Student Profile

Olivia Licata

PhD, Materials Design and Innovation, expected May 2021

BS, Biomedical engineering, 2017

Olivia Licata
“I plan to continue mentoring and educating those around me; through personal experience, I've realized that you learn the most through teaching others.”
Olivia Licata, Graduate Student
Materials design and innovation

Where are you from?   Lockport, NY

Why did you choose UB?   

I was excited to attend UB because it had a biomedical engineering program. At the time, there weren’t many universities within a commutable distance that offered such advanced programs. It’s different for everyone, but I personally liked transitioning from high school to college while still being at home.

What do you like most about engineering at UB? 

As an undergraduate, my favorite part was mentoring as a student leader in EAS 140 and EAS 202. After taking the courses myself, I had the opportunity to guide students and keep them on the right track. The other EAS leaders and teaching assistants became my role models and close friends. I really enjoyed working with Bill Wild, the Director of Student Excellence Initiatives and the First Year Experience, in particular because I felt like we were working to make a difference in students' education and first exposure to engineering. I love being a part of a tight-knit community, which is why I joined clubs during my undergrad.

Now, as a graduate student, I am in a brand new department that is continually growing and innovating. I feel that my relatively small class of under 20 students is providing the foundation for the changes that our department will make in the university and in the scientific community.

Why did you choose to go into engineering?

In high school, I really loved math, science, and art. I wanted to incorporate these topics into something that would have the greatest impact on others. My dad is a mechanical engineer and he actually sent me an article on biomedical engineering way back, before I even knew what it was. To me, an education in engineering gives you the tools to solve problems in many different fields.

What is your favorite place on campus?  

In the summer/fall, the best spot is the small dock at Lake LaSalle. You can sit by the water, watch ducks waddle by, and possibly pick some pears! In the winter you can stay cozy and enjoy the winter wonderland from Davis Hall or the Alfiero Center (also there's a Tim Horton's in the Alfiero Center!).

What are you working on now? 

After getting my BS in biomedical engineering, I wanted to focus on the foundation of design –the material. My research utilizes Atom Probe Tomography to obtain chemical information about material structures at the atomic level. My PhD work and current paper focus on components of advanced semiconductor structures to understand their chemical and physical properties and improve future device design.

What else do you do on campus?

I’ve been volunteering with SEAS at Westminster Community Charter School since my undergrad years. I continue to help out with Westminster volunteer events, including visits to the school for an ongoing project. There are many opportunities on campus to get involved and contribute to good causes. I've helped with events like Future Girl Engineer Day and Science Exploration Day.

What have you done that you are most proud of?

I am most proud of the conference presentation I gave at the 2018 Atom Probe Tomography and Microscopy Symposium, which took place at the NIST (the National Institute for Standards and Technology). I was very nervous during the week leading up to it and even anxious afterwards worrying what the experts in the community would think. Ultimately, however, I was very excited to talk with other researchers afterwards and learn ways to improve my work. Conference talks are important not just for the presenter to share their work and show that it's novel, but so that they can receive feedback and acknowledge questions that they may not have considered.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about music, which continues to have an impact on my daily life. I like songs that tell a story or share something very personal. It's similar to how I feel after reading a Humans of New York post or listening to a Moth podcast- I may not have gone through the exact experience, but it's put my life into a different perspective. Most people aren't writing songs about research or getting a PhD, but then again those would probably be too real for me to listen to.

What are your future plans?

I’ve never been outside of the U.S. or Canada so I want to travel. The top places on my list are Italy, Slovenia, and Spain. After my PhD I'd like to work in a national research lab. I had the opportunity to train at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee this past spring and I really enjoyed it. I feel like it's an environment where you're always working on something new and exciting. They also have teaching opportunities in the Center for Nanophase Materials Science to educate other researchers. I plan to continue mentoring and educating those around me; through personal experience, I've realized that you learn the most through teaching others.

What is your advice to prospective engineering students?

There are many times in college where I've felt the need to just 'get through' an assignment or course. I'd suggest doing all that you can to make the best of your situation. This is the time where you will learn to teach yourself and find out how you learn best. Sometimes going to your room and staring at the textbook isn't enough, so try working with other students, quizzing each other or sharing study strategies/resources. As a freshman engineer you have many resources, including mentoring sessions, small groups, and tutoring. Above all, don't sacrifice your physical and mental health. If you balance these things now, you will be better off in the long run.