Arts & Culture 

Boundless optimism

CEIAS Indian Association international student mechanical engineering PhD

Mechanical Engineering PhD student Glen D’Silva’s goal is success in academia, allowing him to combine his interests in research and education.

Glen D’Silva has always enjoyed tinkering and figuring out how things work. When he was eight years old, he created an electromagnet by wrapping a coil around a nail. To his delight, his graduate research at Northern Arizona University brought him back to the world of magnetism and energy as he studies magnetic shape memory alloys. He also found a new interest—educating others. He now aspires to combine his two interests, research and education, and go into academia. “I really see myself wanting to become a teacher or lecturer. So, academia is where I look to go,” Glen said.

Glen is working on his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in Dr. Constantin Ciocanel’s Multifunctional Materials and Adaptive Systems Laboratory. Glen came to NAU from Mumbai, India, to complete a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He chose NAU because he was offered a good financial package, and he appreciated the beautiful Flagstaff scenery. It helped that he had a friend who was also a student here.

Glen didn’t plan on pursuing a PhD, but his experience at NAU changed his mind. “When I came here, I thought I would probably get my master’s degree, go back home, and find a job. I never thought that I’d want to stay here,” Glen said. “But all the support that I received from NAU has been mind-blowing, whether it’s been towards my personal development, career development, or even funding—all these three—I’ve been really happy and satisfied. That’s why I didn’t even have to think twice that I wanted to stay here for my PhD.”

When I came here, I thought I would probably get my master’s degree, go back home, and find a job. I never thought that I’d want to stay here. But all the support that I received from NAU has been mind-blowing, whether it’s been towards my personal development, career development, or even funding—all these three—I’ve been really happy and satisfied. That’s why I didn’t even have to think twice that I wanted to stay here for my PhD.

Glen researches the power harvesting capability of NiMnGa (Nickel-Manganese-Gallium) magnetic shape memory alloys (MSMAs). “They are a group of smart materials. If you subject it to a magnetic field it’s a material that elongates, then if you squeeze it, it’ll go back to its original shape—it remembers its shape,” Glen said.

His research is focused on optimizing the power and efficiency of the NiMnGa-based energy harvesters, and then modeling the behavior of the material. “When the MSMA changes its shape it also changes its magnetization, and this property can be used to harvest energy which is otherwise dissipated in our surroundings, like the moving branch of a tree,” he said.

As part of his graduate program, Glen teaches one section of a machine design course and is involved in all aspects of the class, from grading examinations to building demonstration kits. Glen and Dr. Ciocanel, a Mechanical Engineering Professor and Department Chair, developed these demonstration kits to help students complete their assignments and understand mechanical processes. These classroom experiences helped Glen gain an appreciation of teaching.

“It’s satisfying to know when someone understands what you’re trying to explain to them. So, my motive is to explain concepts to them in the easiest way that they can understand,” Glen said. “Because if they remember that, they’ll never forget the basic concepts. And then they can build on that.” Throughout his master’s degree and now in his PhD, Ciocanel and Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Chair of Graduate Studies Dr. Heidi Feigenbaum have been Glen’s advisors and mentors. They have helped him become a better scientist and teacher. “I think the biggest thing I learned while I was with them is endurance,” he said. “You need to keep going. Failures come from time to time, but you keep going and keep plowing through, and you’ll get there.”

Cultural connections

Flagstaff provided a culture shock for Glen. “I’m not used to people being so friendly in India. At least from where I come from in Mumbai, it’s a city, and it’s a fast city. People don’t have time for you,” Glen said. “But when I came to Flagstaff, I was like, wow, people randomly smile at you. People are so friendly. They care about you. Now, I cherish that.”

Since starting at NAU, Glen has been involved with and is currently the President of the Indian Association of Northern Arizona.

“The primary goal of this club is spreading Indian culture to the NAU community,” Glen said. “Our main focus is having events, just fun events, for people to know how Indians dress, the different languages, the music, the dance, and food, of course.” He explained the international community—especially the Indian community—is small, allowing for groups to get to know other cultures. “Here at NAU, it has really helped me go out and mingle with people of different cultures, and also explore my leadership skills,” Glen said. “I think NAU is really focused on developing international culture.”