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The University of Alabama

Find Your Passion: First-Generation Student Finds Innovative Opportunity

By Judah Martin

A first-generation student becomes the first employee of a UA start-up company (Bryan Hester).

A first-generation student becomes the first employee of a UA start-up company (Bryan Hester).

A broad, luminescent smile slowly appeared upon Jordan Baer’s face as her thoughts turned to her family.

“My whole family thinks I’m a nerd,” she says, while laughing.

Growing up, Baer found solace in books and in learning. As family lore has it, she learned to read when she was 3-years-old. As she grew, Baer’s parents consistently encouraged her academic success.

Nerd or not, Baer, now a junior studying chemical engineering at The University of Alabama, has become the first employee hired by Graphenics, a promising start-up company housed in the University’s Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs, or AIME, building.

“I never thought that I would be working for a startup company in a million years,” Baer says.

Though she will become the first of her immediate family to graduate college, Baer, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, credits her father as a pivotal figure in her success.

“He had a difficult background, and he was actually adopted when he was young,” she says. “He worked really hard to get my family where we are today, so I just took that vision he had and applied it to school.”

Baer demonstrated an inclination for math and science early on. It was during high school that she became certain she wanted to pursue engineering.

“We had a really great chemistry teacher who was my mentor through high school,” she says. “He was a retired engineer and always charged us to do something challenging. At that point, I realized engineering was the right path for me.”

A Fort Worth, Texas native, Baer was the first employee hired by a UA start-up firm (Bryan Hester).

A Fort Worth, Texas native, Baer was the first employee hired by a UA start-up firm (Bryan Hester).

Almost immediately upon enrolling at UA, Baer joined the STEM Path to the MBA, a program aimed at undergraduates studying in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, disciplines, and that provides the chance to earn a Bachelor of Science degree and a master’s degree in business administration in five years.

During her sophomore year, Baer received an email from Dr. Robert Morgan, director of innovative initiatives for the Manderson Graduate School of Business, detailing several research positions open at AIME.

Once Baer applied for a position and was accepted, she began working under Dr. Scott Spear, research scientist for AIME. Spear directed Baer to Graphenics. There, she was hired as an independent contractor. For 40 hours each week, Baer worked in a lab producing graphene.

The company provides engineering services and materials to enhance the properties of plastics by a patented process to produce graphene, a flat, two-dimensional version of the graphite used in pencils. The material is stronger than steel, better at conducting electricity than copper and can conduct heat better than other materials. Graphenics is based on research by Dr. Rachel Frazier, research engineer for AIME.

“At the beginning of the summer, I accepted my job at AIME and thought of it as a way to make money and get job experience,” Baer said. “I acquired and demonstrated lab experience, but, more importantly, I had the opportunity to network with and learn from other students, the research engineers at AIME and the founders of Graphenics.”

“This year, I am looking forward to working closely with Dr. Frazier on up-scaling the process of making advanced materials, contacting potential customers and ultimately seeing how ideas flow from prototype to upscale to market,” she says.

Now that she’s almost completed her undergraduate degree and holds a successful research position, Baer has found a way to help other high achieving high school students follow more easily in her footsteps.

With University Stewards, a recruitment program housed in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Baer is paired with prospective engineering students with whom she tours the University campus. Afterward, they eat lunch at Lakeside Dining Hall where Baer answers questions.

“With University Stewards, our goal is to give the students a perspective of what the University is all about,” Baer says. “I came to Alabama and loved it so much. I just wanted to give back a little bit to the University.”

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Judah Martin is a journalism major at The University of Alabama. He is from Foley and serves as a student writer for the College of Engineering.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.

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