From Aviation Mechanic in Iraq to Physics Major

Scholarship will enable Louise Daniels, a Riverside City College student, to attend UC Riverside this fall

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — At 17, Louise Daniels enlisted in the Marine Corps. In the following years, she was stationed in Florida, California, Hawaii and Japan. Then, in 2005, she deployed to Iraq and spent seven months working as an aviation mechanic.

After leaving the Marine Corps, she enrolled at Riverside City College. She expects to graduate this spring and, in the fall, thanks in part to a $40,000 scholarship, start classes at the University of California, Riverside.

The scholarship is part of a $250,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded to Sharon Walker, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the UC Riverside Bourns College of Engineering, and Heather Smith, an associate professor of life sciences at Riverside City College.

The three-year grant, which Walker and Smith received for the second time in 2011, funds the Building Bridges Across Riverside program, a collaboration between the Bourns College of Engineering and the Riverside Community College District.

Louise Daniels

Louise Daniels working in Sharon Walker's lab.

The grant supports a science fair award with the Riverside Unified School District and a science and engineering seminar series at Riverside City College. It also provides research opportunities to community college students from underrepresented groups who want to transfer to a four-year college and pursue a degree in science or engineering.

Since 2006, nine students, including Daniels, have been selected for the program. All of the students who have taken part in the program have transferred to four-year universities and are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) related fields.

For eight weeks in the summer, the students live at UC Riverside and are provided a stipend to work full-time in Walker’s lab or the lab of Mark Matsumoto, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering. They continue work during the school year, spending 10 hours a week in the labs.

The $40,000 scholarship is a one-time award. Walker and Smith awarded it to Daniels, 27, a physics major at Riverside City College who lives in Moreno Valley, because of a spark they saw in her.

“We use the little engine that could model,” said Walker, who holds the John Babbage Chair in Environmental Engineering. “We’re looking for someone who is really enthused but could also use a little help. Louise was a perfect fit.”

In 2007, Daniels left the Marine Corps and moved to Moreno Valley to live with a family member.

A year later, she enrolled at Riverside City College. After initially focusing her studies on English, she switched to physics because of an astronomy class taught by Scott Blair, an associate professor of astronomy.

Once a physics major, she found about the Building Bridges Across Riverside program and applied to work in Walker’s lab. She was accepted and started working in June 2011.

Walker’s research focuses on water quality issues. Daniels is assisting her and others in her lab with a project centered on the transport and removal of nanoparticles, particularly titanium dioxide, in ground water. Titanium dioxide, which is used to make things white, is a common ingredient in everything from toothpaste to sunscreens and marshmallow fluff.

In the fall, Daniels plans to transfer to UC Riverside and major in physics.
The $40,000 scholarship can be used over two years to pay for a variety of things, including tuition, books, a computer, housing and travel to a conference.

“It’s amazing,” Daniels said. “I don’t have to worry about working or sharing a bathroom or kitchen. I can just focus on school.”

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Sharon Walker
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