In her final semester as a senior Mechanical Engineering major at Georgia Southern, Gracia Dardano Castro was not only taking 16 credit hours of courses, she was also interviewing for jobs, serving as team leader for the Senior Design Class Project for Mechanical Engineering, tutoring, writing a thesis for the 2021 Student Research Symposium on N95 mask filtration (more on that later), and preparing to participate in the ASME Virtual CAD Design Competition with the Georgia Southern ASME student chapter.
Dardano was President of the ASME student chapter last year (2019- 20). Dr. Brian Vlcek, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is the faculty advisor for the Georgia Southern chapter, and Dardano credits Vlcek with putting her in leadership positions. Through ASME, she has participated in two other competitions, one on NASA, with mentorship from Dr. Marcel Ilie, and one on Robotics, with mentorship from Dr. Junghun Choi. “Their guidance really helped both teams immensely in competition” Dardano said appreciatively.
In her spare time (!), Dardano works out, reads, watches TV and hangs out with friends. By the way, she graduated with a 3.99 cumulative GPA. Shortly after graduating, Dardano landed her dream job with Tesla Corporation. She is now an Associate Manufacturing Engineer in their Cell Battery Engineering Department in their new facility in Austin, Texas.
Dardano grew up in San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, in a family of lawyers. However, once she realized that engineering was her calling, they fully supported her. Interestingly, her younger brothers are following in her footsteps – one is already at RPI in New York, studying civil engineering, and the youngest is still in high school, but may follow her to Georgia Southern to study civil engineering as well.
Dardano has completed four summer internships in engineering – one at Kimberly-Clark and three at Hanes. The first was at a Kimberly-Clark manufacturing site while she was a junior in high school. She shadowed biomass boilers that converted woodchips to energy and studied the production of paper. Dardano’s next internship – at Hanes in San Salvador, was after her freshman college year. The manager asked her to analyze why the sewing machines had so much downtime. Dardano’s research concluded that the composition and weight of different fabrics affected the machines, and therefore specific fabrics should be assigned to specific machines, and maintenance needed to be tailored to the fabrics and their machines as well.
Dardano’s next two internships were at Hanes as well. The next one, after her sophomore year, was at HQ in Winston-Salem, NC, working with the Engineering Facilities team. She worked one-on-one with a Hanes engineer to develop an automated material handling system for all their facilities (100+ around the world) to generate energy from waste from their manufacturing plants. Her last internship, this past summer, was virtual, also hosted at the Winston-Salem HQ, but involved a diverse team of students – different races, different majors, different ages from high school on up, from engineering to fashion. Their project was to develop an eco-friendly alternative to plastic packaging, and the team worked to use manufacturing waste from the factory floors to create an online prototype.
Meanwhile, back at Georgia Southern, Dardano has been working for the last 18 months or more on a project with Dr. Aniruddha Mitra on a project analyzing the effects of nanoparticles on the health of workers in welding shops, construction shops, gyms, etc. The project combines her engineering technical skills and interest in biology and health. It has also become vastly more relevant with the spread of COVID-19, especially as Dr. Mitra and she were already researching the filtration of the nanoparticles using the now very popular N95 masks. Be sure to visit her 2021 Student Research Symposium project to see the results of their research.