I’m a devout mask wearer. Throughout this pandemic I’ve read and listened to the scientists, who are a lot smarter and more educated on the topic than I am.
When I’m out, whether it’s picking up takeout at a restaurant or a prescription at the pharmacy, I’m masked up.
I’ve probably got the same smug look on my face beneath my mask as you see on Prius drivers. I’m sure you’ve seen them looking over at you in your big ol’ SUV wearing an expression that lets you know they are trying to save the planet while you are destroying it.
So, I found myself in northwest Arkansas over the Labor Day weekend, driving back from a couple days in my mom’s condo in Branson. We stopped for gas and food at a popular place outside of Huntsville, Ark., called King’s River Country Store.
My wife put on her mask and went in first to get some food and bring it out to the car. As she came out, I grabbed my mask and got out to go see what the place offered.
It was really crowded inside, but I was pleased to see most everyone followed the “mask required” sign on the door. I poked around for a few minutes, then picked out a sandwich and some cut watermelon.
The woman at the checkout counter could not have been nicer. I paid for my food and walked out.
Then I reached to take off my mask and was horrified to discover that I was not wearing a mask.
Nothing but stubble on my face.
But I saw it as I neared the car. There, on the pavement outside the car door lay my mask.
I felt about 1-inch tall as we pulled out of the parking lot and headed out of town, no longer wearing the smug look of a mask devotee.
Editor’s note: Along with Debbie Cox, my colleague from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), I recently interviewed Ella Luttbeg via the Zoom platform. Ella is a graduating senior at the University of Tulsa.
Ella Luttbeg was wrapping up some major projects as she prepared to graduate this spring as a mechanical engineering major from the University of Tulsa.
A senior capstone project neared its conclusion, as did an OCAST internship at Tulsa’s Triumph Aerostructures that she had held since October 2018.
A job at Boeing’s Oklahoma City operation awaited in June after her May graduation.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic threw some major roadblocks in her path. As the wave of Coronavirus infections washed over the nation in March, social distancing measures shuttered businesses, closed campuses and forced students like Luttbeg back to their homes to remotely complete the semester.
For Ella, home is Stillwater, where she graduated from high school before enrolling at TU as a freshman in 2016. Her parents are both biology professors at Oklahoma State University.
Luttbeg negotiated the roadblocks and finished out both the senior project and the OCAST internship.
“School wise, everything is remote, and our senior project kind of ended in a different fashion than we expected it to,” Ella told me in a recent interview over the Zoom platform. “So far, the pandemic hasn’t affected my job offer, which I’m grateful for.”
“I think something that really helps is seeing older college or professional women talking about their careers and getting excited about math and science and showing that it is a cool thing to be interested in. Having role models to look up to really helps people believe it’s something that they can achieve, as well.”
— Ella Luttbeg on inspiring more women to pursue STEM careers
During the OCAST internship, Luttbeg tackled a variety of engineering projects for Triumph Aerostructures related to fatigue and damage tolerance analysis in aircraft structures.
“I was lucky enough to be able to work from home for Triumph during the pandemic,” Ella said. “They were able to get me a laptop to remote in. It’s been different, but I’ve really been grateful to keep my internship.”
Luttbeg was one of two OCAST interns this academic year working at Triumph Aerostructures, a division of Triumph Group. Triumph is a publicly traded, global leader in manufacturing and overhauling aerospace structures, systems, and components.
“My time at Triumph Aerostructures has been super valuable to me, because it’s given me the opportunity to supplement my school studies with real world experience,” she said. “At Triumph, I worked with really smart engineers who taught me a lot about stress and fatigue and damage tolerance analysis. It exposed me to a whole different side of engineering.”
Luttbeg developed her interest in pursuing an education in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – while still in high school. She credits Larry Hesler, a high school math teacher, for stoking that interest, and college professors John Henshaw, Ph.D., and Steve Tipton, Ph.D., for mentoring her through the engineering program.
“I’ve always been interested in math,” she said. “Both my parents are scientists, so I’ve always been kind of exposed to the STEM world. Then at TU, my classes have shown me what engineering is all about.”
She learned about the OCAST intern opportunity through an email that TU’s engineering department sent to its students. TU is a long-time participant in the OCAST Intern Partnership program, which places students in real world R&D settings on a cost-share basis.
“I would definitely tell future/current college students to be on the lookout for the OCAST internships because they are a great way to be able to work part time during the school year and over the summer,” Luttbeg said. “I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to have this OCAST internship. It’s meant a lot to me and supplemented my education.”