As a student, it is easy to narrowly focus on your field or subfield, especially for graduate students. It’s all too easy to work on projects with those who have similar skill sets – making it challenging to work with others who are not like-minded after graduation. 

This is a reality that PhD student Laura Andre has mitigated through participation in the Graduate Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship program. 

Now in the fourth year of her program in Electrical & Computer Engineering, Laura’s focus is optics and photonics, and her project is on laser cooling of solids. 

“In a way, it is a counterintuitive concept because we normally think of lasers as heating things up in industrial applications, like cutting and welding,” she said. “It was the chance to work on this project that brought me to U-M.” 

Laura’s research, under the guidance of Professor Stephen Rand, evaluates the prospect of cooling condensed matter to sub-Kelvin temperatures. 

One possible application of this research is to build radiation balanced lasers – essentially self-cooling lasers. 

“To create a laser, there is a lot of heat generated in order to emit a coherent beam of light,” Laura said. “So if we can mitigate some of the heat that is generated in the lasing process we will be able to build higher power, more stable lasers.” 

The research has been a real hands-on experience for Laura and her lab partner Long Cheng, working with instruments in the lab, building parts in the machine shop, and conducting simulations, all while understanding the theory side of the project. 

“I have my hands in a lot of different things,” she said. “It is really hard to be bored when there are so many different things to learn and work on.” 

While Laura loves her current work environment, she made the decision to not stay in academia after graduation, a decision that led her on the path to discovering more about business and career paths in industry, and ultimately to the certificate program. 

“I’ve worked in a few different labs, but I needed a better understanding of the business side of things, especially to see if my decision would be a good fit,” Laura said. “When I discovered the certificate program I realized this could be a great opportunity.” 

The first course Laura took for the certificate program was Interpersonal Skills, a class that focuses on building self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and theories of leadership, all while working on a personal development plan. 

“I learned so much about myself, and Dr. Fretz is an amazing teacher,” Laura said. “It was a great way to start off the certificate program because it isn’t specifically focused on entrepreneurship, but more about learning about yourself and what you might want to do in the future.” 

Laura has also taken Intro to Innovation, Project Management and Consulting, and Creativity & Design while in the program, gaining skills and knowledge she plans to use throughout her career. She has also taken away a new appreciation of working on teams with individuals who have different skill sets. 

“The courses are open to everyone in the University and the teams you get to work on are made up of different types of people,” she said. “It was a really great learning experience to work with people outside of my field.

“The classwork reflects how real-world teams work together, which is extremely valuable.”