Single Mother Achieves Success Through REU Program

Achievement date: 

The NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST), which is headquartered at Arizona State University (ASU), has implemented a program that provides students with unique opportunities to participate in authentic research while working on a student-led pilot line. That program is known as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), and single mother Carrie Culp is an REU success story. 


Through REU-sponsored work on a pilot line, students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and gain experience directly relevant to industry, giving them opportunities to demonstrate the commercial impact and relevance of their ideas by guiding them through steps required to bring new ideas to commercialization. Working in this way bridges the gap between typical “research” devices and commercial solar cells, offers exposure to fabrication and analysis of technologies on commercial-size devices and commercial equipment, and provides experience in a facility that permits new equipment or processes to be analyzed and assessed jointly with industry.


Carrie, frustrated after many years of working in a minimally skilled, low paying job, returned to college. A single mother who transformed her life, from working a job that was going nowhere to completing a master’s degree, she participated in the first QESST REU program at ASU in 2012 (see figure).

During her senior year at ASU, Carrie designed a solar-powered dialysis machine while working on a QESST Capstone Project; upon graduation, she began a new career for an energy company in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carrie is a great example of how QESST provides the experiences that have created successful partnerships between students, universities, and companies.

Solar electric systems are popping up everywhere, and the industry is growing at 30% per year with sales over $30 billion. ASU's creation of a five-week summer program provides solar-relevant hands-on experience to undergraduate students, engages them in the process of photovoltaic (PV) research, and helps ensure a new generation of PV engineers entering the field; the REU site provides research projects and mentoring to discover how to produce more efficient and cost-effective solar cells. 

It is noteworthy that QESST has been successful in recruiting and retaining non-traditional students within ASU’s Engineering Research Program (10% African American; 20% Hispanic, 10% Native American).