Honors College Awards Engineering Student for Outstanding Thesis


Natalie Thayer

Recent University of Houston graduate Sheli Mauck’s passion for problem solving and all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) began as early as elementary school. As a child, she lived near a refinery and was fascinated by the inner workings of the nearby “metal city.” As she approached college, this passion manifested in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the UH Cullen College of Engineering. During her final senior semester, Mauck was awarded the 2015 Outstanding Senior Thesis Award by the UH Honors College.

Mauck’s senior thesis, titled “Toughening Polylactide with Vegetable Oils,” explored methods to strengthen polylactide, which is a commercially-manufactured, biodegradable and renewable polymer. Polylactide has the potential to be a valuable alternative material for common applications that have traditionally relied on other synthetic, petroleum-derived plastics, such as food packaging and water bottles. However, its current applications are limited because the material is relatively brittle and lacks durability. The goal of Mauck’s thesis was to make a more durable, sustainable, biodegradable and renewable plastic by blending polylactide with vegetable oils and their derivatives.

The most exciting moment of discovery occurred during the final test of the novel polymer, she said. As Mauck ran the final blend through the testing process, she saw that the material actually exceeded her expectations in terms of strength and durability. Mauck said it felt like her entire year’s worth of research led to that moment of success.

“I shouted, cheered, and danced a little in my lab coat. It was a moment of such gratification," Mauck said.

Mauck worked alongside her faculty advisor, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Megan Robertson, to conduct this research. She credited Robertson and other Cullen College professors for their guidance and support throughout her academic career.

"I wouldn’t have made it without those who cared and gave me tough love when I needed it," she said.

As she prepares to enter the professional world to pursue a career in engineering, Mauck said she’s happy that she can look back on this award and “remember what’s important."

“This award represents my passion for engineering and it’s an accomplishment I can take with me. It was the perfect conclusion to my undergraduate life,” she said.


Department/Academic Programs: 

Related News Stories

Examining the One-Two Punch of Malaria Drugs

Peter Vekilov, Moores Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston, is examining why the two drugs that most often cure malaria can also fail because they tend to fight each other.

When a mosquito begins to nibble on you, it is not merely feeding on your blood, it is also injecting its saliva into your skin. If that saliva happens to be full of parasites carrying malaria or other diseases from its last victim, then most likely you will become infected, too. 

23 honored with 2020-21 Faculty and Student Excellence Awards

The W.T. Kittinger Teaching Excellence Award is traditionally the highest teaching award given in the College. It recognizes outstanding teaching and service to students. This year's recipient is Di Yang of Mechanical Engineering.

The Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston and Dr. Joseph W. Tedesco, Ph.D., P.E., the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Endowed Chair and Dean, are pleased to share the 2020-21 Faculty and Student Excellence Award winners.

The initial announcement was made during the virtual Spring 2021 State of the College Address on May 4.

Upcoming Events / Seminars