Becoming a Mechanical Engineer: Shantal Adajian’s (BSES ‘22) Longtime Dream

4 min read

Shantal Adajian (BSES ‘22) is a recent graduate of the American University of Armenia (AUA) Bachelor of Science in Engineering Sciences program of the Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering (CSE). Her aspirations to succeed in engineering have evolved during her school years in Lebanon. She credits AUA for the extensive knowledge and skills she gained to later specialize in the study of renewable energy that interests her the most. As a successful continuation of her academic journey, she was admitted to the University of California, where she will pursue Ph.D. studies. During our interview, Shantal reflected on her story of joining AUA as a diaspora student, what made her want to continue her studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and her future goals.

What influenced your decision to move to Armenia and pursue an academic career in engineering sciences? 

I am a third-generation Armenian Genocide survivor with my granparents having settled in Anjar, Lebanon from Musa Dagh. I grew up immersed in Armenian culture and steeped in stories about our homeland. Four years ago, I decided to start my college journey in Armenia. When I met my classmates in the first week of classes, I found that we were the most diverse class with the majority being diaspora Armenians. We challenged the parameters of how each of us defined an Armenian since we possessed different backgrounds and frameworks but were united through our shared culture. We respected one another’s diversity and built a close-knit cohort. In that sense, AUA gave me a more profound basis as an emerging Armenian engineer.

The study of science itself is what led me to choose a specialization in engineering sciences. The contrast between the clean air in my native village of Anjar and the polluted air of nearby Beirut explained the ecological consequences of fossil fuels. Plentiful, clean energy is an existential priority for Anjar, and power outages are a fact of life. I became aware of this issue at a young age and I knew I wanted to use my education to contribute to the field of renewable energy. This influenced my decision to join AUA and major in engineering sciences with a minor in environmental studies. During my Circuits course, I designed the circuit board of a portable power bank with a solar panel and a small wind turbine to generate the electricity required for charging phones and laptops. I also designed the wind turbine during my Computer Aided Design (CAD) course with solidworks. The broad knowledge that the BS in Engineering Sciences program offered helped me form a strong foundation in engineering.

Why did you choose the University of California? What perspectives or opportunities does it offer compared to other universities you have considered?

I chose UCSB since the values and interests of Dr. Bolin Liao, the professor who recruited me, clearly aligned with mine. His Transport for Energy Applications Laboratory (TEALab) and numerous publications on wind farms and energy transport piqued my interest. Moreover, the TEALab members were very cooperative and friendly when we met online, which assured me of the supportive and interdisciplinary environment in the lab. 

Alongside the lab, I came across a petition organized by UCSB students to make the campus 100% renewable energy reliant by 2050. That’s the kind of community where I believe I belong. There are a lot of activities on campus that I enjoy as well, such as biking and gardening. Learning to surf wouldn’t be a bad idea either!

What was more instrumental in making the choice is that UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE) provides fellowships and grants, encouraging students to lean toward a cleaner future. I believe my values align well with UCSB’s efforts. 

What are your research interests?

My doctorate in mechanical engineering will be focused on fluid mechanics and thermal sciences, as well as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) within micro and nanoscale engineering. It will focus on the significance of understanding the fundamental concepts of thermodynamics, heat transfer, and electromechanical systems in order to address issues with energy and material processing. With the knowledge I acquire, I would love to enhance the performance of our energy sources.

You have also been actively involved in the ResponDrone project. What impact did it have on your decision to pursue Ph.D. studies in mechanical engineering?

I knew I wanted to become a researcher as soon as I did my internship as an engineer/technician at a solar company. My capstone project centered on conducting research on the efficiency gained from photovoltaic (PV) panels by combining different efficiency enhancing techniques. During this period, I had a three-month collaboration as a junior researcher with ResponDrone. While my engagement in the project has not affected my decision to become a mechanical engineer — my longtime dream — I enjoyed the deeper involvement in the research process and building my skills in conducting literature review for my capstone project . 

How do you intend to input your knowledge in Armenia with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering?

I would love to come back to Armenia and initiate a new wave of wind power station planning. Engineers often run into challenges while trying to operate wind turbines in Armenia because of the country’s mountainous landscape. That being the case, wind energy is left out of consideration. After receiving a Ph.D., I would be delighted to join the team of engineers who will use Armenia’s wind power potential to make it a primary energy resource. 

What are your plans for the future? Do you have specific goals you want to accomplish?

I am currently doing a month-long internship at the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment to design a carbon dioxide and methane sensing system for Lake Sevan. Upon its completion, I’ll take a break for a month in Anjar and spend time with my family before leaving for the U.S.

For now, my main goal is to earn my graduate degree. I have always had the interest that drives a researcher and I would love to put my passion and intellectual skills to the test.