Juliana Covarrubias

May 24, 2022

By Frances Badgett

Your gift this WWU Give Day will support students like Juliana Covarrubias.

When Juliana came to Western, she loved the inclusive community she found on campus. 

“I was surprised and relieved to find a community that did not care about my age, sex, belief system, or appearance. It allowed me to focus on my goals, learn new skills, and make lifelong friends.”

Juliana is finding ways to remove and recycle plastic from our oceans. A stellar student and serious researcher, Julia has been supported by more than a dozen scholarships.

She says of her scholarship support, “I was fortunate and so appreciative to receive these awards because they allowed me to focus on homework, being a teaching assistant, and participating in research and clubs. These scholarships also afforded me time to participate in mentorship and web development programs to help other young professionals learn more about Western's Plastics and Composites Program. These two opportunities offered some compensation. Since I understand how wonderful it feels to receive a scholarship and have financial burdens lifted, I saved the earnings and used them to create the Pay It Forward Scholarship.”

Available through the WWU Engineering and Design department, Pay it Forward will offer support to a student just like Juliana.

“I thought it was essential to turn around and help the next engineering student behind me because the program is not easy, and every student can use more support.”

As for her research, Juliana is studying ocean plastics and how to recycle or remove them from the marine environment. Her first research project was in Ocean Plastics Research with associate professor John Misasi, PhD. 

“Over a year, I helped teammates successfully recycle various ocean plastic, including buoys, nets, and lines. After manufacturing the specimen, we performed characterization testing to determine the material's properties. This research culminated in me being the lead author of a journal article published by SPE called ‘Some Properties of 100% Recycled Ocean Plastic Polyolefins.’ Additionally, I presented article findings at SPE's ANTEC 2021 Virtual Conference. The following summer, I participated in Ocean Plastic Recovery Project's week-long beach clean-up event in Katmai, Alaska. I was joined by fellow PCE majors: Bradley Lamb, Derek Loen, and Brenden Clark. Together with other industry professionals, we removed over 12,000 pounds of ocean marine debris from Katmai National Park in Alaska. This trip was sponsored by Island Trails Network, Ocean Plastics Recovery Project, HP, and Western Washington University.”

For her second research project, Juliana worked on the Cured Composites Recycling Team sponsored by Toray Industries Inc. and the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation (JACTI).

“High-performance carbon fiber-epoxy composites are commonly used in airplanes, boats, and sports equipment due to their high strength to weight ratio. However, there is no established recycling system to handle the high volume of manufactured materials when they reach their end of life. This research is geared toward closing this material loop. The first half of this project focused on chemically recycling cured carbon fiber and epoxy composites. Over the summer, I successfully identified a green solvent-catalyst system to depolymerize the crosslinked epoxy network and reclaimed over a quarter pound of carbon fiber. The second half of the research was for my senior capstone project. I teamed up with fellow PCE senior Alec Newton to identify processes and applications for reusing recycled fibers for this work. Over the past few weeks, we have manufactured and performed characterization tests on these new composites with recycled and virgin carbon fibers. Currently, we are analyzing the results and documenting our findings.”

Juliana is grateful for the scholarships she has received and encourages other donors to give this WWU Give Day.

“I would not be the person I am today without the kind support of all the donors, professors, and mentors. Moreover, it is extremely validating to receive recognition for the hard work put into our studies and community. I want to encourage everyone who has the means to donate because those funds could help a student eat and afford books and tuition to improve their lives and the lives of everyone around them.”

To give to your favorite scholarship this WWU Give Day, go here.