Jena McCollum earns National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Jena McCollum working in a lab

Jena McCollum, Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Lab and associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for her research project “Microstructural Engineering of Solid Composite Electrolytes through Process Manipulation.” The five-year award will support graduate research and expanded undergraduate training and support to facilitate research experiences. 

“Our college is very fortunate to work with a great researcher with student focus that delivers on the entire mission of the university. Dr. McCollum has established herself in materials science while making discoveries that correlate microstructural properties to material performance. Her research efforts have had significant impact in polymer science, microstructural correlation with material performance, and additive manufacturing technologies,” said Don Rabern, dean, College of Engineering and Applied Science. “Dr. McCollum’s work ethic, student focus, and ability to teach with rigor and technical depth will impact UCCS students as they graduate with a B.S., M.S., or Ph.D.” 

McCollum’s research focuses on structural batteries, which are batteries that double as structural components. These batteries use solid electrolytes which are safer than the more commonly used liquid electrolytes. The research will assist in understanding the mechanisms behind how a structural battery’s performance changes when loaded or stressed. 

McCollum has studied particulate composites like these electrolytes for nearly a decade. In the past few years, she has made connections between unrelated systems and electrolyte composites. Her research will impact the energy sector and allow new research toward better energy storage options. Looking toward the future, McCollum adds, “I hope this work helps us manufacture better energy storage options and disrupt the energy sector by offering better, economically viable options for structural batteries.” 

National Science Foundation research awards emphasize candidates proposing strong, broader impacts and identifying education objectives, like training students and young researchers. McCollum was inspired by her own challenges as a young, caregiving parent and college student. High-impact practices like undergraduate research experiences are not always accessible to students in similar situations. Even with paid positions, childcare costs may outweigh pay, which is a serious barrier for many students interested in enhancing their degree experience through research. McCollum’s NSF grant will incorporate more research experiences throughout the mechanical engineering curriculum, so all students have access regardless of caregiver or socioeconomic status.  

Part of this plan is already in place as a pilot program to assist students in funding childcare expenses to allow for students to pursue educational and research activities. 

“I am grateful to the NSF for selecting me for this award and am excited for the opportunity to improve the energy sector and enhance research opportunities for caregiving students,” McCollum said.  

McCollum joined UCCS in 2016 after earning her bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from West Texas A&M University in 2012 and doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas Tech University in 2015.

About the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science

The College of Engineering and Applied Science enrolls more than 1,700 students and offers 23 engineering and computer science degrees, ranging from bachelor to doctoral. The college is a Department of Homeland Security / National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and works closely with the National Cybersecurity Center and with more than 250 aerospace and defense, information technology, cybersecurity and engineering organizations in the Pikes Peak region. Learn more about the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UCCS.