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William Henken ‘18, a graduate of UCF’s aerospace engineering B.S. program, has received a doctoral fellowship from Volkswagen. The fellowship, the first of its kind in the United States, was awarded as part of Volkswagen’s new partnership with the University of Tennessee Knoxville, where Henken is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in civil engineering.

“Receiving the Volkswagen fellowship is immensely beneficial to my personal and professional growth,” Henken says. “I am part of an inaugural cohort of fellows tasked with vehicle light weighting and increasing power efficiency in electric vehicles.”

Henken adds that the fellowship is a great opportunity to continue his education in composites, a discipline of materials science that studies the mechanics of combined materials. His research will focus on the interaction of plastics and carbon fiber by studying a coating called sizing, applied to fiber to increase its compatibility with plastics. The work involves testing various sizing chemistries applied to glass, carbon and basalt fibers to identify optimal chemical response.

“Volkswagen will benefit from understanding sizing to produce stronger composite parts capable of replacing heavier aluminum or steel counterparts,” says Henken. “My hope is that my work will benefit composites research across all industries.”

William Henken
William Henken

Mentorship Leads to Volkswagen Fellowship

Henken’s interest in research began while he was an undergrad at UCF. Following an internship at the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, he decided to continue his studies with a focus on composites. He found the perfect fit for his interests with mechanical and aerospace engineering assistant professor Kawai Kwok.

Kwok is the director of the Structures and Materials Design Lab at UCF, where his team studies deployable structures, composite laminates, polymers, and porous ceramics.

“I had hoped to pursue a composite material focus within aerospace engineering, and that’s when I learned of Dr. Kwok’s lab,” Henken says. “His work with composite tape springs for deployable spacecraft structures was very intriguing, and aligned with my newfound interests.”

Henken says he encourages students to pursue undergraduate research as a means of exploring specialties within engineering, and that the research skills he developed under Kwok’s guidance were invaluable to his continued success.

“Dr. Kwok is an incredible mentor and much of the technical information he taught me has been utilized in graduate school at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and now with Volkswagen,” says Henken. ”He also nurtured a desire to learn, which extends beyond professional and into personal life.”