Scholar of the Week

Marlene Patino      
University of California, Los Angeles

In today’s global market, an innovative STEM leader must have unique skills, experience and expertise. These are the qualities exemplified by Marlene Partino, the top graduate student, who is the recipient of the 2014 HENAAC Graduate Student Leadership Award.

Marlene is currently working on her doctoral degree in aerospace engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  “Curiosity has always been the motivation for me getting into STEM and for my specific research topics,” states Marlene.  It is this curiosity that has propelled her to learn a range of topics from fluid mechanics to electricity and magnetism that have allowed her to be diverse in her research in plasma actuators for drag reduction of aerodynamic surfaces, in ion-atom interactions, and ultimately in plasma-material interactions.

Marlene aspires to work as a research scientist in the spacecraft propulsion field at a national laboratory.  As a senior, she began working at the UCLA Plasma and Space Propulsion Laboratory.  Today, Marlene is conducting high caliber research on charge-neutral species interaction and secondary electron emission.  As part of her research, she utilizes an ion beam facility at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to examine ion-atom collisional interactions.  In studying the physical processes occurring within plasma propulsion devices, Marlene Is examining mechanisms to improve their efficiency  and  lifetime,  thereby  improving  the  lifetime  of  satellites  and  interplanetary spacecraft that utilize this technology.  This research is providing a foundation for understanding the plasma physics that is fundamental to electric propulsion devices that are used for a wide variety of space applications.

Her research professor at UCLA, Dr. Richard Wirz, and her colleagues at JPL have very high regard for Marlene’s work ethic and intellect.  In fact, in summer 2013, Marlene was offered the opportunity to represent her lab in collaboration with the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) at Princeton University.  Her advisor at PPPL, Dr. Yevgeny Raitses, was so impressed with her work that he asked her if she could stay another year.

Her collaborative work has led her to two papers submitted for review in two leading journals - Plasma Sources Science and Technology and the Journal of Applied Physics.  She has also presented her work internationally in Germany.

Marlene’s leadership and service outside the classroom and laboratory is just as remarkable to her research accomplishments.  She is the UCLA Graduate Student Representative to the National Science Foundation-California Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NSF-CA-AGEP) program where she promotes opportunities for STEM graduate students and post-doctoral scholars at UCLA, UC-Berkley, Caltech, and Stanford as future faculty, and scientists in national and industry research labs.

Marlene continues to mentor students and stays actively engaged with UCLA’s BEAM - Building Engineers and Mentors – an afterschool STEM program at Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy.  She also previously served as a kindergarten teaching assistant for the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Marlene’s passion for bringing STEM opportunities to underrepresented students earned her UCLA’s Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship, a distinction that underscores her importance as a leader in the community.

Beyond her mentoring, Marlene is also an avid dancer.  For the past seven years, Marlene was part of the Grupo Folklorico de UCLA.  She performed traditional Mexican folk dances and taught dances to students at Freemont High School.  Beyond dancing, she is also a choreographer.  She has choreographed and taught original dances to participants of the Señoritas Fiestas Patrias Pageant as a member of the Comité Mexicano Cívico Patriótico de Los Angeles.

“By being a role model and by getting kids excited about science, I hope to inspire younger generations into STEM fields,” states Marlene.  All told, Marlene has the qualities that make her a great role model in her community - dedication to the community, strong cultural sense, and a professional work ethic.  The dedication and abilities she demonstrates in the laboratory, classroom and community, and her potential as a strong contributor to the engineering and science community, exemplify why Marlene Patino is the recipient of the 2014 HENAAC Graduate Student Leadership Award.

*A shorter excerpt appears in TECHNiCA Fall 2014

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