Rusty Rouillier held up a plastic bottle filled with orange-tinted water.
Imagine waking up in the morning, turning on the water faucet to brush your teeth, and seeing this liquid pouring out, she asked a group of people gathered inside Room F in the Graduate Life Center.
“I wouldn’t drink this,” said Rouillier, a rising Virginia Tech senior and civil engineering major, referring to the bottle filled with iron water. Her example was based on research that she conducted for 10 weeks this summer about the use and effectiveness of household water filters.
She is one of seven students who spend the past few months doing research at Virginia Tech as part of a new research scholarship initiative, the Clare Booth Luce Program. Earlier this year, the program, which is part of the Henry Luce Foundation, gave $300,000 to the university to fund research for female undergraduates in science and engineering for the next three years.
Its purpose is to encourage women to pursue academic and professional careers in science, math, and engineering.
The first-ever cohort of Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars presented the results of their summer work on July 27 during Virginia Tech’s Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program’s Research Symposium. For the past 26 years, this program, which administers the Luce grant, has offered 10-week summer sessions for diverse students from colleges and universities across the country. The students conduct research with Virginia Tech professors and learn how to navigate the graduate school application process. Forty students in all presented their summer research projects on July 27.
The Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars plan to continue their research beyond this summer.
For the past few months, Rouillier worked in a university lab run by Marc Edwards, the Virginia tech professor who exposed the 2015 water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She used different water solutions to test filters and studied everything from the cost to the convenience of installing certain filters.
It was the first time that she has had complete ownership of a lab project from its beginning. In past lab work at Virginia Tech, she mainly worked on projects that were assigned to her.
Rouillier has a personal connection to water quality research. When she was in third grade, her family relocated to Virginia from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home. The experience led her to study civil engineering in college, and she said she hopes to eventually become a research professor, focusing on water quality.
“The gist of civil engineering is serving others,” she said, adding that she’d like to move back to New Orleans one day to work in water quality.
For Jordan Pritchard, another Virginia Tech student who received Clare Boothe Luce Research funding, this past summer was her first time diving into an in-depth lab project. Pritchard, a geology major, researched the loss of oxygen in parts of the ocean by looking at past episodes and studying sediment samples.
“This research has caused me to be more interested in graduate school,” said Pritchard, a rising junior who came to Virginia Tech with plans to become a geologist. “I now know that I enjoy lab work.”