About UP: Rising Stars
Natalie Higgins '11
“Starting over in a new country is an opportunity to get to know myself better, and see what characteristics stay and which ones adapt,” Natalie said. “My Fulbright experience has been largely about observation and reflection about myself.”
Natalie graduated from the Donald P. Shiley School of Engineering in May 2011 with a mechanical engineering degree.
As a Fulbright scholar, Natalie is doing research under the category of Structural Health Monitoring. Her Fulbright project involves detecting cracks in power line cables.
“The current method of power line cable inspection is crude and dangerous for the inspector,” Natalie said. “My research team is trying to automate this process, thereby protecting the inspectors.”
In the lab, Natalie uses technical equipment to test the cables. According to Natalie, a Piezoelectric Actuator is used to send a pulse through the cable while a Laser Doppler Vibrometer is used to measure vibrations in the cable.
“When there is a crack in the cable, the pulse that we send from one end will be partially transmitted and partially reflected at the crack,” Natalie said. “Through analyzing this reflected wave, we can determine the existence and location of a crack.”
Natalie, a Portland native, is one of 10 UP graduates who received a Fulbright grant in 2011. From 2001-2011, the University of Portland has produced 34 Fulbright scholars and has been the national leader among its peer institutions in producing Fulbright scholars for several years.
The United States Fulbright program began in 1946 after World War II to “assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic and peaceful relations between the United States and other countries of the world” through the exchange of students, scholars and professionals. The program operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.
Natalie began her four-year academic adventure at the University of Portland in 2007.
“I loved UP, I was very close with my professors, and made friends quickly,” Natalie said. “My courses were challenging and I liked that students were able to become involved with many extracurricular activities.”
During her four years on The Bluff, Natalie was involved in the Honors Program as well as the Engineering Honor Society, Tau Beta Pi. She also received minors in both physics and math and was involved in the Physics and Mechanical Engineering clubs. She found time to work in the Baucio Commons as an assistant baker and play intramural volleyball during her college days.
“I chose to attend UP because I wanted a small school atmosphere with personal attention from my professors and I was very impressed by the engineering school,” Natalie said. “Also, when I visited UP for the first time, it felt like home.”
It was in high school when Natalie realized her aspiration of becoming an engineer.
“I have always liked math, physics, and art but I didn’t know which subject to pursue.” Natalie said. “My high school physics teacher and mentor suggested that I look into engineering because it combined math with physics, intuition with creativity. It just sounded like the perfect fit for me.”
As for now, Natalie will continue her research with power line cables in Stuttgart. Next year, she plans to attend California Institute of Technology, to which she deferred admission for her Fulbright grant. In the future she plans to conduct research on earthquakes and work to produce more effective warning systems. And one day she plans to become a professor.
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