Twins receive best project awards, accept jobs at Fortune 500 companies
Brother and sister Reese and Riley Holloway are twins with much more in common than 50% of their DNA. Both served as Purdue College of Engineering ambassadors, received best project awards for their senior design projects and recently accepted positions at Fortune 500 companies upon graduation from Purdue this spring — an accomplishment they credit to their professors, senior design teams and strong bond as twins.
Reese and Riley didn’t expect to earn best project awards for their respective design projects or even attend Purdue together. They both applied to other universities, but Purdue was the best fit when it came down to community and opportunity.
"Purdue fits both of our hands like a glove. It is a great school, and we both knew that,” Reese says.
After a transformative four-year collegiate career at Purdue, the pair graduated this past spring; Riley is a graduate of The Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, and Reese is a graduate of the School of Mechanical Engineering.
Shared passion for solving real-world problems
The aspiring engineers quickly immersed themselves into Purdue’s community culture when they joined EPICS, an academic program in which teams of students partner with community non-profits to design technology solutions to solve real-world problems, during their first year. A passion for community programs transformed into industry-changing design projects that earned top awards their senior year.
Senior design project courses are taken during engineering students’ final year at Purdue. The classes are designed to develop students’ skills through real-world applications and solutions to current challenges in their industries. Students design devices or improve processes through team collaboration and guidance from a faculty advisor. The courses culminate in a project symposium in which students present their work to a panel of judges who deliver awards to project teams based on their evaluations. BME hosts its senior design course during the Fall semester, so Riley was the first to participate.
Riley advocates for women’s health through engineering
Riley and Reese have a lot in common, but Riley faced a unique challenge as a female student in engineering. Female students make up 26% of engineering undergraduates. While the number of female students is increasing, the major consists mostly of men. As a participant in Purdue’s Women in Engineering Program (WIEP) — a program focused on mentoring and career development of female students in engineering — she found a community that helped her speak out and feel more confident. “[At WIEP], I got a sense of belonging, so I liked that aspect of attending Purdue,” she says. Women make up 20% of the BME faculty, and Riley felt supported in her pursuit to improve women’s health experience during her senior design project, The SAZER Vaginal Speculum.
Interviews and surveys conducted by Riley’s team found that 25% of women avoided going to their annual gynecological checkups because of the procedures, including using a vaginal speculum. “We wanted to make that number decrease by making [the speculum] more comfortable and easier for the doctor to use. It was a redesign of the actual speculum while keeping it fairly simple,” she says. Under the guidance of professor of biomedical engineering Sherry L. Harbin, the team’s goal was to redesign the speculum into a 3D shape, so it opened like a circle, as opposed to up and down.
"It ended up being a really fulfilling project,” she adds.
Riley received an overwhelmingly positive response to her project from female professors, her grandmother and aunts.
“Many people came up to us and said this is definitely something that needs to be fixed,” she says.
Riley waited patiently during the awards ceremony at the end of the semester, expecting to receive an award for most project iterations — their project had more than 20.
“When we won Best Overall Project, it was a shock, but we were very honored. I'm very happy about it,” Riley says.
Reese wasn’t surprised at his sister’s accomplishment.
“She had been talking about and showing me the project all semester. I could see the impact of it," he says. "She’s amazing, so I wasn’t surprised.”
After receiving the award, Riley remembers Reese telling her that he was motivated to win best project after his senior design course the following spring. Riley laughs at the memory.
Teamwork is essential component of project success
During the spring semester, Reese’s team worked with associate professor of mechanical engineering Thomas Beechem on a project designed to improve the transfer of graphene, a nanomaterial consisting of a single layer of atoms. Graphene is helpful for heat dissipation in small electronics, but traditional transfer processes are expensive, involve harsh chemicals, are unstable or cause the material to lose some of its most valuable properties. The team designed a stamping tool that is cheaper, safer and repeatable. Fitted with thermal tape, the stamping tool picks up the graphene from the copper it’s grown on and stamps the graphene down on a silicon wafer.
“Then we were able to heat up the thermal released tape to make it, what my professor calls, unsticky. You’re left with the graphene laying on the silicon wafer,” Reese says.
The process was challenging, but Reese was thankful to have a hardworking team of peers whose skills complemented each other, led by a professor who helped them think critically and stay on track.
“There were definitely some points with a bit of healthy tension within the team because we weren't afraid to bounce ideas off of each other, to express our opinions and use our voice,” Reese says. “Professor Beechem allowed us to do that, and he was a really good facilitator of these conversations, which was great for team morale.”
Reese’s team was invited to participate in the Malott Innovation Awards, the culmination of their senior design project course. The team’s project, Atomic Stamp, won first place.
“There are so many great teams in mechanical engineering. It’s a very highly ranked school with a lot of really great, smart and hard-working people. It was an honor to be chosen for the award,” he says.
Reese and Riley’s projects were in different majors, seeking to solve unique problems, but the twins share similar strengths that contributed to their mutual success. They often leaned on each other for support and trusted each other as sounding boards. Riley says Reese gave good feedback on her project, especially in his experience as a mechanical engineer for the technical parts of her project.
“It was a big honor to win these awards, and then the fact that we're twins, I think we were kind of both shocked just because the odds of that are very low," Reese says. "But it was a really great feeling when we both won; it was a great way to tie up our college career."
Fortune 500 and beyond
Reese accepted a position in a rotational program in powertrain and engine development at the Fortune 500 company Polaris, an American recreational and utility automotive manufacturer headquartered in Medina, Minnesota. During six-month rotations, he will be able to experience new specializations in the industry, an exploratory program he’s looking forward to.
“I'm a little nervous but confident that I will do well. Everything I've gone through at Purdue has given me that confidence,” he says.
Reese credits his research experience under Professor Greg Shaver at Ray W. Herrick Laboratories to securing his dream job out of college. Reese spent six semesters at Herrick Labs working on three different Cummins engine projects. This experience cultivated his interest in engine development.
Riley also acknowledges her undergraduate research experience in Professor Craig Goergen’s Cardiovascular Imaging Research Labratory. Over the course of seven semesters at the lab, Riley published work on two projects and conducted an independent project using 3-D ultrasound to study cervical changes in preterm birth model of mice. She recently presented her work at the 2022 Summer Biomechanics, Bioengineering and Biotransport Conference (SB3C).
Riley accepted a position in clinical trial development at AbbVie, a Fortune 500 biopharmaceutical company in Chicago. Like her brother, she will also be in a rotational program and is looking forward to adding her name to the blossoming list of women in engineering.
Moving to new cities to begin their careers is the first time the twins will live more than 15 minutes apart. Still, they look forward to experiencing the challenges and rewards of this new chapter of their lives together.
“Our college, research and senior design project experience hammered home skills in problem-solving and being able to adapt outside of a school classroom situation,” Reese says. “That's what I hear from a lot of people that are Purdue Engineering graduates is Purdue teaches you how to think, and that’s what sets you up for success.”