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Whitney Mantooth stands on a bridge above a river in Tyrol, Austria. Behind her is fall foliage and mountains.
Outside the advanced short course activities, Whitney Mantooth enjoyed hiking and taking guided tours of the beautiful Tyrolean Alps. | Image: Courtesy of Whitney Mantooth
Many students dream of studying or traveling abroad for the first time. For Whitney Mantooth, a current doctoral student in the Department of Multidisciplinary Engineering at Texas A&M University, that dream became a surprising reality last semester.
This past fall, Mantooth was selected to attend the 2022 Advanced Study Course on Optical Chemical Sensors (ASCOS) series. The weeklong course took place at the University Center Obergurgl, located in a small village in Tyrol, Austria.
ASCOS is a European initiative for young researchers in optical chemical sensors. Optical sensors convert light rays into electronic signals that are translated by a readable or measurable device. The ASCOS advanced study course combines two components of learning: lectures delivered by specialists in their respective fields and a group project where small groups of five to six solve an analytical problem. The small groups then present their solutions at the end of the course.
Mantooth first heard about the opportunity from Dr. George Ligler, a professor in the multidisciplinary engineering department, and Dr. Frances Ligler, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. The couple sponsored her and two other Texas A&M students from the biomedical engineering department.
"When I applied, I thought that there was no chance I would be selected because I'm not a typical engineer," said Mantooth, who has a Master of Public Health in occupational health and safety. Despite initial hesitation due to her non-traditional background, she applied and was accepted.
The ASCOS participants included students as well as a wide range of professions such as physicists, chemists and engineers. They attended lectures from subject matter experts in optical sensors who spoke about optical chemical sensors, biosensors and their applications. Afterward, participants broke into small groups for the group project portion of the course. Mantooth’s small group of six attendees received the Sensors Challenge Award during the advanced study course.
For Mantooth, it was an impactful experience both professionally and personally. Not only was she one of the few American participants, but she had also never traveled internationally before. "Getting to go to another country with many people of different nationalities was amazing," she said. "I think what drew me to the course was the experience and the ability to connect and network with other participants." She was surprised by how quickly those connections formed during the weeklong stay in Obergurgl, and she plans to reunite with her roommate and a few others in Denmark this February.
"I learned a high-level overview of the different technologies out there," she said. "In the current facilities I work in, we have many of these sensors. I never properly considered how they work or the research that goes into them. But attending this course opened the door to, 'Oh, this could be something I could write a dissertation on or pursue further in research.'"
Another memorable aspect for Mantooth is the connection she cultivated with the Liglers. The couple hosted the sponsored students for dinner before they departed for Austria.
"They have a lot of knowledge and are very down to earth, especially with as much professional and academic experience as they have," she said. "In addition to the friends I gained during the advanced study course, I now have two mentors I wouldn't have if I'd never made that connection."
“Whitney impressed the international faculty and student groups with her leadership skills,” said George Ligler. “She led her project group to an award-winning presentation in the final competition, and it has been a great pleasure getting to know her.”
ASCOS 2022 took place on Oct. 15-22 and was held in Obergurgl, Austria. ASCOS is hosted in a different European country biennially.