Engineering Secures Nearly $500,000 to Fund Innovation and Student Research

Emily Barrett, associate director of communications
Ali Hamza works with a female student with technology in the lab.
Ali Hamza, assistant professor of electrical engineering, leads a student-researcher in the lab.

Innovation is at the heart of Widener’s School of Engineering. Now, with recent grant funding from national and state agencies, engineering faculty are continuing to innovate across disciplines and advance research poised to revolutionize industries.

John Suarez, associate professor of electrical engineering, was awarded a grant from the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program.

Five grants awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, or NSF, and the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program, approximately $500,000 in total, will support research in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. 

Grant-funded research not only positions faculty as leaders in their respective fields, but it gives students a pathway to work alongside experts and industry professionals to find solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems.  

The nearly $500,000 in grants will fund undergraduate and graduate research to fuel advances in a range of areas from cognitive sensing technology for self-driving cars and 3D printing durability to developing sustainable alternative construction materials and radio-frequency systems for cars to sense roadway hazards, such as potholes. 

The Next Generation of AI

Ali Hamza, assistant professor of electrical engineering, was awarded approximately $200,000 from the NSF, the largest grant in this cohort and the first NSF award for electrical engineering. 

Funded through the NSF’s prestigious Engineering Research Initiation program, the grant supports Hamza's pioneering work to transform cognitive sensing technologies for radar and wireless communication systems using artificial intelligence. 

Given that securing funding is extremely competitive and challenging, I am truly honored and thrilled to continue to bring the exciting opportunities for our students to conduct research in the new era of AI and cognitive sensing." —Ali Hamza, electrical engineering assistant professor

Hamza’s findings offer potential to significantly improve radar imaging that can be applied to systems used in self-driving cars, weather and military radar, radar-based human activity monitoring, fall detection, and remote vital sign estimation. 

“My mission is to empower students through collaborative projects and immersive hands-on experiences, and I am confident that they will make significant contributions in the future,” said Hamza. 

The research has applications spanning wireless communication, aerospace, healthcare, and automotive industries, giving students an introduction to each of those sectors.

Funding that Makes an Impact

Xiaochao Tang, associate professor of civil engineering, and his team of student-researchers are working to address one of the leading contributors of carbon emissions, or greenhouse gas emissions.

Prof. Tang (right), Catie Sengstock (second from left), and the senior project team on site at the DELCORA facility.

Backed by funding from both the EPA and the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program, Tang’s research aims to develop a process that uses industrial byproduct that would otherwise be disposed of in landfills to create a low-carbon sustainable cement alternative.

Catie Sengstock worked on the research for her senior project. Using incinerated sewage sludge ash, a wastewater treatment byproduct provided by the Delaware County Reginal Water Quality Control Authority, or DELCORA, her team’s goal was to produce a material comparable in strength to cement without the environmental impact. 

Sengstock, who is enrolled in the 4+1 civil engineering graduate program, will continue the research next year.

“My continuing research with my thesis is going to be looking more into finding a combination of materials that can reach that strength,” Sengstock said. She will be conducting material mixing and large-scale testing using facilities of a second local industrial partner, Conewago Manufacturing, LLC.

Both grants will fund Sengstock’s graduate tuition with a stipend, providing incredible support for the first-generation student.

Knowing that I was going to have this tuition covered is genuinely so helpful for me, and it is making me so much more excited to be here. Plus, having a stipend is going to help me with things like paying rent so I can live nearby and have more access to the lab to do this research.” —Catie Sengstock '24, '25

The Power of Industry Collaboration

Three faculty research projects, including Tang’s, were awarded more than $200,000 as part of this year’s Manufacturing PA Innovation Program.

Funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the program pairs graduate and undergraduate students with local manufacturers to develop new technologies and advance innovation statewide. 

In the automotive sector, John Suarez, associate professor of electrical engineering, will work alongside Dorman Products to develop a radio-frequency system situated in the front of a vehicle for sensing road nonuniformities, such as potholes that can damage vehicles or create unsafe conditions. 

Prof. Eslami (center) meets with mechanical engineering students in the lab including Ryan Mendenhall (sitting in the light gray shirt).

Associate Professors Babak Eslami and Kamran Fouladi will partner with American Additive Manufacturing to enhance durability and repeatability of 3D printing with Polyeth-ether ketone polymer, or PEEK, a material similar to plastic that when printed correctly can be as strong as metal.

“Essentially our research helps American Additive Manufacturing optimize their ability to print PEEK,” said Ryan Mendenhall, a junior mechanical engineering student. 

Mendenhall says contributing to the funded research has been a transformational learning experience and led him to secure a summer internship with American Additive Manufacturing.

Industry partnerships, whether through senior projects or co-op/internship programs, position students like Mendenhall, to build professional networks and contribute to private industrial advances from Kirkbride Hall.

“It's been a great hands-on experience.” 

Explore the Engineering Program

You May Also Like

Leo-Paul Wahl poses on campus in his graduation cap and his regalia cords.

Meet the 2024 President’s Award Winner

Leo-Paul Wahl, a biomedical engineering student, received this year’s President’s Award for his academic excellence and service-centered leadership in student organizations across campus.