Fourth-year mechanical engineering major Midori Huapaya-Renbarger has made research a key part of her college experience. As a member of a lab that combines healthcare and robotics, she’s worked to help people using technology, while developing her technical skills and building a strong foundation for a career in industry.
Huapaya-Renbarger began doing research in her first year at UC Davis. She joined mechanical and aerospace engineering (MAE) professor Cristina Davis’ lab and was selected to campus’ NSF California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) program, which funds research for undergraduates in STEM from underrepresented groups.
“I was really lucky to be a part of the lab and the NSF CAMP program and I’m grateful to everyone who has supported me,” she said. “I could not be where I am today without their help.”
Though this was her first research experience, Huapaya-Renbarger hoped to work more with robotics. So, she reached out to MAE assistant professor Jonathon Schofield and joined his lab group in Winter 2020.
Her research focuses on a device that uses light and sensation to help children be less sensitive to pain at the pediatrician. Since children are often scared of medical devices such as needles or stethoscopes, the team hopes the device will put them more at ease in an engaging way.
So far, Huapaya-Renbarger’s experiences in the robotics lab have been focused on the technical side of the device—developing, prototyping and testing all the parts, wiring circuits and making everything as intended. Working in the lab has given her a chance to hone her skills and grow her coding ability with the help of her supportive team.
“I think Professor Schofield is an understanding supervisor, and our whole group is really good about supporting each other when one of us struggles with something,” she said.
She presented her research virtually at this year’s Undergraduate Research Conference, where she learned how to present her work over video and demonstrate the prototype. She plans to build on this success and continue working on the prototype while taking on a more managerial role in the project.
Huapaya-Renbarger hopes to use her experiences in the lab to eventually work as a project manager or lead engineer in industry after she graduates. She advises aspiring researchers to persevere until the right opportunity arises.
“At first, when you don’t have a lot of experience, there may be a lot of no’s, and that’s ok,” she said. Sometimes that means the professor is busy or doesn’t have a spot right then and it’s not about you personally, so don’t give up. Keep asking how you can get involved and it’ll happen.”