North­eastern stu­dent Kassi Stein says she has long had a pas­sion for research. Par­tic­i­pating in the Gordon Scholars Pro­gram her freshman year got her off to a strong start in pur­suing that passion.

The pro­gram offers under­grad­uate engi­neering stu­dents the oppor­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in paid and vol­un­teer research expe­ri­ences under the guid­ance of a fac­ulty member, which can lead to related co-​​op posi­tions that include men­toring by engi­neering industry leaders.

Gordon Scholars par­tic­i­pate in lead­er­ship council meet­ings and attend work­shops held by the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Sub­sur­face Sensing and Imaging System. They can also elect to par­tic­i­pate in edu­ca­tional out­reach activ­i­ties in Boston public schools.

Carey Rap­pa­port, an asso­ciate director of Gordon-​​CenSSIS, ini­tially set up Stein with her assign­ment: inves­ti­gating how thou­sands of trees are destroyed when Asian long­horn bee­tles bore deep inside them. Not only a world­wide issue, it’s one that was dis­cov­ered dev­as­tating maple trees in the Worcester, Mass., region in 2008. Kassi spent weeks buried in books on the topic.

It’s scary what [these bee­tles] do to trees,” Kassi says.

The goal of her research is to develop an inno­v­a­tive radar device with sen­sors that can wrap around a tree. The sen­sors would image the inside of the trunk to deter­mine the exis­tence of beetle infes­ta­tion holes. Kassi says the research is cur­rently focused on finding the best sensor con­fig­u­ra­tion that would con­clu­sively iden­tify the holes so that testing the device can move into the field.

Rap­pa­port says the cur­rent response to the dis­covery of an affected tree is less than ideal — sur­rounding trees are taken down as a pre­cau­tion in case they are also infested. But he says this research could ulti­mately save those trees by giving foresters a non­in­va­sive tool to detect infestation.

While Kassi—a chem­ical engi­neering major—admits it was ini­tially daunting to tackle the ambi­tious research as a freshman, she says the expe­ri­ence has been incred­ibly rewarding.

I feel drawn to researching and taking some­thing that there’s not much knowl­edge about and trying to solve a problem,” she says.