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When mechanical engineering major Juan Sanchez enrolled at UCF in 2018, he wanted to experience something unique, something that other freshman don’t normally do. So he decided to L.E.A.R.N.

Sanchez was one of 60 students who participated in the 2018-19 cohort of the L.E.A.R.N. program, which offers two tracks: one for transfer students and one for first-time-in-college students. The F-L.E.A.R.N. track for FTIC students pairs freshman with a graduate student who serves as their research mentor. The students also work out of a research lab and live together in the same community on campus.

Sanchez worked out of Putnam Labs, led by Associate Professor Shawn Putnam, and his research was mentored by graduate mechanical engineering student Khan Rabbi. His peer mentor for the program was aerospace engineering student Alex Vega, who offered guidance outside of the lab.

“Having another student who’s already been through freshman year was really refreshing as his advice felt a lot more realistic,” Sanchez said. “Alex also helped me understand what skills I would truly need to advance in college, and what I most importantly am grateful for is that he taught me how to properly balance fun and work.”

Ready to L.E.A.R.N.

Before starting the program, Sanchez wasn’t sure that he would even like conducting research. He wanted to be placed in a more chemistry-focused lab, and he was unsure about Rabbi’s research focus. But once he started working in the lab, he found the research to be interesting and looked forward to tracking its progress.

Sanchez worked on research relating to heat transfer, specifically the cooling of electronic devices.

“As technology progresses there is an ever-increasing demand in data processing, and extreme computing,” he said. “Heat exchanging devices must be capable of dealing with the extreme heat that these methods can present, and existing techniques or strategies still lack in many circumstances. Changing the shape of the surface of what needs cooling, by applying something like a mesh, may be effective in allowing finer tuning of cooling.”

Working with Rabbi, Sanchez created meshes from nickel and copper. They dipped those meshes in solution, heated them and cooled them down to determine the efficiency of the heat transfer.

Although his work for the cohort is complete, Sanchez hopes to continue working with Putnam Labs in the future. The soon-to-be-sophomore advises the next cohort of L.E.A.R.N. freshman to be open-minded about the program — if they aren’t placed in the exact lab that they wanted to work from, they should still give it a try.

Having a peer mentor was also helpful for Sanchez, not just when it came to the L.E.A.R.N. program, but for the entire college transition.

“He emphasized how important freshman year was, not just from an academic standpoint but also just things like the friends and memories you make,” he said. “I think I could’ve made it through my freshman year without a student mentor, but just having one just made it that much easier.”