Engineering Student Presents Research at State Capitol

Leahla Chism stands next to her research presentation

While many students enjoyed the much-needed rest that Spring Break provides, Leahla Chism showcased her work study research to a panel of judges and legislators at the State Capitol. The Tulsa Community College engineering student was one of 25 students across Oklahoma to participate in Research Day at the Capitol, an annual event held at the Oklahoma City Capitol rotunda that spotlights undergraduate research conducted at the state’s colleges and universities.

As the president of TCC’s Engineering Club and a student worker at the school’s fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab, Chism's research assessed how access to fab labs enhances students' learning experiences.

The Fab Lab at TCC offers a collection of manufacturing equipment including 3D printers, laser printers, plasma and vinyl cutters, and advanced machinery, providing students with a space for innovation and experimentation.

Cody Zimmer, Leahla Chism and Dr. Sheila Youngblood smile next to Chism's research presentation.
TCC Fab Lab Manager Cody Zimmer, Chism, and TCC Dean of Mathematics and Engineering Dr. Sheila Youngblood

"The idea of a fabrication laboratory came from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). They recognized that people need a platform to create and experiment that’s different from the hard sciences, like biology and chemistry,” says Chism. “I wanted to prove it's fundamental to provide that type of opportunity for students.”

Chism began her study in December, organizing events to encourage student participation in the Fab Lab. She offered incentives, like prize drawings, for students dedicating time to learning and experimenting in the lab.

“We wanted more people to come to the Fab Lab to learn skills and use the equipment. Most of the students who went to the lab within a one-month period, no matter if it was one time or multiple times, had a positive student engagement score,” explains Leahla. “Basically, what that means is they thought this Fab Lab was a successful stimulus for their brain.”

Chism says the results were remarkable, with nearly 90% of participants reporting a positive engagement score, affirming the Fab Lab's effectiveness as a learning environment.

Leahla Chism presents her research findings to Oklahoma State System of Higher Education Chancellor Allison Garrett.
Chism presents her research findings to Oklahoma State System of Higher Education Chancellor Allison Garrett.

At Research Day at the Capitol on March 19, Chism reported her findings in front of a panel of judges and legislators, highlighting the importance of Fab Labs for learning and skill development. Chism says her study serves as a baseline for evaluating the impact of fab labs on student engagement and learning outcomes, emphasizing the importance of hands-on learning environments in shaping the next generation of engineers, innovators, and problem-solvers.

Reflecting on her experience, Chism says she’s eager to explore more research opportunities in the future.

“This opportunity has made me realize I really love doing research. I’m really excited I got to provide research in Fab Lab studies, especially at TCC.  I think it will have a positive impact on engineering students.”

Chism will graduate from TCC in May and plans to continue her education at Oral Roberts University to study electrical engineering. Her lifelong goal is to work in the electrical automotive industry with a focus on consumer safety.