The Frith First-Year Makerspace provides an encouraging atmosphere for general engineering students to embrace failure (a.k.a. learn more). Serving as guides and mentor through this learning process are the ever-present undergraduate lab assistants (ULAs).

Many thanks and congratulations to our Frith ULAs: Audrey Finch, Chris Cho, Margee Pipaliya, Eszti Varga, Marissa Sluss, Reagan Hollar, Melissa Konathapally and Melida Umana Martinez on their graduation from Virginia Tech! 

Audrey Finch

Audrey Finch

Audrey Finch, a mechanical engineering student, joined the undergraduate lab assistant program in the Frith First-Year Makerspace as a junior. After graduating, Audrey will be moving to Orlando to work for DPR Construction as a project engineer. 

Audrey lived in Hypatia hall, Virginia Tech’s Women in Engineering living learning community for two years. The second year, she worked in their engineers lab, doing similar tasks as she would continue to do in Frith beginning her junior year. 

When talking about what she will miss most, Audrey said, “The interactions I’ve had with the other ULAs. They are so smart, and they never hesitate to help me around the lab if I need help with a project. The community in the Frith lab is just so special. I’ve seen first-year students get closer working on their 1216 project. People who are so different but working on the same project, you can see friendships forming which is very cool to watch.”

Audrey Finch

Chris Cho

Chris Cho is a robotics and mechatronics major, andjoined Frith as an undergraduate lab assistant his sophomore year, and since then has been helping first-year students problem solve and sharpen their skills.

After college, Chris will move to Georgia to do work related to electric vehicle battery production, and will be working as a production engineer.

“The first thing I’ll miss is the community and the friendship I’ve built, it’s a valuable thing,” Chris said, “the second thing is being able to work on something I’m passionate about, like doing personal projects. I have a vast amount of resources at the lab. It was nice to build something from scrap, I’ll miss that for sure.”

Eszti Varga

Eszti Varga

Eszti Varga is a fifth-year aerospace engineering major, and has been a ULA since her first year at Virginia Tech. After completing her masters next year, Eszti will be traveling back home to Europe to work on system safety protocols for electrical vertical takeoff and landing. 

Eszti was recently named the Outstanding Senior Class of 2023 in the Aerospace and Ocean Engineering (AOE) Department. This award recognizes exceptional academic achievement, leadership, and service among the entire senior class of AOE. 

“My favorite part has always been the students that I’ve trained who I see come to Frith all the time and I see them making all kinds of things. It’s really amazing. I know most of the people that work there now, I've trained, and I saw them when they were coming in as freshman. It's really fun to especially see those students make amazing things and know that I had some part in it,” said Eszti.

Margee Pipaliya

Margee Pipaliya

Margee Pipaliya is an international student from India, majoring in aerospace engineering. After graduating, Margee plans to do the accelerated masters degree in aerospace engineering here at Virginia Tech. 

Margee became an undergraduate lab assistant in the Frith lab as a junior, because of her passion for helping others.

“I loved the working environment, I had a lot of freedom, and it was like a safe space for me,” Margee said, “also, helping freshmen with the machines that they were not familiar with, and giving them the training to use them, it made me feel good. I liked being involved in their projects, giving them tips and helping them be successful. As freshmen we never got to finish our spring semester projects, so in a way, being a part of their projects as a ULA, I get to be a part of what I missed.”

Marissa Sluss

Marissa Sluss

Marissa Sluss is a mechanical engineering major who became an undergraduate lab assistant as a sophomore. During her educational journey, Marissa participated in a Technical Assurance Engineering Co-Op working for The Hershey Company. This landed her an internship with Hershey the following year, and after graduation, she will be working with them full-time as an associate engineer. 

“The people. It’s something that I love about Virginia Tech in general, but definitely the Frith lab,” Marissa said when asked about what she will miss most. “All of the ULAs are great, they’re all so passionate about the projects they’re working on, there are rarely any issues between us. I love that everyone comes to work with personal projects, but are happy to share their experience with everyone else, and give pointers. That kind of community we have developed over the years has been really nice.”

Melida Martinez

Melida Umana Martinez

Melida Umana Martinez, a mechanical engineering major. Melida joined Frith as an undergraduate lab assistant (ULA) as a sophomore and is now in her fifth year here at Virginia Tech. She will be staying for one more year to receive her masters of engineering in mechanical engineering

“Seeing the first-year students get excited about the Frith lab brings a lot of nostalgia to me. It makes me think back to when I was a first-year engineering student and how excited I was to come into this type of space. Just seeing all of the projects students are working on and tools for the first time is something you will always remember. It’s awesome to see what everyone is working on and it turns your own creativity on to make something just as cool,” said Melida.

Melissa Konathapally

Melissa Konathapally

Melissa Konathapally is a chemical engineering major, with a green engineering minor. Melissa became an undergraduate lab assistant (ULA) as a sophomore and is now in her fifth (and final!) year here at Virginia Tech.

After college, she will join Flowserve working with machinery and various business projects. Melissa will be a part of a rotational program, where she’ll move around the country with different projects once a year, for three years.

“I will definitely miss the kind of community we have all built together. Since it is my 5th year a lot of my closest friends graduated last year, so the people I work with now are my closest friends that I have in the area. I always tell myself that I will come back and visit everyone at the lab,” said Melissa.

Reagan Holler

Reagan Hollar

Reagan Hollar, a mechanical engineering student, plans to continue her education and pursue graduate school here at Virginia Tech, with a focus in biomechanics.

She joined Frith as an undergraduate lab assistant as a junior, and has been working with first-year students and helping them with their projects ever since.

“I do think me, along with all of the other ULAs, had an impact on the students.” Reagan said, “I remember being a freshman, going into these kinds of labs and makerspace places, just being so overwhelmed. So I’ve really made an effort in trying to make it less overwhelming for the first-year students. Along with our boss, Nick Bedard, he has tried to make this space more open and welcoming for everyone.”


Summaries compiled by Engineering Education writing interns, Emily Southern & Megan Reese.