Meet Suman Kumari

Suman Kumari is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering and the Activities Director at the John Lof Leadership Academy. Her research focuses on using electron microscopy to analyze the polarization of ferroelectric materials in different situations.

Kumari’s journey to MSE wasn’t so straightforward. She did her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. At first, Kumari wanted to do Computer Science and Engineering but ended up minoring in it. 

Learning to code gave Kumari an edge in engineering. She mainly did computational research and simulations in her undergrad.

“Not everything can be tried experimentally. When you do experiments, there are so many things that are not in control like temperature fluctuations or humidity. Whereas when you do the simulation aspect of it, you can perform the control experiments, and control variables through code,” Kumari said.

She excelled in college basketball and volunteered extensively, supporting social programs and organizing events. There was a coding club that held workshops for programming languages like C++ and MatLab.

Kumari said that she found a love for research during this time. As a summer intern at Clemson University, she looked at simulations of polymeric fluids and their permeability. After college, she became a full-time associate at Cognizant, wanting to explore the industry side of things. Kumari came back to IIT as a Junior Research Fellow. There, she worked on simulations of polymer membranes and their reactions to acoustic waves.

Kumari decided to eschew a Master’s degree and was convinced to apply to UConn due to their reputation in MSE and the funding provided to graduate students. 

When she came, she found that the faculty she wanted to work with was not in her department. All the other faculty were experimentalists. That was something she had little experience with.

“I met my advisor, Dr. Balkan, and he mentioned that he’s purely experimental, but that I could learn to do some simulations. It was out of my comfort zone and it was initially a challenge for me, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and realize that this field also has a lot of things to offer for you. After a year, I’m an experimentalist,” Kumari said.

At UConn, Kumari flourished. She became the secretary of the Materials Research Society and a researcher at Ortolan Group under the supervision of her advisor, Dr. Volkan Ortalan.

While studying, Utsav Awasthi, a John Lof alumni, informed Kumari about the program.

“I really like the idea of this program that said ‘for us and by us.’ It was something I heard for the first time. After joining, I realized that this is completely different from a lot of other programs,” Kumari said. 

As the current activities director, she plans out the workshops and is brainstorming John Lof’s new initiative focused on combating food insecurity. Sumari said that John Lof has given her the confidence to advocate for herself and the ability to adapt to unexpected situations.