May 09, 2008

Case Western Reserve University's Fulbright winners going green with overseas research

Students Olivia Corey and Michael Davidson combine research with cultural experiences

Case Western Reserve University's 2008 Fulbright Scholars, Olivia Corey and Michael Davidson, are taking their "green" research projects to study in Europe and Asia next year.

Corey, of Lakewood, plans to study sustainable building materials at the Technical University of Munich in Germany with her Fulbright. Davidson, of Eugene, Ore., is heading to Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, where a new initiative involves installing and tracking the use of renewable energy sources.

The road to the Fulbright Scholarships followed similar paths for the two students where each has majored in a language and also spent a year abroad as undergraduates to regions they will return to next year for research. Both seniors will graduate with their bachelor's degrees from Case Western Reserve during Commencement ceremonies on May 18.

Both also have known each other over their years at the university. "I envision that Michael and I will someday be sitting on some international committee discussing green issues," Corey said. "Our lives seem to run in parallel directions."

Michael Davidson

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Davidson has been a crusader for combating global climate change and finding renewable energy sources most of his life. He credits his parents as his first role models in raising his consciousness about saving the planet. During his years at Case Western Reserve he has studied fuel cells and worked on reviving the recycling program on campus.

Next year he turns his attention to China.

As China rapidly westernizes, it has greater demands for energy resources, says Davidson—a math and physics and Japanese studies major.

He will spend 10 months at Tsinghua University, where the Clean Energy Research Center, a joint effort of the university and British Petroleum (BP), is located and will study clean energy technologies and policy. As part of his Fulbright experience, Davidson will conduct research on hybrid energy sources and then travel to western China to see how effective the country's rural stations are in providing clean energy for local communities.

Davidson added that the hybrid stations offset the need for China to produce power plants by building more dams for hydroelectric power or coal-burning plants, both forms that have environmental consequences.

"The Fulbright Scholarship will give me the experience of living in China and developing contacts in renewable energy—all of these things are something that I want to expand upon when I choose a career path." said Davidson. "It also will give me the opportunity to become more fluent in Chinese."

Davidson said he hopes someday to combine his interests in science and public policy.

His fascination with Asian cultures has roots back to his elementary school days when he attended a Japanese immersion school from the first through the fifth grades and spent half the time speaking English and Japanese.

When he arrived at Case Western Reserve, he resumed Japanese classes and spent a year abroad in Sendai, Japan, at Tohoku University, honing his Japanese while learning about the culture and traveling. It was during that study trip that he met several Chinese students and subsequently spent 10 days in China.

He said he always wanted to return. That desire was firmed up when he became an intern at the nonprofit group called Asia Policy Point last summer in Washington, D.C. He attended a number of events on development, climate change and science policy during the internship. At one such event, he learned about the modernization of China, its growth as an economic giant and how the country is progressing in terms of basic science and applied research. He also said he found out how China plays a major role in climate.

Olivia Corey

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"I'm thrilled beyond belief about the Fulbright," said Corey, adding she submitted her application on a whim after hearing Kenneth Ledford, a Case Western Reserve University history professor and former Fulbright Scholar, talk about his experience.

Corey said that she thought to herself, "Maybe I can do this" but then found out that the application was due in one week. In that time she gathered a list of references from the U.S. and Germany and put together her research proposal on sustainable materials.

In January, she learned she was in the running as one of the finalists. Shortly after that her family and friends knew she would be starting orientation at the Technical University of Munich in Germany on September 15.

Corey will use her Fulbright year to learn more about the development and use of bio-based and energy-efficient raw materials for building. These materials can be derived from rice, straw, bamboo and a host of other plant sources. Eventually she hopes the Fulbright experience will lead her to a career in the sustainable building field.

"Almost every research project or anything I've done during college has been geared to something with sustainability," said Corey, a German studies major with substantial work completed in civil engineering. Her current senior capstone project is based on sustainability in construction.

Corey spent her first two years at the university as a civil engineering and music performance major before spending her third year abroad in Stuttgart, Germany. While abroad, she had an internship at Zueblin, Germany's biggest construction company. As an intern, she learned the technical language and gained some real world experiences involved in civil engineering. Last summer, she continued in the field as she worked for the Cleveland-based engineering firm, R. W. Armstrong. She also did a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Texas at Arlington and worked a project that developed bamboo reinforced concrete.

After her year in Germany, a health problem cut her school year short after two months back to campus. She spent the year recuperating and upon returning switched majors to German studies to graduate with her class this May.

But she hopes to build on the civil engineering courses through this research opportunity in Germany.

"I'm in a unique position and definitely not the traditional student," explains Corey. "Some doors will open because I have unique experiences and language capabilities, coupled with the technical language of engineering."

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, May 9, 2008 11:15 AM | News Topics: Awards, Case School of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences, Environment, HeadlinesMain, Physics, Provost Initiatives, Students

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