Claire Davis is a sophomore at Tulane, majoring in Engineering Physics.
Through her involvement with the Honors Program, sophomore Claire Davis has greatly enriched her studies at Tulane, where she is majoring in Engineering Physics. Living in Honors Residential Learning Communities (RLCs) in Wall and Weatherhead Halls and utilizing an Honors grant to work in a lab have enabled her to broaden her education and advance her intellectual development outside the classroom.
Claire has taken a lot from the Honors RLCs in which she has lived. Last year, she was a resident of Wall Residence Hall; this year she is living in Weatherhead Hall. These buildings house the RLCs for Honors first-year students and sophomores, respectively. Both have provided Claire with a vibrant academic community, which she has both enjoyed and learned from. Most of the close friends she has today, she says, she met in these communities.
In Wall, Claire was a member of the Larks and Owls Society [now known as Tulane, Naturally]. The group is run by Dr. Donata Henry, Senior Professor of Practice in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. With this Wall Society, she explored the city and its natural surroundings, getting to know other passionate students along the way.
In keeping with the spirit of bringing her studies outside the classroom, Claire applied for an Honors Summer Research Grant at the end of her first year. This grant gave her funding to work in the lab of Dr. Matthew Escarra, Assistant Professor of Engineering Physics. She has continued to work in the lab since then, gaining valuable research experience.
Dr. Escarra’s lab works in the field of Photovoltaics, researching ways to develop more efficient solar power technology. Claire’s role has been to create small modules which convert incoming sunlight into thermal and electrical energy. These modules are then used for other tests, as Dr. Escarra and his team hone their expertise.
As a first-year student in just her second semester at Tulane, Claire was initially unsure as to how to find a lab in which to work. However, she did research online, looking into a number of Tulane professors and their areas of study. After some work, she came across Dr. Escarra, and reached out to him by email. They exchanged correspondence, and she sent him her resumé. With his approval Claire began work on a research proposal to send to the Honors Program for her application.
Claire spent the summer working in Dr. Escarra’s lab, assisted financially by the Honors grant. Along the way, she completed periodical “check ins” with the Honors Program; through reports and reflection meetings she kept the program updated on her progress. In her final report, Claire reflected on her progress. “I’ve been able to look back over the past few months and see the way my role in the lab developed; I shifted from being frightened of making mistakes to being accepting of failure. Along the way, I developed unique friendships with those I work with, and I soon enough felt fully integrated into lab life.”
Moving forward, Claire is unsure of her exact next steps, but is sure that her experiences at Tulane, in the classroom, in the lab, in the Honors RLCs, and beyond, will assist and guide her. She is considering writing an Honors Thesis during her senior year, possibly on some aspect of her work in Dr. Escarra’s lab. After that, she is thinking about graduate school, where she may continue with research. Though she doesn’t have a set long-term plan, renewable energy is an important topic for her, and she hopes to continue working with it in some capacity.
For younger students, Claire recommends that they take advantage of opportunities offered to them by the Honors Program. This includes living in Wall and Weatherhead, which foster communities Claire describes as “incomparable.” It also includes applying for Honors research grants, connecting with faculty in Wall and Weatherhead, and putting in time to find professors whose research matches the student’s interests. Claire has taken a lot from pursuing her academic passions outside the classroom, as well as within it, and recommends that other Honors students do the same.