Focused on physics, engineering research, doctoral student embraces his passion for service

Contact: Cindy Wagner
Andrew Messecar

"I volunteer some of my free time to an awesome organization that everyone should know about called Broncos Kitchen! We offer hot meals to area college students, completely free of charge. You just show up with your student ID and you get a free meal," says doctoral student Andrew Messecar.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—As an undergraduate physics major, Andrew Messecar developed a curiosity about solid-state and condensed matter physics. As a result, his physics professors recommended an engineering course that overlapped with his expanding interest.

“Without question, one of the best academic experiences that I had as an undergrad was taking that electrical engineering course on the topic of semiconductor device fundamentals,” says the Ph.D. student from Battle Creek, Michigan.

Motivated to advance his education, Messecar soon developed a mentorship with the course instructor, Dr. Steve Durbin, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Western Michigan University. Joining Durbin’s research group, Messecar gained experience that would help prepare him to continue his education in graduate school.

But first, the Peace Corps

Inspired by a passion for service, Messecar began serving as a Peace Corps volunteer upon completing his Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 2018. Along with his cohort of 54 other Americans, Messecar first spent more than nine weeks learning about Namibian languages, teaching strategies and allyship before serving as a mathematics and science teacher in the Namibian public school system. Messecar was assigned to Rietoog, a remote, rural settlement in the southern Hardap Region of Namibia, where he taught classes and worked with his colleagues to coach after-school athletics, develop projects around the campus, clean and refurbish chemistry equipment and host after-school study sessions.

Back at Western

While working in Namibia, Messecar received an email from Durbin asking if he was still interested in graduate school and a position in his research group. Days later, Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated due to the pandemic, and Messecar returned to Kalamazoo. He again joined Durbin’s research team at Western, this time as a Ph.D. student in engineering and applied sciences, continuing the relationship sparked by a love of physics and a bond of research.

“Our group is investigating methods of controlling and improving the performance of different electronic materials,” Messecar says. “We have multiple ‘irons in the fire,’ and I’m excited by the experience that I’m gaining working on these projects with the research team.”

While his education continues, the same passion for service that brought Messecar to the Peace Corps has led him to volunteer as the student outreach coordinator for Broncos Kitchen, which serves cooked meals two nights per week to Southwest Michigan college students at no cost. In this role, he represents the organization to the local college student community and to organizations interested in partnering with the Broncos Kitchen project.

Focusing on the future

With up to five years to go before completing his Ph.D., Messecar is excited by what is happening in his field and says he is motivated by researchers helping to address the climate crisis—whether it’s designing more easily recyclable devices, redesigning electronics to use more sustainably sourced materials or working to develop materials that do a better job of solar, geothermal or another variety of clean energy conversion.

“There is a lot of activity, and it is it inspiring to see the developments contemplate how I can contribute to the field,” says Messecar.

So, what does Messecar plan for the future?

“Work as a research and development scientist focused on developing high-performance electronic materials or the design of next-generation electronic devices. I think that I would enjoy working in either the private or public sector and then possibly transitioning to academia later in my career," he says.

Learn more about research and professional accomplishments by following Messecar on LinkedIn.

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