Field trip to the Learning Factory

A major part of Troy Alesi’s work as a teacher at State College Area High School is to introduce his students to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Learning Factory Supervisor Bill Genet shows State College Area High School students how the facility's machines can turn a computer design into a 3-D object.

Learning Factory Supervisor Bill Genet shows State College Area High School students how the facility’s machines can turn a computer design into a 3-D object.

At State High, he serves as the school’s technology education/STEM teacher and teaches courses in computer graphics and design.

To encourage his students to consider a STEM field for college, the 2013-14 Technology and Engineering Education Association of Pennsylvania High School Teacher of the Year brought a group of approximately 20 students to the Learning Factory on Oct. 25.

Learning Factory Supervisor Bill Genet and two teaching assistants gave the State High group a tour of the facilities, highlighting its rapid prototyping, machining, welding, computer-aided design and assembly and testing capabilities.

Students were shown cars built by Penn State’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team and Shell Eco-marathon team, as well as a baobab processing machine designed by Engineering Leadership Development students. The State High students also got a glimpse of a new Chevy Camaro that Penn State engineers were re-designing doors for.

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No teaching for a year?!? It’s not as relaxing as you think.

by Dr. Tim Simpson, professor of mechanical engineering and industrial engineering

Oh, you’re on sabbatical?  A whole year with no teaching and committee work; what are you going to do? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation as I begin my year-long sabbatical this fall.

When I have this conversation with other faculty, they want to know which exotic country I’ll be in while writing my book, learning new research methods, or starting a new research trajectory – or all the above.

When the conversation is with non-academics, though, they are in complete disbelief that I am allowed to do this – and get paid for it! They can’t fathom why Penn State would allow this, and think that I must be sitting around eating bon-bons all day. How wrong they are!

So what is a sabbatical? Sabbatical derives from the Latin sabbaticus for ceasing, i.e., a break from work, and according to, a sabbatical is defined as:

any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.

While I really like the “especially for rest” part of the definition, you will not find rest or break mentioned anywhere in Penn State’s definition of sabbatical:

Sabbatical Leave provides a leave of absence with pay for purposes of intensive study or research to increase future contribution to the University.

You will see how different Penn State’s definition of sabbatical is from perception. There is no mention of rest – it is “intensive” with the expectation that the experience will “increase future contributions to the University.” While “future contributions” is pretty open-ended, in my world of engineering, the unwritten expectation is that your sabbatical will prepare you to increase your research portfolio (in an existing or new area), which benefits Penn State’s R&D portfolio and leads to more revenue (through overhead and/or licensing of patents).

In essence, Penn State’s placing a bet – they pay you for a year to work hard to do something cool that will generate more in return to the University in the future. Faculty often do more into a sabbatical year than a regular academic year to maximize the returns on this rare opportunity, even though we don’t receive our full salary while on a year-long sabbatical.

So what am I doing on my sabbatical?

Short answer: everything that I wanted to get done since my last sabbatical seven years ago but haven’t had time to do.

Simpson-CoWorking-SpaceLonger answer: I’m immersing myself in entrepreneurial cross-training – learning how engineering design fits into the large entrepreneurial ecosystem locally (see photo at left) and nationally – and exploring new research into all the cool things that 3-D printing and additive manufacturing can do for engineering designers. At the same time, I continue to advise my students, make sure that all of my research projects stay on track, and engage in a few consulting projects with industry to validate the impact of my work.

To learn more about my plans, I invite you to check out future posts and see what a sabbatical really looks like.

Tim Simpson is a professor in both mechanical engineering and industrial engineering. He holds affiliate appointments in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) and the College of Information Sciences & Technology. From 2007-2012, he served as director of the Learning Factory, and now he serves as co-Director of the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D), a DARPA-funded Manufacturing Demonstration Facility for Additive Manufacturing. This is his second sabbatical. 

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SHPE Penn State Hosts Activities for Reading (PA) Families

SHPE Penn State members stand in front of Reading High School

SHPE Penn State members stand in front of Reading High School

by Julia Abreu

Recently, representatives from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Penn State hosted Noche de Ciencias at Reading High School, Reading, PA.

Approximately 24 attendees – students from grades K-12 and their parents – talked to us, as well as professionals working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries, and asked questions about the STEM fields.

SHPE Penn State members engaged in two hands-on activities with the students: a newspaper tower and a glider plane.

While students were busy with these activities, their parents attended several workshops, conducted in Spanish and English, on financial aid, scholarships and one called Understanding College Options.

This event is just one of many outreach activities organized by members of SHPE Penn State to create awareness about STEM-related educational opportunities, especially among the Hispanic population. Next semester, we will host another Noche de Ciencias. We are also organizing a spring High School Leadership Conference, during which 40 high school students from Hispanic backgrounds visit Penn State for a weekend and enjoy numerous activities, including an extreme engineering challenge and visits to Beaver Stadium.


SHPE Penn State member Jeremick Agudelo poses with a glider plane

SHPE Penn State member Jeremick Agudelo poses with a glider plane

Julia Abreu, is studying energy, business and finance with a minor in engineering leadership development. She is the public relations chair of SHPE Penn State. 

Adriyel Nieves, SHPE Penn State president and electrical engineering major, spending time with a family at Noche de Ciencias

Adriyel Nieves, SHPE Penn State president and electrical engineering major, spending time with a family at Noche de Ciencias

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PSFEI Summer Interns Impress Kutztown University Client

by Paul Meister, P.E.

Student interns from the Penn State College of Engineering, working for the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute, received accolades for their work at Kutztown University (KU) in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Bret Bartlett, senior, mechanical engineering, and Greg Them, junior, architectural engineering, performed condition assessments of thirty-nine KU campus buildings during the summer of 2013.

After being trained by PSFEI on technical building systems, Greg and Bret moved to the KU campus and were trained to use facilities condition assessment (FCA) software. The FCA software database allows KU managers to sort and prioritize facilities work for planning, maintenance, repair, or replacement. After establishing a work timeline to ensure project completion, the two interns worked with university operations and maintenance directors and tradesman every day. The interns surveyed and ranked the condition of HVAC systems, MEP systems, roof and building envelopes, site environments, fire and safety systems, and interiors. Findings were input into the software database and replacement costs were developed using RS Means cost estimating data.

Kyle Mills, the director of facilities maintenance at Kutztown University, was very pleased with the work, saying, “(Bret and Greg) did an incredible job. They established a building assessment timeline, which they met, updated all building assessment data in (the FCA software), including accurate replacement costs and developed a guideline for any future engineering students to follow. The outcome of this program far exceeded our expectations. Due to the success of this summer program I am currently evaluating other areas where this type of program could be beneficial and educational for all involved.”

Greg and Bret were energized by the hands-on education, with Bret stating “We used critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a professional environment at Kutztown University. We developed strong communication, organization, and project management skills while aiding the University’s facilities department in their long term project endeavors.”

About the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute

The Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute (PSFEI) regularly hires Penn State engineering student interns for facilities and energy management work. PSFEI provides facility engineering services to eleven state agencies of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the federal government’s General Services Administration. PSFEI’s broad array of facilities services includes training facility operators and managers, conducting facilities assessments, troubleshooting problems, and developing solutions and strategies for facility owners. PSFEI has specific expertise in energy efficiency and sustainability, energy markets, building infrastructure, and facilities information management. Founded in 1947 at the request of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Institute is part of the College of Engineering at Penn State University Park and touches the lives of thousands of people in all 67 counties of Pennsylvania and across our nation.


Paul Meister, P.E., is an energy engineer at the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute, specializing in energy management with emphasis in natural gas utility issues, energy commodity procurement, and economic/technical analyses of fuel conversion projects. In his role as supervisor to student interns, he is involved in hiring, mentoring, and assigning projects that serve the mission of the Institute.   Paul has a B.S. in mineral economics from Penn State, a M.S. in petroleum engineering from Montana Tech/University of Montana, and a M.Eng. in environmental engineering from Penn State.

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A gift from Airbus

Airbus Americas officials present the College of Engineering with a flap from an A300 wide-body aircraft. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Airbus Americas officials present the College of Engineering with a flap from an A300 wide-body aircraft. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Corporate donations are not unusual at Penn State. Companies will often send the University money, software or equipment. But a newly-arrived gift inside a very large orange crate is one of the more unusual donations Penn State has received in recent memory.

Delivered on Sept. 30, the crate contains a flap for an Airbus A300 wide-body airplane for the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Richard Auhl, a research associate in aerospace engineering, said the flap would be used for teaching, providing students with hands-on structures and dynamics laboratory measurements.

The gift was the brainchild of Jason Reed, vice president of material, logistics and suppliers for Airbus Americas and a 2001 aerospace engineering graduate.

Reed said a left-hand side inboard flap like the one delivered to Penn State is valued at more than $926,000 new. But because the part was rendered unserviceable to prevent the flap from accidentally entering the spare parts market and used on an operating aircraft, the part’s value is essential for scrap.

An Airbus delegation including Mary Anne Greczyn, Airbus Americas manager of communication, and Reed, formally handed the flap over to the aerospace engineering department today (Oct. 4).

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New Minor for Budding Penn State Entrepreneurs

by Frank Koe, Ph.D.

Great news for students interested in entrepreneurship! The Penn State Faculty Senate approved the Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) this summer, which gives entrepreneurial-minded students the opportunity to apply these principles in one of five concentrations:

  • Food and Bio-innovation
  • New Media
  • New Ventures
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Technology-Based Entrepreneurship

My colleague in the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs, Liz Kisenwether, serves as director of the minor and has told me that she expects the number of concentrations to grow as other colleges across Penn State participate in the program.

All students enrolled in the minor take the same three foundational courses then select three additional courses from a wide array of choices available in each concentration. This means that students are able to apply entrepreneurship to the area of study they are most interested in, making the entrepreneurship minor a truly practical undertaking.

For more information about the minor, including details about how to apply and the courses in each concentration, visit the ENTI minor website.

Frank T. Koe, Ph.D. is an instructor in entrepreneurship within the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) at Penn State. Accomplishments include founding his own sporting good accessory business that focuses on hunting and fishing. Products can be seen in Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and other outlets nationwide. His entrepreneurial academic experiences include serving as associate director of the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Stern School of Business, New York University, and dean of the Baker School of Business and Technology at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, NY.

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