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Wrayzene Willoughby Receives Acceptance Letters to Top-Tier Graduate Schools

February 2021

Wrayzene WilloughbyAs a graduating chemistry major on the dual-degree engineering track at Spelman, Wrayzene Willoughby, C'2022, has a keen interest in research on environmental sustainability and water treatment, and aspires to obtain a Ph.D. Her previous research experiences paired with her childhood experiences on a farm has fostered a love for the areas of wastewater treatment and nutrient recovery through electrochemistry.

The Washington D.C. native is heavily involved in the Atlanta University Center (AUC) National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and serves as the organization's executive secretary. She is also a member of the AUC engineering design team, MayWay, and a researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology under Dr. Yongsheng Chen. During the summer of 2020, Willoughby interned virtually at ExxonMobil as a process development research engineering intern responsible for helping to solve the dual energy challenge.  In 2019, she was a SURF Scholar at Stanford University where she conducted research in the civil and environmental engineering Department dedicated to working on two huge problems: food insecurity and climate change. She was also the winner of the AUC Dual Degree Engineering Program's Shining Star Award.

In Her Own Words... Great Research Opportunities at Spelman

Since Spelman does not offer engineering research, I took a pivot both in my major and extracurricular research. I considered majoring in environmental science and mathematics, which led me to first join a research project with Drs. Nirajan Dhakal and Bhikhari Tharu in the environmental science department. The general question of interest was to investigate the rainfall characteristics of a location and its possible relationship with infrastructure based on return periods.

Spelman's Wrayzene Willoughby Receives Acceptance Letters to Top-Tier Gradute Schools With "Assessment of the Rainfall Characteristics and Impact of Storm water Infrastructure," I aimed to investigate the economic and societal impacts of significant precipitation through statistical analysis of rainfall data. In this project, I analyzed 60 years of data using R Studio and basic statistical concepts, exploring the linkage between the rainfall characteristics and the storm water infrastructures (such as dams, bridges, and culverts). After that, based on return periods, I created visual representations of my findings. Afterward, I also participated in research at Spelman College with Boeing Company. Drs.Jeffery Ehme and Colm Mulcahy in the Mathematics Department led the Boeing Research Seminar. Using the De Casteljau's algorithm, a mathematical interpolation concept, I created and manipulated different curves and surfaces.

De Casteljau's algorithm is a recursive method to evaluate polynomials in Bernstein form or Bézier curves. The algorithm provides a mean to assess Bézier curves, a parametric curve that uses the Bernstein polynomials as a basis. After creating the curves and surfaces, using Computer-Aided Geometric Design (CAGD) and Maple, I visualized the data findings. The research can be used in different fields to study airplanes, cars, or other sectors to model different reflecting properties. In presenting on Spelman's College Research Day, my poster received first place for Best Mathematics Project.

Willoughby's Graduate School Acceptances

A testament of what academic excellence, hard work, passion, vision and determination can do, Willoughby worked with LaTonya O'Neal, the graduate school counselor in the Spelman College Office of Career Planning and Development, and has already received acceptances into the following top tier graduate programs:

  • Yale University: Chemical Engineering Ph.D.

  • Stanford University: Chemical Engineering Ph.D.

  • Washington University in St. Louis: Energy,
    Chemical & Environmental Engineering Ph.D.

  • University of California Berkeley: Environmental Engineering Ph.D.

Willoughby is an Executive Leadership Council Scholar, a Spelman LINCS Scholar, an ExxonMobil WISE Scholar; and an integral part of the Ford First-Generation Mentorship Program. Her area of focus is on environmental sustainability, renewable energy, social justice, technology and the intersection of them all. If she is not in the classroom or doing research, she can be found practicing the piano for her next recital; or as a true nature lover, she spends her "free" time enjoying nature and volunteers  at the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm.