If you’re ever invited to the DiCecco house for dinner—study up. The family is home to engineering graduates and current students, a midwife and a biochemistry major.
Twin sisters Liza and Alexa DiCecco have risen impressively to the standard set by their parents and siblings. Liza is in third year Mechanical Engineering with a Materials Option. Alexa is in third year Arts and Science, majoring in biochemistry and minoring in English. Both are Outstanding Scholar students and both are engaged in research.
“We’re definitely competitive,” says Alexa. “Family dinners can have some heated academic talk.”
Determination runs through the family. Older brother Sante BASc ’11, MASc ’14 focused on mechanical engineering while Robert enrolled in electrical engineering. Sister Krista is a midwife in Manitoba and their mother was an artist.
“I am just stubborn,” says Alexa. “I don’t like to quit. I think we inherited that from my dad. He started on the line at Chrysler and worked his way into management. We got our creativity from our mom.”
“There are a lot of group components, a social environment and the teachers are very approachable.” LIZA DICECCO
Alexa applied to the Arts and Science program because, “It’s definitely one of the rarer combinations and uniquely challenging.” She enjoys analysis—whether it’s the British poem, “The Wasteland” (“It was fun to deconstruct it”), or learning how an organism works, (“It’s super challenging but I really enjoy it.”)
Liza chose engineering because of her affinity for math and physics. “Since I entered the program, I’ve found nothing I don’t like,” she says. “There are a lot of group components, a social environment and the teachers are very approachable.”
One of Liza’s co-operative education placements was at the Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) Windsor Assembly Plant where she was part of the quality control team that helped launch the new Pacifica. “I got a lot of hands-on exposure. I feel like I can do anything now.”
The University of Windsor Outstanding Scholars program transformed both women’s university experiences. Students in the program receive a scholarship and the opportunity to be mentored by a faculty member with a focus on research in second year.
Says Alexa: “Working in the lab with the teacher—someone who knows what they’re doing—you learn a lot really fast.” She spent her third year in the lab of chemistry and biochemistry professor Dr. Bulent Mutus studying the effects of excess phosphates in the water system, which can lead to toxic algae blooms.
When an algae bloom dies, bacteria sucks up the oxygen around it, leaving “dead spots” in the water, she says. “That affects the organisms in the area. Some algae are more toxic than others, which is another issue.
While algae blooms can be detrimental, the algae’s ability to consume phosphates could be used for good. Part of Alexa’s research looks at algae growth on material such as woodchips, cotton, and chitosan and their ability to remove phosphates in a controlled filtration system.
Liza worked with engineering professor Dr. Jill Urbanic on a process for making some three-dimensional printing processes more cost-effective while improving the quality of the final product. “We wanted the objects to be lighter by using less material to create them, but still be strong,” explains Liza.
Their results highlighted flaws in the process that can help subsequent research improve upon it. Liza and Dr. Urbanic presented their findings at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition conference in Houston, Texas, in 2015.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Liza is considering doing a master’s degree in engineering. “I’m leaning toward getting more into research. I like testing. I almost like too many things since I’ve gotten into the program.”
When asked the same question, Alexa mirrors her twin’s response. “I’m not sure what I want to do after I graduate. I have a lot of interests – it’s going to be hard to narrow it down.”
While they may not know exactly where they’re headed, the path there will undoubtedly involve the continuing pursuit of knowledge and efforts crowned with success.