College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Research, explore, and connect through APEX^E

Caleb Dowd looks at markings on a white cylinder containing soil samples.

When Caleb Dowd and Aiden Lee realized Iowa State had strong engineering programs, they were ready to apply and get going as Cyclone Engineers.

And then they were offered an opportunity to start even sooner than the fall in Iowa State’s Academic Program for EXcellence for Engineers. APEXE is an eight-week, academic, on-campus summer program for incoming, first-year multicultural students. APEXE scholars get hands-on research experience with professor mentors, take foundational engineering courses, do workshops, network with faculty, staff, peers, and alumni, and go on industry visits – all before their first semester begins.

“I thought, ‘that sounds really cool,’” said Dowd.

Both Dowd and Lee said yes to APEXE and said that their APEXE summer was even better than they imagined.

Aidan Lee holds a white cylinder containing soil samples.

A peak summer

“First, APEXE gave me an experience advantage. I’m doing undergraduate research under a professor who is really good at what she does before school even starts. You also get further opportunities to continue working with your professor – it’s all resume-building.

Second, you get to meet and live with thirty-four APEXE students on the same dorm floor and form a family. You get to create your own fun and choose how you spend your time. We’ve gone to the pool, State Gym, sand volleyball, escape rooms, Reiman Gardens…I’ve never had a summer that was as full of activity as this one,” said Dowd.

Finding passion in research and engineering

Dowd and Lee’s professor mentor was Beena Ajmera, assistant professor in civil, construction, and environmental engineering. Ajmera researches geotechnical engineering and soil mechanics. In her lab, Dowd and Lee tested soil samples through earthquake simulations to better understand ground conditions for building construction planning.

Caleb Dowd looks intently at a wave simulation machine.

“I’m learning a lot. I didn’t even know most of our research concepts until I got here,” said Dowd. “What’s cool is, Dr. Ajmera’s research is not exactly what I’m looking to do as an engineer someday, but it totally relates to my interests.”

Stemming from interests in zoology, Dowd wants to protect ecosystems and combat climate change as an environmental engineer. Lee dreams of a construction engineering career where each day is different – in the field, managing projects, and seeing where his work leads.

“Iowa State feels like a whole new environment, but also feels now like a new home,” said Lee.

“And during APEXE, you’re not just sitting in the classroom – you have time to move, explore and connect with your new home.”