Materials science and engineering major Alexandra Wnuk ’25 is passionate about sustainability—and studying abroad. Her next stop: Germany.

Alexandra Wnuk ’25 is eyeing a career in the fashion industry after graduation, but her chosen path to get there might not be the first to come to mind. 

“I plan to do research on bio-based and sustainable materials and learn how to create clothing that is more sustainable for the environment,” she says, “whether that means pieces that are biodegradable or made out of more sustainable materials.” 

This summer, the materials science and engineering major will get a taste of research involving bio-based materials through the DAAD RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) Fellowship. 

The program, offered by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), provides undergraduate students from the United States, Canada, and the UK with research internships at universities and research institutions in Germany. During two to three months of the summer, students work on projects in STEM fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and computer science.

Hof University buildingWhile in Germany, Wnuk will research the use of extracts from grape waste leftover from winemaking to stabilize biodegradable plastics at Hof University (pictured). She will take part in extracting grape parts, testing different methods, analyzing results, and writing up findings. 

Although the subject matter is different, the spirit of the research connects with her desire to one day make an impact at the at the intersection of eco-friendly fashion and materials science: 

“The project really aligns with my interests around sustainability,” she says. 

Wnuk is no stranger to studying abroad: In Summer 2023, she participated in Lehigh’s Iacocca International Internship at the University of Zaragoza in Spain. There, she took part in research involving hydrogel coatings applied to two types of pancreatic cancer cells. The goal was to see if the coatings influenced a process called epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, which indicates increased mobility in cancer cells. 

She then spent a semester studying fashion design and merchandising in Milan, Italy, through IES Abroad. 

Fitting these experiences into her demanding course of engineering studies took careful and early planning as well as determination—by her sophomore year she was tackling junior-level classes to create room in her schedule for a semester abroad. It was challenging but worth it, Wnuk says.

“To someone concerned about the workload, I would say the summer is always an option,” she says. “You can gain great experience in a short amount of time through studying abroad, which helps you stand out.” 

What’s different this time around, however, is that Wnuk will make the trip to Germany on her own. She sees it as a path for personal growth and greater independence. 

“It’s always a challenge to leave the people, place and lifestyle that you know, and then just go to a different environment and adapt to that,” says Wnuk. “I hope to become more adaptable and learn to appreciate spending time on my own.” 

—Brianna Banful ’24 is a student writer for the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science

Alexandra Wnuk

Wnuk named DAAD Young Ambassador

Rising senior Alexandra Wnuk has been named Lehigh’s first-ever DAAD Young Ambassador. She is one of only 24 students from the United States and Canada to receive this honor.

As a DAAD Young Ambassador, Wnuk will spend the 2024-2025 academic year promoting Germany and German study abroad opportunities at Lehigh. Her role will begin with a training workshop in New York this August, where she will join her fellow ambassadors to learn about various DAAD programs and other student opportunities in Germany.

Throughout the academic year, Wnuk will collaborate closely with the Office of Fellowship Advising, the Study Abroad offices, and related groups to fulfill her duties as a Young Ambassador. This includes organizing events, giving presentations, and offering one-on-one advising to students interested in studying in Germany.

Wnuk, a top materials science and engineering student, is passionate about reforming the fashion industry through environmentally friendly practices, making her an exemplary representative for Lehigh both academically and as an advocate for international education.