PCI is proud to be partnering with the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials at The University of Southern Mississippi to provide information on the program’s upcoming graduates. Read below to learn about our Student of the Month, and email polymers@usm.edu or call 601-266-4868 for more information about them.

Name: Brice Harkey
Degree Being Sought: Polymer Science & Engineering with a minor in Chemistry. 
Research Group: Wiggins Research Group (WRG)
Area of Study: Composites
Hometown: Theodore, AL


Give a brief synopsis of research/work being done.

As part of the WRG since I was a sophomore, I have been able to apply prudent lab practices in order to help formulate epoxy-amine thermoset matrices for aerospace applications. Alongside this I conducted rheology and DMA analysis on epoxy-amine matrices that were b-stages and prepared nano-composites from multiwall carbon nanotubes using a continuous high-shear reactor such as a twin screw extruder. From this research I was able to further study structure-property relationships. I have also had the opportunity to analyze composite samples processed at different processing temperatures for three different levels of conversion and three different MWCNT loadings/cure ramp rates.  

In addition to the research I have done while at school, I have also had the opportunity to intern for two summers with Chevron, during which I studied and correlated rheological profiles of lubricating oils with their fuel economy performance. I also synthesized and characterized well-defined copolymers using controlled polymerization techniques and further studied the effect of reaction conditions and co-monomer composition on copolymer structure and molecular weight. Lastly, I synthesized dispersants and evaluated their performance in preventing soot viscosity increase.


From your current perspective, what do you see as an ideal fit for your skills, goals and career moving forward?

An ideal fit for my skills as well as goals would be to ultimately obtain a leadership position as a research group representative for an industrial company, or to go into consulting. Graduate school is something that I have considered, but I believe that beginning a career right out of college is what is best for my long-term goals as far as being closer to the product line of the industry, yet still being able to represent the knowledge behind the products. 


Why did you choose USM?

There is no one single reason why I chose USM. I visited the campus because my mom really strongly encouraged enrolling in a smaller school because she wanted me to have the most personal college experience that she knew I deserved. I had an equestrian scholarship to Louisiana State University and was completely set on being a collegiate D1 athlete for a big SEC school such as LSU. Yet, when I visited, nothing seemed right about it. The classrooms were large, I hadn’t found my academic pursuit yet, and I didn’t see the passion in comparison to Southern Miss. When visiting USM I just had a feeling about it. The academic advisors cared about my dreams, and I knew that I could make the mark I wanted to make on USM for the rest of my life in order to make a lasting impression in ways that I couldn’t do anywhere else. The University of Southern Mississippi has shaped me into the collegiate graduate that I always dreamed of becoming, and without the constant support and guidance of the University I could have very easily fallen short of my dreams, but USM would never allow that to happen and that’s what I loved the most about it.


What USM-related scholarships did you receive?

I have been awarded the Golden Opportunity Scholarship and the Regional Scholarship. 


Awards won.

Sydney Lauren Polymer Science Coatings Scholar


Who or what influenced your USM education the most?

Dr. Wiggins. Ever since I joined the polymer science program I have had his constant guidance in the right direction. He has been not only as a professor; but also as a mentor for my research within his group. I have had Dr. Wiggins for several of my courses and I have learned so many things from him that will always remain with me. He also gives many opportunities for extra learning as far as more experience at the accelerator, or encouraging you to get out there and really chase your dreams. 


Main USM extracurricular activity – why is this important to you?

I am now an alumnus of Kappa Delta Beta Sigma Sorority. This has been of utmost importance to me since I became a part of the sisterhood. Not only did Kappa Delta support me in anything that I ever strived to achieve, but they pushed me to become a more confident person, and I could not have asked for a more encouraging group of young women. I held leadership positions through my sorority such as Academic Excellence Chair and Social Chair. Through these opportunities I was able to gain leadership as well as communication skills throughout in order to further benefit my career aspirations. 


Your most profound turning point while at USM?

Deciding to stay. I went through a time where I thought about transferring schools in order to obtain a chemical engineering degree because I knew it was what I wanted to do at the time, and USM didn’t offer it. Yet the Polymer Science program helped lead me in a new direction. Without discovering this opportunity I would have transferred schools and would not be where I am today. 


What are your plans for next year and beyond?

I plan to graduate in December 2016 and begin to work at a company that exhibits and promotes good work ethics as well as supports me to where I want to be in my long-term career goals. I also plan on obtaining an MBA and possibly graduate school later on. 


While at USM, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?

I love intramurals. My co-ed softball team has been the ongoing champs for four years now, and I hope the tradition carries on long after I leave USM. 


What was one of your greatest challenges attending USM?

Time management. When I first got to Southern Miss, it was so supporting of everything that I wanted to achieve that I noticed I had way too much on my plate. However, I learned how to manage my time better and partake in the activities that would benefit me most in the long run, not only for short-term preferences. 


How would you describe the Polymer Science department at USM? 

Innovative. The PSC department at USM really makes you think, and I love that. They allow you to participate in hands-on labs for a lot of your classes, and it also gives you the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research, which is what I think makes the department really unique in comparison to others. They are always willing to help, and it is a very challenging program; yet, the challenge is the fun part because if it were easy anyone could do it. I believe the students of the department aren’t just anyone, we are the ones that are going to bring creative ideas to the table and also make a difference in STEM one day, and we would never be able to accomplish that without this cutting-edge research program. 


An interesting (personal) fact about yourself.

I competitively compete in Crossfit as well as horseback riding.