Returning to his roots

Engineering, language studies take Fulbright Scholar around the world and back to his mother’s homeland

In 1977, Rickey Egan’s mother fled an oppressive, unstable environment in Communist Poland—vowing to pursue a better life and give her future children opportunities she never had.

Years later, she told her son that if he was ever able to experience Poland for himself, she hoped he would feel like he was part of the cultural fabric, not a mere visitor, because she never forgot her home country and culture.

Her dream is coming true as Egan, EG18, 19M, prepares to tackle research in Poland, not as an observer, but as someone who takes the time to learn what that community needs and find a way to help.

This fall, he will travel to Poland as a Fulbright Scholar to research why particles in the atmosphere cause strokes, lung cancer and heart attacks. Egan credits his heritage and his mother’s story with his global thinking and desire to help others around the world.

“My mom left Poland to come to America in search of a better life. Now, the investment she made in coming to America, in my education and in inspiring me to help others, is going to pay off as I get ready to help people in Poland,” Egan says. “She’s very proud of my research and thinks that it can have a real impact on people’s lives for the better, and her confidence in me makes me certain that I will succeed.”

A student in UD’s accelerated 4+1 honors program, Egan is in his final year of undergraduate coursework with a major in chemical engineering and a minor in chemistry. When he returns to the U.S. after his yearlong work as a Fulbright Scholar, he will begin his graduate studies in particle technology at the University of Delaware.

Egan has taken full advantage of his time as an undergraduate student at UD, conducting research everywhere from chemical engineering classrooms on UD’s Newark, DE campus to laboratories halfway around the world. Engineering can take you anywhere, Egan says, in almost disbelief that something founded in mathematics and theory could remove him from his typical college classroom and carry him into labs across the globe.

But it’s doing just that.

During his the summer of his sophomore year, he traveled to Germany, where he researched renewable biofuel production, a topic he studied again in Singapore during the spring semester of his junior.

This May, he wrapped up his undergraduate studies with his senior thesis on isolated and off-the-grid communities in developing countries. His global drive continues to fuel his studies this summer and into his next degree. This summer, he is in Japan for an immersive language study program, where he’ll hone his Japanese with hopes of one day returning to earn his PhD in particle science.

Other than a focus on addressing global issues, Egan can’t say there is a thread leading from one research project to another. What is consistent is his eagerness to take advantage of new opportunities, his desire to take in the world and, ultimately, his need to help others.

“That’s all anyone really wants to do I think, just help people,” Egan says. “And with my research projects, I feel as though I’m doing that.”

Egan knows what a difference a little help can make in a person’s life. Although UD’s academic programming initially drew him to campus, scholarships and additional opportunities opened doors for him once enrolled. Egan is a recipient of the Donald L. and Jonnie McLellan Chemical Engineering Scholarship and Schipper Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Scholarship, as well as the Gilman Scholarship, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

For him, it’s all part of a circle of giving.

Each fall, Egan makes a point of attending UD’s Gratitude Gala, an event where hundreds of students write thank-you notes to the alumni, friends, parents, faculty and staff whose philanthropy has helped make dreams of attending college become a reality.

Feeling grateful for the lessons he has learned both on UD’s Newark campus and abroad, Egan says he wants those who gave to know that they are not merely investing in his education,  but enabling him to do research that will have far-reaching impacts. The support also inspires him to give back when he can.

“If I have the fortune of having all these wonderful experiences,” says Egan, “then I am empowered with the responsibility to also help other people have these experiences.”


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