By the final semester of a graduate degree, many students are running on fumes. James Skelly, on the other hand, threw himself into his work during his final semester as a master of electrical engineering student, making for an impressive victory lap.
Not only did he successfully defend his thesis in November, but he also won the Rebel Grad Slam 3-Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), a three-round competition in which graduate students present their research in under three minutes and using only one PowerPoint slide.
Skelly learned about the contest through an email from the Graduate College. “My thesis defense was the same week of the Grad Slam finals, so I thought, ‘This will be a good opportunity to start speaking about my research and practice for my actual thesis defense,’” he said.
Skelly’s thesis and Rebel Grad Slam 3MT topic center around “a non-invasive medical device mainly for diabetic patients” that he and a team of researchers have been developing. The device helps monitor patients suffering venous stasis, an inflammation of the skin in the lower legs.
“What our device does,” Skelly explained, “is wrap around the leg and lets a nurse know exactly how much pressure they're applying when they wrap the leg because there's a specific amount you'd have to apply to actually promote blood flow.”
The device is in the process of becoming patented, and researchers at University Medical Center have asked for Skelly’s thesis to help them write the patent for the device.
At the nexus of electrical engineering and biomedical technology, Skelly’s highly sophisticated research subject would be difficult to explain to an audience outside his field.
Skelly used statistics about diabetes as an entry point to his award-winning presentation. “If you're listening to a presentation, and someone starts talking about really complicated electronics, you're probably going to check out. I would check out,” Skelly said, “But everybody knows enough about diabetes, that if I talk about something that everybody can relate to, I can reach everybody with this information rather than boring people.”
It’s no surprise that Skelly excelled in presenting his research given his passion for teaching. “I love teaching and tutoring,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since middle school. I used to tutor my basketball teammates in study hall.”
As a graduate student, Skelly has served as a teaching assistant, helping other engineering students during study halls and office hours.
His enthusiasm for teaching extends beyond UNLV’s campus. He and his girlfriend have started a YouTube channel, Destigmatize Math, where they explain mathematical concepts, starting with basics like addition and subtraction. Building on this, they plan to work their way up to more complicated topics such as calculus.
His charisma in front of a camera was a definite boon for the first two rounds of the competition, which were hosted on Webex. “I think that the Webex rounds were a lot easier because you're talking to a computer screen and not to a group of people,” Skelly reflected.
But his enthusiasm and expertise shone at the in-person Rebel Grad Slam 3MT finals where he had quite the photo finish. “I almost went over the time,” Skelly remembered, “I ended my presentation at two minutes and 59 seconds.” This compact presentation won Skelly first place and a $1,500 scholarship.
With a Grad Slam victory under his belt, Skelly is currently applying for doctoral programs where he will continue his work on sensor electronics and hopes to gain more experience teaching.