Centra award for student excellence at Sweet Briar goes to engineering major

Centra Award
Karlynn McCarthy with Sweet Briar professors Mike Davis and Bethany Brinkman and Centra Health president Dr. Les Reed (right)

Engineering major Karlynn McCarthy ’20, of Bend, Ore., is this year’s recipient of the Greenbriar Award, a research prize created in 2016 by Centra Health System’s Centra Medical Group through a partnership with Sweet Briar College. Dr. Les Reed, president of Centra Medical Group, presented the $500 prize to McCarthy on Tuesday, May 14, during the engineering semester-end project exhibition in Guion Science Center.

Centra established the annual award to honor a student researcher from Sweet Briar for a completed project in the areas of science and technology or science and medicine. The company, based in Lynchburg, is a regional health care system serving more than 380,000 people throughout Central and southern Virginia.

McCarthy, who minors in mathematical sciences, won the prize for her project “Water Treatment for Developing Countries: Concrete Filtration,” which she started working on at the end of the spring semester of her sophomore year with Bethany Brinkman, director of the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program at Sweet Briar. She completed the project last summer.

“My research project was about finding a tool that enabled underdeveloped countries to produce clean, drinkable water by utilizing local materials,” McCarthy explained. “Water quality is a growing issue in the world, and solutions can have a huge impact on many individuals’ quality of life. In making a possible tool, I used concrete as my resource since it is one of the most common building materials found around the world. In the end, I tested water quality by utilizing concrete filters and found promising results.”

Centra Award
Karlynn McCarthy receives her award from Centra Health president Dr. Les Reed on Tuesday.

“Karlynn has shown a sincere interest in using engineering to improve people’s lives,” Brinkman said. “She has always had a strong understanding of engineering principles, but what is most notable is her positive attitude and determination to understand the ‘why’ of how things work. … In a short period of time, she has proven to be insightful and independent.”

McCarthy’s first reaction when she found out she had won? Gratitude. “I have applied to many scholarships over my academic career and was pleased that the people at Centra thought my research was something worthwhile and interesting,” McCarthy said. “This award means a lot to me, since it reaffirms the value of my research and its possible impact on the field.”

While she’s wrapped up with this particular project, water quality is something she’ll keep working on for a while. Eventually, she’s hoping it will take her to outer space — sort of.

“This summer I will be interning with the Naval Air Systems Command in their subsystems department down in North Carolina,” McCarthy told us. “In my final year at Sweet Briar, I am hoping to expand my research by testing how water quality in space might be preserved through concrete filtration. This development is due to my love for the aerospace industry and work being done by NASA. After graduation I hope to be entering the aerospace field and contributing to the advancement of space travel.”