being here. My work particularly in leading the Engineering Council to help students of color feel more comfortable in class holds a space dear to my heart as I remember the awkward feeling of being unwelcomed.

The Lafayette Ideal to me is this particular work, creating a space for others to blossom to their fullest potential. It is the essence of this place and the only way to make this place more fully itself is by allowing every member of the community to be more fully themselves. Where people like me may not be able to do so, my belief is that those after me, with the space I have created, are able to.

I was raised in one of the poorer regions of Jamaica where my parents struggled to acquire common resources like electricity and food. My familiarity with poverty is not some sorry tale. On the contrary, I learned early the need to fend for myself and bootstrapped my way through an underfunded public school system to make it to college in the USA. I wear this double heritage proudly; as one who never slacks at finding new opportunities, and also the same person who never misses a song on the Jamaican New Music Friday or a new dance move from the dancehall scene. Being in the US for four years now has solidified my empathy for new immigrants who, like me, are often befuddled by the complexity of America in its norms and politics. As such, I have brought my community-building ethos to help build a strong and supportive community for Caribbean nationals like myself, and international students in general at Lafayette and shall do the same at whichever graduate institution that I choose to attend.

Academic Activity |years involved|

Oxford Rhodes Scholarship Finalist |1| I was among the top 10 finalists for the Jamaica Oxford Rhodes Scholarship in 2021. This most prestigious award is given to one exceptional Jamaican student who exemplifies the ideals, mission, and virtues of Jamaica. This individual is trusted with the future of Jamaica as they are expected to return to the country after studying to improve some aspect of life. It is highly competitive and millions of students apply every year. Unfortunately, I was not awarded the scholarship but I was able to make very solid connections along the way as well as reflect more on the application of my research study on betterment of the world that we live in today. The preparation for an award such as this demanded weeks of preparation, mock interviews, and research into both my field and country. Gaining a deeper understanding of the political climate and the socio-economic segregation that prevails in Jamaica was a consequence of preparing for this application. It was through this application that I fully learned of ways that I could use my degree and passion for solar energy to also uplift the quality of life in the communities that reside in. The mock interviews also trained me to think holistically about my intentions with implementing new and revolutionary technology. The social implications, the availability of the technology for the general populace and the sources of the investments were a few of the areas that arose. It was through this application process that I learned that the science is not the only important aspect, but the logistic is equally if not more important when trying to have a sustainable and impactful effect on one’s community and the world at large.

American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) |4| A chapter of a national organization that promotes the professional development of the students in the Chapter. I currently serve as a Co-president but I was also a vice-president in junior year. To be selected to join the board, one has to be an exemplary student who the department deems as qualified enough to handle the responsibilities that come with being an extension of the faculty as well as handling the burdensome workload of chemical engineering. On the board, I structured events meant to increase the unity among the chemical engineers as well as improve the faculty-student relationships. These events included but were not limited to game nights, pub nights, talks, jeopardy, a mentorship program, and our annual Chemical Engineering Symposium. The symposium is our biggest annual event and it involves careful planning to recruit a wide variety of Laf alum who graduated with ChemE degrees but went on to work in different sectors and fields. This demanded significant time and I had to issue many invitations to potential speakers for the event. This organization taught me the true meaning behind planning an event involving Lafayette alumni from the ground up. Working with professionals, securing venues, and even planning food to be catered were all tasks that I had to complete while in school for both junior year and senior year.

AIChE National Conference |3| I have attended the national AichE conference every year since sophomore year. I have networked with many experts in the field of chemical engineering and have given multiple professional presentations on my research to experts in my research field. I also have repeatedly defended my findings in a setting such as this, and cited other experts. Communicating with professionals both within and outside of my field of specialty has become a skill that I have honed. It also helps that I absolutely enjoy sharing my research with others. Giving talks is now one of my newly found passions and even more so is being challenged. It pushes my knowledge and the mental scope that I subconsciously place on research. Furthermore, it strengthens my understanding of the topic as well as motivates me to learn more.

Published a Scientific Paper |2| Another major deliverable that I have produced is a research paper entitled, “Diluent versus confinement Effects on PEO Minority Block Crystallization in Asymmetric PEO-b-PCL”. This paper is the culmination of all the knowledge that I have gained during my time working with my professor since freshman year, and dictates how to control the level of crystallinity or polarity of the copolymer, PEO-b-PCL, which is a common polymer used in drug delivery. As expected of my very first research paper, the writing process was tedious and took longer than expected, but all was necessary for the paper to be of a high quality. Many iterations of the paper had to be written and even with years of experience in the field under my belt, a significant portion of the writing process went into reading more scientific papers that directly focus on the subject of the paper. In writing my first paper, I experienced firsthand the amount of work and time that goes into officially documenting the results obtained in the lab.

Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education (LIME) |2| The Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education is a lifelong mentorship program for Malagasy students who are interested in learning English and coming to the US to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. This program is a 3-week long intense and immersive study abroad in Madagascar that demands that students prepare the entire semester prior to going abroad. I met biweekly with the small group of students who were selected to participate in this program from a wide pool of applicants, and together we worked tirelessly to construct simple yet effective lesson plans for the Malagasy students. This process involved a lot of trial and error but most of the lesson planning was informed from the actual execution of the first few “lessons”. Most of the lessons that are planned are centered around the SAT and TOEFL since these are two required exams to pursue a degree at a US institution. Additionally, even after the program has ended, we are still required to assist the students in writing their personal statements and supplemental essays, and provide any advice or helpful experiences that could inform their decision-making process.

Excel Scholar |3| Upon attending Lafayette College,I was determined to get my hands wet doing research. Thus, I proactively searched for opportunities within my department. Fortunately, I acquired a research position with a newly arrived professor in the Chemical Engineering Department. Because he was new, I surmised that he may be looking for new students to add to his research group, so I was proactive in meeting with him and expressing my interest to learn more about his particular area of study. Despite my lack of knowledge in the field and engineering, he added me to his group and spent the entire semester reading up and familiarizing myself with the current happenings in the polymer field as well as his contributions to said field. It was in the subsequent semester that I began work in the wet lab and created my first polymer sample for analysis. Moreover, I have worked with this professor for every semester thereafter, and I am currently conducting a self-developed honors thesis in the field. Upon completion of multiple consecutive semesters and summers doing research, I have honed my analytical, critical thinking, and technical skills in the lab which are invaluable in whatever research field one decides to enter. Now, my extensive experience with research, albeit undergraduate level research, has equipped me with the necessary skills to conduct research at a graduate level. In fact, the only reason why I am not currently an excel scholar is because I am conducting an honors thesis.

Senior Honors Thesis |1| Currently, I am conducting an honors thesis along with my coursework and it has been no easy task managing my time with school and the increased workload of doing an honors thesis rather than conducting research. Nevertheless, I quickly acclimated and struck a balance, a skill I have honed through my years at this institution pursuing a rigorous dual degree. So far, I have had to perform an honors thesis proposal  and a thesis update. At both events, I had to convince all the faculty in my department that my self-proposed thesis was not only worth pursuing, but could also be completed within the allotted two semesters. At the end of Fall 2021, I had my thesis update/pre-defence where I had to give an update on all the work that I have conducted this semester along with the implications of my current results, and my prospects for the upcoming semester. From this honors thesis so far, I have gained additional experience with formally defending my research and speaking on its implications and real-world applications. Furthermore, through conducting my own honors thesis, I have developed my own research objectives and methodology by which I will achieve them. While this would have been a significant task for me, having extensive years of research under my belt has proven quite beneficial and my thesis has been successful. The skills of careful pipetting, solvent casting and polymer annealing are a few of the honed skills which I have been utilizing throughout my thesis.

Supplemental Instructor and Certified CRLA Tutor |4| Upon attending Lafayette College, I was determined to begin contributing to my community through tutoring. However, this task was more difficult for me because preference was taken for students with work-study. Thus, I had to be deliberate to not only apply online for these jobs, but also seek out the individuals in charge of these positions to make a personal impression, and express my deep desire for the position. It was this attitude that secured me my first job as a Supplemental Instructor for General Chemistry II with Professor Heidi Hendrickson. I not only applied online for this heavily-sought after position, but I met with both this chemistry professor to discuss the possibility of working with her to teach the course, and the head of the Academic Resource Hub to review the expectations of the position. It was serving in this role that I truly learnt that I sincerely enjoy teaching. In fact, bringing others to a new understanding of the course material always evoked a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment whenever I saw my students fully comprehend a topic. In fact, I excelled so well in this role that I was invited to return to my position for every semester thereafter. However, with the advent of COVID-19 and the transition to online learning, I had to adapt to the situation to maintain the quality of my lessons or improve upon them. My self-written material was now more focused and designed to uncover any underlying misunderstandings that students may unconsciously have. With each passing semester, I could feel the workload of teaching getting easier, and the comfort that I have with being at the front of the classroom increasing. Finally, having served in this position for many semesters, I have become officially certified as a tutor under the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA).

Dr. E. L. McMillen-K. K. Malhotra ’49 Prize |1| It is awarded to two juniors who have attained a high cumulative grade point average in chemical and biomolecular engineering and who have demonstrated a high level of proficiency in the Unit Operations Laboratory.

Graduate Level Summer Research |1| I completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates at Drexel University during the summer of 2021. To obtain this rare opportunity, I had to begin the search a year in advance because of my ineligibility for many of the US REU programs due to my international status. I issued a number of cold emails to professors in the solar photovoltaic field across the country, and the few that responded were all negative and expressed a lack of space and/or availability for someone like me. Nevertheless, I remained hopeful in my search until Professor Jason Baxter responded positively with an interest in taking me onto his group for the summer.  Despite knowing that I would now be working in a graduate level setting, I was not daunted, rather excited to take on this new challenge. I quickly got acclimated to the work and soon I felt like I was in the lab like any other day as a regular student doing research. I did however learn many things from this rare research experience. Firstly, I learned that it is common for equipment and instruments to malfunction and stop working, and that most of the time is spent adapting to similar situations while still making progress to achieving research objectives.  During my research internship, the key equipment used in my research, the ultrafast laser, overheated and stopped working. It was then necessary to ship the instrument to Scotland to get it fixed, and in the interim, I visited other research labs, shadowed other researchers, and did additional readings about current research in the Solar and Photovoltaic Field. Thus, I learned that one should always expect the unexpected when conducting research, but what is important is adapting to each situation so that no time is wasted in the interim. Secondly, I learned that collaboration is necessary for a successful doctoral degree because there will be many occasions where you will not be able to answer certain questions or solve problems without someone else’s expertise and knowledge. Furthermore, collaboration provides a different perspective and approach to the same problem which makes the resulting product that much more robust and less prone to errors. It was during this experience that I learned the value of a close-knitted community in the research lab as it makes collaboration seamless and easy.


Campus Service |years involved|

Engineering Student Council (ESC) |1.5| As a newly formed organization, much work had to be put in to ensure that a strong foundation was set for the future leaders of the Engineering Student Council. As the first official president of the organization, I sought out to address the main issues of the students of the engineering division. Thus, I developed activities that were geared towards improving the unity and communication of the different types of engineers within the same year. These activities were met with great enthusiasm as many students participated and gave positive feedback after each event concluded. I also created a mentorship program that spanned the entire engineering division. In this program, I paired the underclassmen with upperclassmen mentors who meet biweekly to provide any expertise, advice, or assistance with any engineer-specific problems. These mentors were specifically chosen to best meet the needs, and goals of the mentees while sharing similar backgrounds and hobbies. This program was a significant success in its first iteration, with over 80 mentor-mentee pairs. As president of the engineering student council, I also established a mandatory DEIJ workshop in Fall 2021 for the first-year engineers. I met with the Director of the Office of Intercultural Development to determine the topics that will be discussed as well as the objectives of such a workshop. The goal of this workshop was to educate the incoming class about popular issues today such as the biases that exist in the classroom, microaggressions, and conflicts of power. Furthermore, ESC has successfully incorporated these issues and talks into the Engineering first-year curriculum so that Lafayette graduate engineers can be fluent in topical and sensitive areas such as these in the workplace. In addition to the DEIJ workshop and mentorship program, I also partnered with the Gateway Career Counseling Center to establish an advanced mentorship program that utilizes a database of Lafayette engineering alumni who have gone onto different fields of work and study. These alumni then serve as mentors primarily for the upperclassmen engineers to help them best position themselves for attaining the job positions that they desire, and educate them on the versatility of their degree. So, to ensure that this program is fully structured, I met biweekly with the director of Gateway and the administration of Engineering to meticulously discuss what such a program would look like and entail. ESC also planned a myriad of fun and exciting activities in the Acopian Engineering Center during Engineer’s Week such as a Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Expo and a Gear Box Construction Workshop.This event was meant to ease the students into the second half of the academic year and introduce them to different aspects of engineering. This event took carefully planning and significant time but I quickly learnt the benefits of delegating roles and responsibilities as the President of the organization. Finally, I established an annual tradition in the Engineering Department where faculty in each division compete against each other in a game of Jeopardy to build unity within each division between the faculty and students. Then, the winner of each division jeopardy participates in an overall engineering jeopardy to win the inaugural championship trophy. This new tradition was met with much success as both faculty and students expressed interest in the continuation of this event for the upcoming academic years.

International Student Association (ISA) |4| As a member of the International Student Association, I have both hosted and participated in activities to build community among the international students on campus, along with providing a home away from home. As such, I have hosted multiple events where I invite ISA to my home during school breaks and provide a home-cooked Jamaican meal prepared with love and warmth. Especially because I understand how hard it is to get a good meal during school break, much less a home-cooked meal, I have felt inclined to give others what I wish I was given when I was an underclassman. Food is not the only item of culture that is shared at these events however. I also teach my guests a few modern Jamaican dance moves for their use when they are vibing to music.

Teaching Assistant in Bonn, Germany |1| Being an international student from Jamaica, the idea of traveling to different countries has always excited me, so I decided to embark on the Lafayette-Bonn Engineering program in the spring semester of my sophomore year (COVID Semester). Still, to enjoy my study abroad to the fullest, I knew I would have to have some form of income. Thus, I searched tirelessly and inquired repeatedly about the possibility of working with the German department. Fortunately, I was offered a position as a teaching assistant to one of the elementary German courses. Here, I supplemented the lessons by serving as a conversation partner and assisted with homework assignments. This job not only assisted my peers and put money in my pocket, but it also greatly improved my communication, enunciation and explanation skills.

 Community Service |years involved|

Mens and Women’s Basketball Team Manager |3| Having always been a fan of basketball, I demonstrated initiative upon attending Lafayette College and sought a job working with the Men’s Basketball team. I attended all the training/practices and assisted the coach with the execution of drills. I mostly worked behind the desk and controlled the clocks, buzzer, and point systems. Occasionally, I would also play against the team as a dummy opponent. This job also saw me attending all the games, both home and away, and cheering “Go Pards!!” tirelessly. At the games, I ensured that all the players were adequately hydrated, and that the coach’s whiteboard was always ready and on stand-by. I also assisted with the pre-game workouts and kept track of the different plays that led to a point against certain teams. After a year, I decided to change teams and work with the Women’s Basketball Team with whom I stayed with for 2 years. Both jobs entailed the same roles and responsibilities

Special Interest Activity |years involved|

Precision Step Team |2| My favorite avenue of self-expression prior to the pandemic was the Precision Step Team. I successfully made it through try-outs in my first semester, and soon I was performing live with the entire team. Being able to perform in dance with no music and a group of well-rhythmed individuals gave me much comfort. Also, through our performances, we were able to entice others to join in our performances and even join our team. These performances were all crispy and well-coordinated as described by our team name. The team met twice a week to learn new routines, perfect old ones, prepare for events that we have been invited to as well as preparing for our annual “Haters Step Back” HSB.