University of Minnesota Gate

Inspired by CSE faculty, Hannah Pichman aims for Ph.D.

Student follows in her professors’ footsteps

Hannah Pichman has looked up to her science teachers and professors as role models since high school. After graduating this spring, the College of Science and Engineering senior wants to become a mentor for future scientists, too.

“Being an undergrad in STEM is really chaotic and difficult, and there are times where you just want to give up,” said Pichman, who is majoring in materials science. “Having those people that try to help you out and make sure that you're learning and doing okay is really inspiring to me. I want to be able to do that one day for other students.”

Pichman plans to start her Ph.D. program in materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois in the fall. Right now, her goal is to become a professor—and she credits the faculty in CSE’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (CEMS) for motivating her to do so.

“I love every professor I’ve had in the department,” she said. “They’re really dedicated to helping you.

And it's really clear that they don't just care about their grad students,Pichman said. They care about their undergrads, too.”

Pichman is a recipient of the University’s Kaler Family Scholarship and the CEMS department’s Tu & Pi-Fang Chen Scholarship. She said both her University-wide and materials science-related experiences wouldn’t have been possible without her scholarships.

“If I didn't get scholarships, I wouldn't have been able to come here,” she said. “I'm paying for school by myself. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. And knowing that the department was also generous with scholarships helps a lot.”

A bright future in science

After initially pursuing chemistry as a freshman, Pichman switched to materials science when she realized she wanted a degree that combined both chemistry and physics. Since September, she’s been working in Associate Professor Vivian Ferry’s lab, which focuses on using nanostructures to develop materials for applications like solar energy.

Pichman wants to continue doing research on photonics and electric materials in graduate school, with the hope of having her own lab someday.

“I love teaching and tutoring,” she said. “It would be really awesome to be able to combine doing research with teaching students and be that mentor and advisor to them.”

She’s also part of Material Advantage, a U of M materials science student group that participates in national competitions in ceramic mug-making and bladesmithing. While the competitions aren’t happening this year due to COVID-19, Pichman and the other students still get to design and forge their own swords for fun.

 “We have a really diverse academic program here in the materials science department,” she said.

“A lot of other universities from what I hear focus more on metals and metallurgy, but we've dipped our toes in everything,” Pichman said. I feel like I have the foundation to do what I want in the future, especially if I’m like, ‘Oh, actually, I also think ceramics are cool. I want to do something with that as well.’ I could easily do that.”

Giving back

Pichman’s interests in mentorship and leadership don’t end with STEM. Despite her passion for science, Pichman didn’t want her college experience to be defined by it. So, she got involved in the U of M chapter of Camp Kesem, a national organization that supports children whose parents have cancer.

“My mom got cancer when I was a freshman, so being a part of Camp Kesem was really great because a lot of other people have similar experiences,” Pichman said.

“It's just amazing seeing people come together from the U and around Minnesota and work together to help these kids,” she said.

She only attended in-person camp once pre-pandemic, and this year it’s been online. But, she hopes to stay involved as a graduate student in the future.

Pichman is from Wauconda, Ill. She learned of the University of Minnesota from her cousin, who graduated last year.

“I'd never even heard of the University of Minnesota,” she said. “Then I found out that the College of Science and Engineering was really competitive. I really wanted to be in a city, and I just thought it was beautiful here. And, it was cheaper than basically every other big school.”

Story by Olivia Hultgren

If you’d like to support students at the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, visit our CSE giving page.