Feature Stories

Presidential scholar

Engineering student Bryan Grommersch has squeezed a lot into his four years at UGA.

Beyond his busy load of STEM courses, Grommersch has worked on undergraduate research in the College of Engineering's Nano Electrochemistry Lab, served on the Honors Program Student Council and even started an after-school program for children in Jackson County. With all of these activities and more, Grommersch, recipient of the UGA Presidential Award of Excellence, sometimes gets asked whether his plate is too full.

He offers a response true to his passion for engineering as well as his energy and optimism.

"Plates are two-dimensional objects, but you can stack your plate as high as you want in the third dimension," he said. "In a way, your plate can never be too full, it just keeps getting higher."

Or at least that seems to be true for Grommersch, who has figured out the physics to stacking his plate to the ceiling.

His activities are a blend of academics, research and volunteerism, which fit with Grommersch's interests and personality. He's deeply inquisitive but likes both personal interaction and to see results, especially the kind that brings a smile or-even better-a spark of understanding to a child's face.

Focus on people

That focus on people is what led Grommersch, who hails from Alpharetta, to apply to UGA and enroll in the engineering college.

"People view engineers as these number-crunching robots, which sometimes may not be too far off," he said. "But engineers at Georgia break the mold."

Grommersch talks about the Driftmier Engineering Center, where the college is based, as kind of a home. Faculty members know their students' names and let them "learn and explore what they want to get out of engineering," he said.

Learning and exploring are exactly what Grommersch has done. In the lab, he worked on improving the lithium ion battery as a CURO research assistant and CURO summer research fellow under Ramaraja Ramasamy, an associate professor of engineering and an adjunct professor of chemistry.

The process taught Grommersch how a lab worked and let him investigate his passion for scientific exploration.

"There's potential, and there are things that haven't been discovered," he said. "And even the things that were discovered 200 years ago are fascinating to me."

Grommersch shows that same enthusiasm in the classroom.

Mark Eiteman, a professor in engineering and microbiology, has taught Grommersch in two engineering courses. In both classes, Eiteman said, Grommersch was extraordinarily engaged and asked lots of terrific questions, which tended to encourage more involvement from fellow classmates.

"He's real sharp every moment of the class," Eiteman said. "He's the kind of individual who adds value to my instruction by engaging with the class."

Empowering children

And it's not just engagement in the classroom. Grommersch has taken the initiative to engage with the local community, particularly in regards to empowering children with problem-solving skills.

In 2015, Grommersch established an outreach program with East Jackson Elementary School, which provides after-school scientific and engineering activities for third-, ­­fourth- and fifth-grade students, with the help of Tim Foutz, a Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor of Engineering. Grommersch recruited engineering classmates and developed a curriculum for the STEM Club.

Every other week, Grommersch and his peers give children hands-on learning activities that teach them about problem solving and experimentation.

To demonstrate, for example, the concepts of environmental engineering, Grommersch helped elementary school students build water filtration systems with rudimentary materials: cotton balls, sand and gravel.

"These things are so simple, but that's what so cool about working with kids," he said. "You can do a lot with a little."

He also participated in an Experience UGA project to teach engineering concepts to fourth-graders closer to campus.

A partnership between the Clarke County School District and the university's College of Education and the Office of Service-Learning, Experience UGA brings every student in a Clarke County public school to the UGA campus for a field trip each year.

While some might view the volunteering projects as another commitment or chore, Grommersch sees it as a nice break from the demands of schoolwork.

"Working with kids is refreshing," he said. "They don't understand the laws of thermodynamics. That doesn't matter there. All that matters is being present with people and sharing your time and gifts."

Looking forward

Looking forward, Grommersch expects the lessons he's learned in all these activities to be valuable in his next venture.

After graduating from UGA May 13, Grommersch plans to go to medical school. He recently took the MCAT and will be applying to schools in the summer. But even as a doctor, he expects to keep his engineering mindset.

"I'd like to be a surgeon because I think it's the most hands-on, problem-solving form of medicine," Grommersch said. "No matter what, I'll be an engineer, even if it's not in my title."

 

Published Thursday,