Wendy-Angela “Saringi” Agata, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the University of Virginia’s Department of Chemical Engineering, won the technical presentation competition at the National GEM Consortium Annual Board Meeting and Conference.

Agata presented “Charged polyamide (PA) thin film composite membranes for electrically driven desalination applications” at the conference, held Sept. 13-15 in Los Angeles. She took home a cash prize of $400.

GEM is made up of member corporations, government laboratories, universities and research institutions that promote graduate education for minorities. They include several National Labs and companies such as Amazon, Corning and ExxonMobil, a number of which have ties to UVA Engineering and the chemical engineering department. Of note for undergraduates applying to graduate schools or students who are early in their graduate programs, the consortium offers the GEM Fellowship Program for underrepresented groups.

Agata says she had the opportunity to compete because she was at the conference helping to recruit for UVA Engineering’s graduate program and is applying for a 2019 fellowship.

“It was great to get my work out there and communicate this niche work to a more general scientifically inclined audience,” Agata said of the experience. “I also got the chance to interact with so many leaders in STEM, both in academia and industry, which further emphasized why I want to be a part of this family of impactful researchers.”

Agata works in Assistant Professor Geoff Geise’s polymer membranes lab at UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.