March 28, 2023
Few engineers can say that a group of elementary students helped push them in the right direction for their future careers. But Durant Fullington, a Mississippi State graduate student, can say just that.
Little did Fullington know that applying and receiving a fellowship with a service focus would lead him into the world of academia. Fullington explained that the fellowship, funded by a NASA training grant, was unique because instead of producing research and submitting papers, fellows do K-12 outreach and community involvement.
Soon after receiving the funding, Fullington found himself face-to-face with a classroom full of fourth graders eagerly listening as he explained concepts like buoyancy. Much to his surprise, he's enjoyed his time at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary teaching fourth graders about 3D printing, buoyancy and simple circuits.
"The fellowship that I applied for through the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium is a program that focuses on teaching and aiding teachers in STEM activities within the state," Fullington said. "Part of my job within that fellowship is helping out in the maker's space at a local elementary school, and so far, it's been really fun. I've taught my own lessons and helped with the teacher's lessons."
He explained that while not all students would grow up to be engineers or scientists, it's essential to expose all students to the critical thinking aspect of the field that will help them in day-to-day life. He said that giving them that hands-on approach and experience with critical thinking plants the seeds of being more independent and solving their problems as they grow older, and he's thrilled to be the one that teaches it to them.
Growing up as a child of an engineer and an elementary education teacher, Fullington was familiar with both worlds, but he wasn't sure that the two could work hand in hand. He explained that he always knew he wanted to be an engineer like his father, but he wasn't quite sure what area he wanted to specialize in. Once Fullington learned about industrial engineering, he knew he had found the right major.
"I feel like I can do almost anything with industrial engineering," Fullington explained. "I really love the program here, and once I started doing undergrad research with Dr. Tian, that solidified my decision."
It was Meg Tian that encouraged the Georgia native to continue his studies as a dual master's and Ph.D. student at Mississippi State and encouraged him to apply for the fellowship through the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium. Tian also helped Fullington find his focus in the research world, where his interests lie in metal-based additive manufacturing and data security. Fullington explained that in addition to working with Henderson Ward Stewart's maker space classroom, he is also looking at quality control and how to predict defects in the 3D printing process. He said they could do this by collecting data while the machine is printing and building machine learning models to go over the data.
"But on top of that, I also focus on data privacy. That's a large part of the research project," he explained. "We want to answer the question of how can companies collaborate and share data for improving defect detection while simultaneously protecting their confidential information such as design features."
As for the future and whether Fullington would like to work in industry or academia, he is keeping all of his options open.
"Working with students has pushed me towards getting involved in academia, but I still am really focused on getting involved within the college level," he said. "Ideally, I could find a university with a K-12 outreach program. That way, I'd be working as a professor and be active in the K-12 world."
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
By Camille Carskadon