My name is Sara and I am a Doctoral Candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan.


I am a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Michigan in the Department of Civil and Envirionmental Engineering. I work with Professor Nikolaos Katopodes in the area of environmental fluid mechanics and control. My dissertation project is on the real-time detection and mitigation of hazardous contaminants in public spaces characterized by a long conduit containing an ambient fluid with a predominant flow direction. To study this problem, I have utilized a combination of numerical and experimental techniques. Additionally, I have developed an agent-based model of humans evacuating said public spaces in such emergency situations with dynamic environments.

Since 2011, I have spent numerous summers in Liberia, West Africa mentoring and teaching undergraduate Liberians studying engineering. Most recently my work in Liberia has centered around mentoring and supporting Liberian undergraduate women in engineering as they develop their own Society of Women Engineers student chapter, the first SWE student affiliate organization on the continent of Africa. This collaboration resulted in the development and implementation of a two-week Leadership Camp held in Kakata, Liberia for 30 Liberian undergraduate women studying engineering, along with 5 undergraduates and 5 graduate students from the University of Michigan. To accompany my teaching, I have carried out Engineering Education Research to better understand the experiences of Liberian women studying engineering through the theoretical lenses of self-efficacy, psychological sense of community, and expectancy-value. To carry out this research, I draw from qualitative, participatory action, and feminist ethnographic research methods.

I have found the combination of my fluid mechanics research, along with my teaching and outreach to be both intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding. I look forward to beginning an academic career that continues to allow me to combine both of these interests. I am especially grateful for academic institutions and faculty mentors that have and continue to support me through this professional journey.

I received my B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, with a minor in Spanish, from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. I grew up in the small farming community of Constantine, Michigan in a family of K-12 educators. Since childhood, I have been fortunate to expand my horizons by travelling to, living in, and building relationships with people of many different countries and cultures, including Spain, China, Liberia, and India.


Throughout my doctoral studies, I have been fortunate to gain experience and develop skills in a variety of computational modeling techniques, while also building my own physical prototype to carry out experiments to test some of these computational models. In the future, I plan to continue applying these skills I have developed to a variety of engineering problems, from hemodynamics of the cardiovascular system to the development of decentralized, intelligent urban stormwater systems. Additionally, I am interested in adaptive techniques that allow the complex models I use to be utilized in real-time.


The majority of my teaching as a doctoral student has come from my work in Liberia. Originally, I travelled to Liberia as a part of the USAID-funded Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) grant to design and carry out the Summer Start program for 80 Liberian undergraduate engineering and agriculture students. In 2011, I was part of a 3-person graduate student team who implemented this program. In 2012, I co-led at team of 10+ people as we expanded the program to include returning upperclass students, and implemented five 80-person high school engineering and agriculture camps in rural areas throughout Liberia to serve as a STEM pipeline into the universities. Our curriculum material was published on Open.Michigan, and can be accessed here and here.

The female engineering students formed their own Liberia Society of Women Engineers (L-SWE) student organization in 2013, and since I have been a part of the efforts of developing a cross-cultural partnership between the Society of Women Engineers at University of Michigan and L-SWE, which most recently resulted in a two-week Leadership Camp between the two organizations held in Kakata, Liberia this past August 2015. This partnership is continuing to expand, and central to the partnership is the leadership camp which will be carried out the next three years.



  • Apr 7
    I am excited to be participating for the second time in the 43rd Midwestern Universities Fluid Mechanics Retreat in Rochester, IN, one of the most fun and unique meetings I have ever attended. I hope I do not get "frogged" too many times!
  • Mar 30
    I giving a seminar on my research on my doctoral research, "Controlling Hazardous Releases While Protecting Passengers in Civil Infrastructure Systems," at the Global Security Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory today. I am excited to be discussing my research with the group so integral in the development of agent-based modeling.
  • Mar 24
    I am the 2016 student recipient of the Mara H Wasburn Early Engineering Educator Grant from the Women in Engineering Division of the American Society for Engineering Education for travel to the annual conference. Thank you for this honor! I am looking forward to the June conference!
  • Feb 17
    I feel honored to have been awarded a research fellowship from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan for my continued research in Liberia on the female student experience. You can read about my award, and the other fellowship recipients, here !
  • Jan 20
    I am giving my department's weekly seminar today from 5 - 6 PM in 1670 Beyster Building on my research, entitled "Controlling Hazardous Releases While Protecting Passengers in Civil Infrastructure Systems." I look forward to discussing my work with my fellow students and department faculty.
  • 2015

    • Nov 21
      This is my 3rd year in a row attending the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics annual conference in Boston on November 22-24. I will be presenting on my dissertation research in the Student Poster Session , and will be carrying out an oral presentation on my work in Liberia during the Fluid Dynamics Outreach and Diversity session.
    • Oct 21
      This is my 4th year in a row attending the Society of Women Engineers annual conference, WE15, which is being held in Nashville, TN. I will be recruiting for the University of Michigan's Graduate School at the Career Fair. I will also be presenting on my work in Liberia. Every year, I become excited with the growing number of women academics in engineering who attend the conference - the Women in Academia community is growing!
    • Oct 15
      My profile was published on the University of Michigan's College of Engineering's Academic-track PhD webpage. You can view it here.
    • Sep 29
      We have launched a crowdfunding website to raise funds to bring three Liberian undergraduate women to the Society of Women Engineers national conference in Nashville this October. You can contribute here.
    • Sep 20
      My Liberia SUCCESS team was featured in the Michigan Daily! You can read it here.
    • Aug 15 - Sep 5
      I travelled to Liberia for my sixth time to carry out the Setting Up Collegiates for Careers in Engineering through Social Support (SUCCESS) leadership camp for 30 undergraduate Liberian women and 5 undergraduate University of Michigan women. You can read more about this trip here.