ISU Material Advantage connects students to the department, the community and Iowa representatives

Iowa State University is home to its very own chapter of Material Advantage, a student organization that “provides access to the materials science and engineering professional’s most preeminent societies,” including The American Ceramic Society (ACerS), the Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST), ASM International and The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS).

Involvement in the organization gives students leadership experience, scholarship opportunities, conference and event access, updates on Materials Science and Engineering departmental news and events and special relationships with people in their industry of study, according to materials engineering senior, David Puhl, current president of Iowa State’s chapter of MA.

“Being affiliated with these societies can help students understand the advantages of belonging to a professional organization,” said Scott Chumbley, professor of materials science and engineering and advisor to MA.

There are about 3,000 members of MA across 378 universities worldwide.

One of 73 chapters, ISU MA was awarded Most Outstanding chapter for ten consecutive years and has continued to hold positions in the top 10 since.

What makes the Iowa State chapter go above and beyond?

Connections in the working world

Professional development opportunities are a big part of what makes MA important to students.

At monthly meetings, professionals in materials science and engineering – academic and industry – are invited to present their work and allow students to explore the many paths that they can pursue with their majors.

“We want to present students with as many professional development opportunities as we can,” Puhl said. “Speakers allow people to see what types of jobs that they could pursue with their degree.”

In addition, meeting with professionals allows students to get a start to accessing opportunities and forming relationships.

“MA is a great first professional step,” Chumbley said. “Conferences, meetings and tours arranged by the chapter allow students to interact and build connections with professionals in their field.”

Another way that MA allows for professional development, as Chumbley mentioned, are conferences – regional and national.

A major conference is MS&T (Materials Science and Technology), an annual, national conference which serves as a technical meeting and exhibition to showcase equipment and services in materials engineering.

According to Puhl, a lot of logistical planning, like funding, lodging and travel, takes place to prepare for this conference.

Community outreach

With a goal to inspire kids to love science and pursue a career in STEM, MA hosts one-hour events to introduce engineering to children in the Ames and Des Moines areas.

“My goal for every outreach event was to get kids excited about science – regardless of their background or education level,” said Rebecca Whitesell, former president of MA and current materials engineering graduate student.

MA’s Iowa State chapter began doing outreach when a former professor got so many requests for demonstrations in the community that he couldn’t do them on his own. He had the MA students take that effort over and expand it to the lengths that it extends to today.

“We organized events to show K-12 students of all different backgrounds what Materials Science and Engineering actually is,” Puhl said.

“Since it’s a smaller field, not a lot of people, especially kids, actually know what it is,” Puhl said. “We have demonstrations to show what it is and what the applications are to get them excited and interested in materials science and engineering.”

Not only do these efforts contribute to the well-being of materials engineering, but also to the community’s perception of Iowa State.

“When we go out into the community and show that Iowa State students are doing great things – giving back to the community by teaching kids about science – we’re fulfilling the land grant promise that Iowa State set forth,” Puhl said.

Another outreach effort which MA takes part in every year is Congressional Visit Day, Puhl’s favorite part of being in the organization.

Each year, five representatives from MA and one faculty member – adjunct professor of materials engineering Iver Anderson – travel to Washington D.C. to meet Iowa’s representatives and discuss the importance of science and research funding at the university level.

“Being able to talk to Iowa’s representatives one-on-one and see the interest and support that they show toward science and engineering growing each year is a special experience,” Puhl said. “It’s cool to go to Washington (D.C.) and see that stuff actually does work.”

Collaboration and support

Iowa State’s chapter is unique because there is a lot of support coming from the materials engineering department, both through funding and professional development efforts, according to Puhl.

Not only does MA offer opportunities for students to dip their toes into the professional world, but it fosters an environment for students to form friendships and collaborate.

“We try to play a part in the department’s effort to create a community that makes it a lot easier to learn from each other and grow together as a tight-knit community,” Puhl said.

MA allows students to learn from each other and improve individually.

“Underclassmen can meet upperclassmen and gain an understanding of what it’s like later on in the program and get guidance from students that have been through it already,” Puhl said.

According to Chumbley, MA is a chance for students to grow together, but also to have fun and bond with people with similar interests.

“MA was a major part of my undergraduate experience, and my ISU adventure was all the better for it,” Whitesell said.

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