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Where the classroom can provide practical and theoretical knowledge, the laboratory can put that knowledge into practice. But oftentimes students aren’t prepared to work in a lab — so Associate Scientist Julie Brisset is creating educational opportunities at the Florida Space Institute to change that.

Brisset, who studies planetary sciences, joined the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering as an adjunct faculty member earlier this year. During the five years that she’s been at UCF, Brisset has worked with undergraduate students from different disciplines, most of them mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering majors. Over time, she has noticed that the intellectual knowledge they gain in the classroom doesn’t necessarily translate to hands-on knowledge in the lab.

“Hands-on hardware isn’t always a part of education,” Brisset said. “If one day they want to become managers, it’s important for them to know how things are done with their hands so they know what can and can’t be done.”

“We’re teaching them, mentoring them, almost tutoring them. I feel like we have an exceptional educational opportunity for MAE students.”   -Julie Brisset

Training at the Florida Space Institute

Before students step into the lab at FSI, Brisset and the senior students train the incoming students on things like assembly and mechanical parts. Students also have the opportunity to work on research projects like Q-PACE, the CubeSat Particle Aggregation and Collision Experiment.

The CubeSat contains an experiment that will student how dust aggregates in early planet formation. Several MAE students participated in the project, including senior mechanical engineering major Jacob Kirstein. He worked on the project through the UCF Center for Microgravity Research and after a little more than two years, he moved over to FSI.

Because of his work on Q-PACE, Kirstein was selected for an exchange with the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico. Faculty there are working on a CubeSat set to launch in 2021 – if successful, it will be the first CubeSat launch in Puerto Rico. Kirstein spent the most time working on the FSI CubeSat, so he was able to relay the design challenges his team faced and to bridge the connection between the researchers in Puerto Rico and the researchers at UCF.

For all of his experience gained, he credits FSI for teaching him how to use lab equipment and how to lead a team. He encourages other engineering students to continue learning and growing outside of the classroom.

“If you’re serious about being an engineer, the most important thing is taking what you learn in the classroom and applying it [outside of the classroom]. You can be a straight A student and you’ll be less capable than students with C’s and B’s.”

Kirstein, who graduates in May, has already been interviewing with engineering companies, and another recent graduate who worked at FSI was recently hired by Harris Corp. Brisset said that companies that are hiring are now asking graduates about the experience they’ve garnered from their time at FSI.

In the future, Brisset hopes the educational pipeline between the MAE department and FSI becomes official. She said the training and experience benefits not only the students, but the researchers as well.

“We’re teaching them, mentoring them, almost tutoring them,” Brisset said. “I feel like we have an exceptional educational opportunity for MAE students.”