Five people pose in a hallway for a photo.

A handful of Rock Bridge High School students are working in Maria Fidalgo’s lab, getting hands-on experience in environmental engineering. From left: postdoc Atri Ariapad, Fidalgo, RBHS students Julia Koldobskiy, Corby Clowe and Maddie Diehls, and recent MU alumna Shannon Kelly. Photo by Amy Parris.

The MU College of Engineering’s drive to educate future generations of engineering leaders isn’t contained solely to college students. Maria Fidalgo’s lab has been giving students from Rock Bridge High School in Columbia the chance to work on meaningful environmental engineering projects for the last three years.

Fidalgo, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has done extensive work in the areas of membrane processes and improving water quality. Three years ago, she was contacted by a teacher at Rock Bridge about developing an internship program for high-achieving students with the goal of them to gain engineering experience in a hands-on manner. Meanwhile, the College benefits by helping potentially foster a love of engineering in high school students, some of whom have gone on to start their journey as future engineering leaders at MU.

“It’s a good opportunity to show them what we have here in town. … Sometimes they don’t have a clear idea what environmental engineering is from their high school experience,” Fidalgo said. “So being here and being able to talk to other students can help them decide what to be. It helps them think about not only engineering but also science and STEM careers.”

This summer, four students are helping in the lab while two more assist with computational work under the watchful eye of Fidalgo, postdoctoral researcher Atri Ariapad and recent MU Engineering graduate Shannon Kelly. One of them, senior Maddie Diehls, said she’s enjoyed working on a project with real-world implications.

“I feel like we’ve learned a lot so far,” Diehls said. “We’ve been working on this project with the issue of antibiotics in wastewater, so we’re testing those antibiotics to see their concentration.”

Fidalgo said the college students working in her lab have enjoyed helping the high school students learn the finer points of the projects they’re helping with. And they’ve found the RBHS students incredibly helpful, to the point where some have helped their college counterparts meet project deadlines.

“I think it’s been fun to kind of break everything back down for them and show them why we’re doing this, what the reason is, and why it’s so important,” Kelly said. “They’ve been picking up everything super quickly, and I feel like they have an understanding of what we’re doing.”

RBHS junior Julia Koldobskiy said her favorite part of the program is the opportunity to work on projects in a collegiate lab setting, which is a learning opportunity not always readily available. It’s just another way MU is helping potential engineering leaders chart a path of success.

“I think it’s more interesting when you actually get to do stuff; now we actually get to help people,” she said.

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