Madison Farruggia dives into underwater research
Two years into study at Virginia Tech, mechanical engineering major Madison Farruggia questioned if she was on the right track.
“Engineering is not easy,” Farruggia said. “It was hard to get B’s and C’s when I was used to getting A’s in high school.”
The indecision was put to rest, however, when Farruggia got involved in undergraduate research.
“It was a huge turning point,” she recalled. “It allowed me to see what I really wanted to do.”
Two years later, Farruggia is now a graduate of the mechanical engineering program. However, she still has some duties left to complete this summer as part of Virginia Tech’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team (AUVT), a student club that competes at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International RoboSub Competition annually. This year, the competition will be held July 16 through 22 in San Diego, Calif. Even though she has graduated, Farruggia is excited about continuing to represent Virginia Tech at the competition to see her team’s hard work come to fruition.
Farruggia joined AUVT her junior year and served as mechanical team lead. The past year, she stepped up as team captain for AUVT.
“I love being the leader because it made me expand my horizons,” Farruggia said. “Taking on this role expanded my engineering range, making me a jack of all trades. Not only did I have to stay up to date on the engineering elements of each subteam – like hull and frame, software, or electronics – but I also set up meetings, handled the budget, and led communication efforts for sponsorships and fundraising.”
Besides joining the AUVT team, Farruggia jumped into research her junior year with faculty mentor Alexander Leonessa, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. During her first year working with Leonessa, Farruggia researched and designed components for an autonomous pool cleaner. During her senior year, she researched different ways for autonomous vehicles to communicate in an underwater environment.
“Dr. Leonessa, undergraduate research, and the AUVT changed my life,” Farruggia said. “All three helped me realize the passion I had for mechanical engineering and to find my niche in underwater technologies.”
The activities improved other areas of her life as well. Her grades started to go up. She even made the Dean’s List both semesters of her senior year.
While presenting her senior-year findings on underwater communication at the 10th Annual Undergraduate Research and Prospective Graduate Student Conference at Virginia Tech in April, Farruggia encouraged other students to dive into research as early as possible in their academic careers.
“Research helps you be independent. I believe you learn so much more,” Farruggia said. “Find something you like, dive in, and discover.”