ELDM Students Provide Spring 2014 Project Updates

ELDM project updates compiled by Nicole Bernstein (’16, ChE, Schreyer Honors College)

ELDM tackled eight projects this semester, covering three key areas: Local Projects, International Projects, and Industry Projects. Here is a summary of their progress. 

Local Projects

ELDM Mentorship Program—
Bridging the Gap between ELDM Students and Alumni

The team of Daniel Peterson, Alex Mayer, and Alan Wisniewski has been assigned with furthering the development of the Engineering Leadership Development Minor (ELDM) mentorship program. The objectives of this semester-long project are to get the mentorship program underway. Many people within the minor feel as if the alumni and the students do not connect as well as some of the other programs within the College of Engineering. The team wants to match students with alumni mentors and start building connections between students and professionals who have gone through the minor in the past. The overall goal and driving force behind the project is to further strengthen the ELDM community. By creating lasting connections between students and established alumni through the mentorship program, the ELDM community will be brought closer together and the minor will have some added value to it as a result of this alumni/student interaction. It is our hope that this mentorship program will help to provide another avenue for learning for current students and will also help to foster healthy communication between alumni and students.

The team plans to achieve this objective by selecting the most interested and deserving students for this mentorship program. These students will be paired with mentors that have similar interests or backgrounds. An application has been developed for students to apply online and these applications will be filtered fairly based on interest level and their level of effort. Shortly after spring break, we held an informational kickoff party for ELDM students and alumni to raise awareness and interest about the program before the application deadline of March 23, 2014.  The mentor program is expected to launch by April 1, 2104 at which time the mentors and mentees will be given guidance on how to initiate contact and maintain a relationship. Once the mentors and mentees have contacted each other, an event will be held either at the end of spring semester or during fall semester. This future event will give the mentors and mentees the chance to meet each other in person after having already established a relationship. This will be very beneficial for the students who will be able to expand their professional network and get to know their mentor better. The date of this event is still being discussed in an attempt to find the best time for most of our alumni to return to campus.

ELDM Awareness Team

Who are we?
Why is it that engineers are often stereotyped as being reclusive, narrow-minded, bad communicators, and generally uncreative? Even worse, why is it that engineers aren’t taking a stronger stand against these negative images, and showing employers and the public how engineering can improve the health, happiness, and safety of our world through technologically innovative solutions?

The mission of the ELDM Awareness Team is to encourage Penn State engineers to combat these stereotypes. We are working to enlighten students about the opportunities presented by ELDM, a program designed to augment a student’s technical education with important leadership and communication skills. The ELDM program strives to create world class engineers by enhancing professional and cultural literacy through hands-on, globally-relevant projects. Students who graduate from this minor are better able to represent the true meaning of being an engineer, and therefore void the negative stereotypes associated with the profession.

A world-class engineer is technically proficient, culturally aware, and professionally capable.

A world-class engineer is technically proficient, culturally aware, and professionally capable.

As the ELDM Awareness Team, it is our primary goal to engage as many Penn State engineering students as possible. The first step for an engineering student to improve his or her leadership skills is to learn why doing so is important, and to understand that mere technical proficiency is no longer enough to succeed in a professional capacity. Thus, we aim to ensure that all students are aware of the purpose of studying engineering leadership, and have the proper information about the minor in order to become involved. Our mission is to recruit highly motivated, driven engineers to ELDM, so they can prepare themselves for future leadership positions.

Our second purpose is to interact with alumni and potential sponsors of the ELD program in order to showcase the leadership skills of Penn State’s world-class engineering students and to further change the conversation about the stereotypes of engineering. We desire to demonstrate how companies benefit from employing engineering graduates who are well versed in cultural and professional skills, and to indicate how the ELDM program helps to enhance these skills. By interacting with industry leaders and enhancing the reputation of the ELDM program, we will make the graduates of this program even more marketable.

What are our Objectives?

    1. To actively engage Penn State students and garner interest in ELDM through speaking at First Year Seminars, advertising around campus, and engaging students at other engineering-specific events.
    2. To keep alumni and potential sponsors informed of the current projects being undertaken by ELDM students by creating informative publications and newsletters.

What have we done so Far?

    1. Still shots from the interviews conducted with President Rodney Erickson (top) and Dean Amr Elnashai (bottom).

      Still shots from the interviews conducted with President Rodney Erickson (top) and Dean Amr Elnashai (bottom).

      ELDM Promotional Video. We have successfully interviewed the Dean of the College of Engineering, Dr. Amr Elnashai; the President of Penn State University, Dr. Rodney Erickson; and the Co-President of the Engineering Leadership Alumni Society, Grant Crampton. These three have provided insight on the technical and professional benefits of pursuing a minor in Engineering Leadership, and account for about half of the interviews we will include in our promotional video. In the near future, we will be interviewing Dr. Christine Masters about how culture fits into engineering leadership, Mike Erdman about the overall impact and development of the program, and two students about their perspectives on ELDM. We hope to have two promotional videos completed in a month.

    2. Graphical Summary of the survey results obtained from the first year seminar presentations.

      Graphical Summary of the survey results obtained from the first year seminar presentations.

      Student Outreach. We have reached out to nineteen different engineering First Year Seminars, and have presented information about ELDM to seven of those, to date. These presentations focused on how first year students could get involved in the program, and were designed to promote the benefits of gaining leadership skills, rather than relying solely on technical training. At each seminar, we conducted surveys of the students in order to determine how many had heard of the minor before our presentation, and how many would be interested in joining the minor after having learned more information. The results we received were very positive, with about 86% of first year students indicating their interest in joining the minor. Only 20% of the students we surveyed had heard of the minor beforehand, despite 89% wanting to know more about the program, solely from its title. 83% would also recommend the minor to a peer, just from learning about the benefits of engineering leadership through our presentation. These results show that many Penn State engineering students are interested in improving their leadership skills, but have not yet been informed of the opportunities available to them. This makes our job as the ELDM awareness team even more important, as all engineering students who desire to take the initiative to study leadership development should be aware of this opportunity.

    3. Newsletter Publications. Creating and distributing a newsletter about the current projects being worked on by ELDM students is important for keeping alumni and sponsors updated on the program. We have created a newsletter that contains information about all of the student team projects, the baobab project, and other events related to the ELDM program. The publication is available here!

Greening The Village

What is Sustainability? You always hear about how we need to, “go green” or “reduce our carbon footprint”, but do you actually know what it means? While the residents of The Village at Penn State do not completely understand what it all means, they are eager to learn. The Village is a community for retirees that consists of a nursing home, assisted living facilities, and condos.

The Village at Penn State

The Village at Penn State

The Village asked for help from students in ENGR493, an ELDM class where Undergraduate students work with the community and/or companies so that they can get a feel of what it is like in the working in the “real world,”  to help them find long term solutions to help make The Village more sustainable, and find potential new green projects to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Towards the beginning of the semester, the green team took a tour of the facility and discovered that the recycling habits and energy saving practices were subpar. This was an eye opening experience and helped the green team to see many areas that could be improved upon, but the question was where to begin.

Group members meeting with a resident of The Village.

Group members meeting with a resident of The Village.

After the tour, the Green Team met with the committee that came up with the project, and determined that the best course of action was to break everything down into different priorities. The first priority is to focus on improvements that can be implemented right away. The second priority is to focus on educating the residents of the Village on good recycling and energy saving practices. The final priority is to provide the committee information about new technology that they might be able to implement one day.

There are two main foci for the team at this time. The first is to get training on sustainability practices, so that we can be more informed for when we are teaching the seniors and open our eyes to more possible improvements. The second is to form a relationship with the maintenance team to help us form and execute realistic short-term goals.

Sustainability does not happen overnight. It will take collaboration and effort between our team and The Village to achieve a desirable outcome. Together we can make this happen because WE ARE..the Green Team!

Engineering our Community

It’s right and responsible to give back to a community that essentially shaped you into the person you are today. We are the Local Social Services Group, whose primary agenda is seeking out local social service organizations within Happy Valley that are in need of assistance. As a team, we are passionate about helping out the community and making a sustainable impact in State College that will continue to benefit those affected by our services in the future.

The group working to brainstorm potential ideas.

The group working to brainstorm potential ideas.

Throughout the semester, we have been in contact with more than ten non-profit organizations, a few of which have shown great interest in the idea of our project. For example, there are organizations that have structural problems with their facilities, firms who are lacking in technological skills and database management, and firms with a lack of necessary accommodations for those that they serve. We have scheduled multiple meetings with these respective organizations and brainstormed ways that their problems may be solved. By spring break, we will be selecting a firm to partner with for the remainder of the semester to solve a problem with an engineering perspective. A catalog is also in the process of being constructed so that potential organizations will be documented. Future teams of engineers will be able to use this catalog to access contact information, previous discussions, and problems that firms have communicated to us.

Every individual on our team enjoys working with others and volunteering their time and efforts to help out those in need. We hope to gain leadership experience by sharpening our communication skills while working in a dynamic team environment. This passion and determination to help our second home motivates our team to reach new heights by going above and beyond. We are Penn State and it is time to give back to a community has given us a priceless gift of memories.

International Projects

Cassava Project—Helping our World one Cassava at a Time

Save and grow Cassava. Producers can sustainably increase cassava yields by up to 400% and help turn this staple from a poor people’s food into a 21st century crop. Latest published articles in agricultural section state that global cassava output has increased by 60% since 2000 and is set to accelerate further over the current decade as policymakers recognize its huge potential.

The cassava plant.

The cassava plant.

What is it?

Cassava within the United States to the average person is typically unknown. Its most similar “cousin plant” so-to-say is the yucca found within most arid climates across the country. The plant itself is dug up for its root. Within the root is the fruit that is so longed for within African countries. The appearance of the cassava root to the untrained eye is the same as a yucca root. The outer protective covering (like the skin of a potato) is thick and tough. The inside is an off white color with a high moisture amount packed with starch as the plants food source. It is the inside that is harvested and used for food so regularly within African communities.

A drying technique that can be useful for taking out the moisture of the cassava once the skin is peeled off.

A drying technique that can be useful for taking out the moisture of the cassava once the skin is peeled off.

How do they collect it?

Current techniques of harvesting cassava include digging it out of the ground, followed by peeling, typically with by hand with a machete. Which the peeling off of the skin can cause an amount of waste that can possibly be reduced with the development of a new peeler. Then they use brute strength to wrap it up within cloth and squeeze out the moisture the best they can on their own. They then lay out the remaining to evaporate in the sun. From there they grind it up into flour and use it for all sorts of recipes as an inexpensive way to feed their families.

A standard potato peeler can be modified to be used on cassava instead of a machete.

A standard potato peeler can be modified to be used on cassava instead of a machete.



Methods to Improve the Current Process
As it stands now, there are a few areas in the cassava production that can be improved to eliminate waste or use alternative energy. The machetes that are used now, take off the skin, but also take part of the useful cassava with it. By the development of a device similar to a potato peeler, the amount of cassava that is wasted and fed to livestock can decrease and increase the yield from the plant. There is also room for improvement in the drying process.

Utilization of Land in The Gambia

Sponsored by Middlesex University, our group’s aim is to develop a plot of Gambian land into a sustainable, economic model for youth employment. The Gambia is currently facing tremendous financial hardship, with 40% of young people unemployed. Such statistics have historically led to disasters ranging from increased crime to civil war, so our efforts could prove crucial to preventing strife in The Gambia.

Youth in The Gambia.

Youth in The Gambia.

In terms of progress made, our first objectives were to research and brainstorm possible ideas. These ranged from collaborating with agricultural charities and non-governmental organizations to developing energy infrastructure through solar power. A particularly interesting idea is the introduction of a highly efficient strain of cotton that allows for harvesting multiple times a year; cotton is already a major export in The Gambia, so this could be a veritable godsend for Gambian agriculture.

Youth in The Gambia.

Youth in The Gambia.

Recently, our priorities have transitioned from researching to following up on our leads. We have contacted several organizations, including a charity that aims to take African villages through the agricultural process “from seed to business,” as well as a group at Elizabethtown College that is developing photovoltaic mobile phone chargers for use in The Gambia.

Our eventual goal is to identify and investigate the three most promising courses of action and make a recommendation to our sponsors based on our findings. We will then work with Middlesex University to implement the selected project. Foreseeable challenges include limited information about the region in which the land is located, as well as maintaining specificity of focus. Still, given the incredible potential of our project, we remain optimistic and enthusiastic.

Moringa Harvesting Team—Tiny Leaves, Gigantic Benefits

The Crisis
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “a quarter of the population is undernourished, a proportion which has remained stable over the last.” Currently, over 65% of the dietary energy supply for the population comes from cereal crops, with severe lack of protein. Recently, however, the production of these crops has suffered a major decline. To counteract the cereal shortages, the country has resorted to massive importation of food, at great cost to the people. Fortunately, there is another way.

The benefits of the moringa leaf.

The benefits of the moringa leaf.

The Solution
Native to the Himalayas and often referred to as the “miracle tree,” the moringa oleifera plant is a potential lifesaver for the malnourished population of Senegal. An incredibly energy rich and nutrient dense plant, the moringa offers hope as an alternative source of many nutrients essential to maintaining a young, growing population. Containing twice the amount of protein found in yogurt plus all eight essential amino acids, a full complement of essential vitamins, and disease-fighting antioxidants, the moringa plant is the ultimate superfood for Africa. Even better, moringa can be grown in a wide variety of soil types, is incredibly drought-resistant, and reaches harvest size in only two months.

The Project
In order to provide the people of Senegal with this incredible food, it needs to be grown and harvested effectively. Currently, moringa is harvested exclusively by hand, and the process needs to be mechanized in order to increase the productivity of the moringa harvests. Therefore, our team is building a prototype machine to mechanize the harvesting process. By building on the work of past teams and with the help of Prof. Mike Erdman and Kate Ortbal, our group is working to create a safe, effective prototype that can be sent to Senegal to help moringa farmers Stephanie Tomatis and Papa Fall.

So far this semester, our group has conducted research on the moringa plant in order to better understand the goal of the project. Based on this, we created our team’s mission, vision, and values statement. We were able to collect and review the work of the previous team to understand their design process. Next, we conducted benchmarking research with Dr. Jude Liu from the Penn State agricultural engineering department to determine the goals and limitations for the design of harvester machines. Extensive brainstorming has been conducted, yielding several possible design concepts. Based on the work of last year’s team, we are currently evaluating the suitability of using a Stihl model HS-81R trimmer as a means to cut the moringa. Finally, we have been in contact with several farms and sources across the United States as we attempt to get a moringa sapling to conduct testing.

As we continue working on the project, we will be in communication with Tomatis and Fall to make sure that our design meets their needs. Based on these discussions, we will choose a final design concept. Over the final weeks, we will build and test the prototype harvester.

Moringa Leaf Stripping—New Hope for Developing Countries

One of the major problems facing our global society today is malnutrition. Scientists all over the world have been searching for a solution to this widespread issue. Recently, a most promising solution has come to light; the use of moringa tree leaves.

For only being one variety of tree it has a multitude of benefits ranging from helping with anemia and thyroid disorders to cancer and parasitic infections. The methods of extracting the nutrients from these trees are just as versatile. It can be ground into powders, used in food, perfumes and hair care products alike. The ways to obtain these leaves; however, are inefficient in the supplying the demands for these nutrient rich leaves.

Figure 1—Last year’s design of moringa leaf stripper

Figure 1—Last year’s design of moringa leaf stripper

Currently, moringa leaves are stripped from the branches by hands. This approach limits the input of leaves needed for processing. Due to the repetitive motions during the current stripping process, a cumulative trauma disorder risk analysis is needed to account for the risk of doing this process by hand. Our job is to find a process that is more efficient for farmers to maximize the outputs of moringa leaves and to reduce the risk of injuries that the current process can cause. Last year, one team proposed a design of a machine (see figure 1) that had rubber rollers at the end that created a circular pressure when the branch was pulled through. The design was successful but it has some flaws that make it hard to implement in real life. The size of the machine is bigger than necessary and is very heavy and rigid; we are striving towards a machine that can be portable so transport to all areas where Moringa Trees are grown is easy and effective.

We plan to provide our customers with a portable, safe and efficient way to strip the leaves form the Moringa Tree using easily accessible materials. Our design is a simple 6 main part machine made with relatively inexpensive materials. Due to the fact that these will be in usage in developing areas, we are using mostly PVC board and angle iron to keep the cost as low as possible for a durable product. Our 6 part machine will be easily assembled using nuts and bolts instead of welding to allow for an easy shipping process to these areas. Combining low cost materials and a simple 6 part design we can create a much more effective and time efficient method for stripping Moringa leaves.

Figure 2: Break down of new material implementation

Figure 2: Break down of new material implementation

The previous design was under-tested and unrefined. We are currently in the process of implementing our changes to create a more refined product. This includes replacing multiple pieces of the design with PVC board to replace the heavy, inefficient material previously used.

We will also only be welding each side separately instead of together to develop a portable machine that uses nuts and bolts. Along with these changes, we plan to shorten some of the dimensions of the machine to save money on materials while still keeping the product just as effective. (See Figure 2)

Once we are finished implementing our design changes we will move on to the next stage of testing. We are currently in the process of obtaining Moringa tree branches from Moringa tree farm. Once we have these we will run them through our new design and observe any problem areas where changes then again have to be made. After these final stages we hope to get our Moringa Tree Leaf Stripper out into the developing areas where this is needed to help developing countries continue to grow.

Industry Projects

Aluminum Plate Separation—
How a Small Magnetic Harness Could End General Motors’ Energy Waste

Imagine all the power your house uses in a month. If you live in an average American home with people (and kids) constantly using and abusing free time on the computer or television, that amount accounts for enough power to run a small country! That may be an exaggerating, but what if I told you that General Motors (GM) is wasting that amount of electricity through their current process of separating simple stacks of aluminum? What if I told you every GM plant that stamps aluminum uses this much power for one air knife, and that they use several of these knives on just one stack of aluminum sheets? Can you imagine the number of homes that could be powered by that much energy?

Current process for separating aluminum.

Current process for separating aluminum.

The Engineering Leadership Aluminum Plate Separation Team’s goal is to eliminate this waste. After several meeting, brainstorming sessions, and research, they have taken the first of several steps to successfully complete this challenge. The goal of this team is to create a process that will separate a stack of 300 aluminum sheets off of a pallet with additional constraints of:

      • Unstack fourteen sheets per min
      • Minimize energy consumption
      • Avoid scratching or denting the sheets
      • Reduce airborne pollutants

By the end of the semester, the team’s goal is to have three well-developed designs, which are ready for presentation, as well as one miniature prototype of the most feasible design option.

Current Progress
The team has made leaps and bounds from the initial meeting. After a visit to a site plant, they have conceptualized multiple potential solutions for further investigation.

The team has pushed forward a concept based upon magnetic. They have a completed design, all parts have been acquired, and prototyping is halfway complete. Prototype testing will begin March 7. The team has also settled on the other two separation techniques that will be fully researched and designed:

  1. A new staggered stacking configuration that allows the sheets to be easily hooked from the edge.
  2. A “scraper bar” that continually adjusts to the stack’s height. The robot will rub the unstacked sheet over the bar to peel away extra sheets that may have unwantingly stuck.

First Prototype

Exploded view of 3D printed magnetic harness.

Exploded view of 3D printed magnetic harness.

The magnets will be arranged in four different configurations and then tested for effectiveness:

  • Halbach Array
    • Directed Radially
    • Directed Axially
    • Alternating Field
      • Directed Radially
      • Directed Axially

The positioning of the disk in relation to the plates will also be tested. The team is specifically interested in two promising positions:(1) against the edge of the stack, and (2) next to the suction cups where the repulsive force will actually push through the top (desired) plate and strip off any that are stuck to the bottom.

Aluminum Scrap Recycling

The Challenge

Aluminum scrap.

Aluminum scrap.

Every time you head to the pump, it seems like gas prices increase. Fuel is getting harder to find and the energy needs of tomorrow are only increasing. To combat this, the automotive industry plans to reduce vehicles’ weight in North America to improve fuel economy. They intend to remove hundreds of pounds of weight by using lighter material, mainly aluminum. By 2020, the aluminum industry expects demand to increase by 10-fold. The General Motors-sponsored leadership practicum team is working together to adapt to the changing world. Current automotive scrap recycling systems are geared towards steel and are inefficient with aluminum included. Furthermore, current systems require scrap to be transported by large truckloads which further increases the cost and environmental impact associated with recycling. Therefore, the team is tasked with brainstorming and designing a flexible cost-effective and environmentally safe system that will recover, segregate, and transport scrap consisting of different aluminum grades and steel.

The Reasoning
Switching to aluminum will increase fuel efficiency by at least 10%, improve performance, and is more environmentally friendly. To adapt to the increasing demand, the aluminum industry is expanding with investment plans that total $500M. Moreover, companies in the automotive industry are investing to improve their scrap recycling system to get the edge over their competitors. Unseparated scrap generated General Motors (GM) $140M in revenue just last year. This return will dramatically increase if the scrap is separated into its respective grades. The current system is unable to separate different grades of aluminum and steel scrap. Also, because the scrap is not uniformly sized, it takes a lot of space thus making the transportation method also inefficient.

Aluminum and steel scrap sorting house.

Aluminum and steel scrap sorting house.

The Task
GM is following the lead of several companies in the automotive industry. They seek to build new plants that will mass produce aluminum parts effectively. These parts are expected to generate a large amount of scrap since current system produces 7500 lb/hr and 25000 lb/hr of aluminum and steel, respectively. The current system recovers and transports the scrap inefficiently. Therefore, the team aims to build a system that will be able to effectively separate the scrap which will vastly improve its value. In order to improve both transportation and scrap value, the team will also brainstorm ideas that would make it possible to densely pack the scrap. This will reduce the number of truckloads required; thus reducing fuel costs and environmental impact.

Shredded aluminum.

Shredded aluminum.

The Progress
With the guidance of Professor Mike) Erdman and Kate Ortbal, the team is working together in order to fulfill the task assigned by the GM sponsor James S. Dorenbecker. Currently, the team completed Research Phase 1 and moved to brainstorming. The team designed a rubric to correctly evaluate concept ideas based on the sponsor’s needs. In addition, the team decided that the system designed must first recover and then separate the scrap. Following separation, the team is looking to standardize the scrap size through shredding the scrap or briquetting gin order to reduce the number of truckloads. Both shredding the scrap and briquetting increases the scrap value and they also make recovering coolant possible. The addition of these ideas to our future system will make the system cost-effective, profitable, and environmentally safe. Thus, the concepts surviving the rubric will carry on to Research Phase 2. After this phase, the team will move to design the new system. To further improve the results, the team will continue to stay in contact and work closely with the sponsor to meet their expectations.

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Entrepreneurship in Happy Valley

by Frank Koe, PhD

There are many advantages of living in Happy Valley: the friendly community, the access to cultural and sporting events, the diversity that Penn State brings to central Pennsylvania, the gorgeous surroundings and availability of so many outdoors activities. There is truly something for just about everyone.

But Happy Valley is not without its drawbacks. Geographically, we are fairly isolated, located about four hours from several metropolitan areas. Unlike these major cities where resources and opportunities are plentiful, we are simply at a disadvantage in some arenas.

This is especially evident for the entrepreneurially minded in our community – including the would-be entrepreneurs in our academic circles. Fortunately, we do have Lion Launch Pad, Global Entrepreneurship Week, Start-Up Week and the university-wide entrepreneurship and innovation minor that continues to grow and develop. Nonetheless, challenges remain to expand connections and entrepreneurial activities beyond our university.

In an effort to stretch the boundaries and immerse students into the real-world rigors of entrepreneurship, a proposal has been submitted by Penn State to the Department of Community & Economic Development to create a program aimed at sharing entrepreneurial resources and hosting regional student entrepreneurship competitions. If the proposal is approved, funds will be used to seed innovative ideas that promote entrepreneurship, tech transfer and increase awareness and expansion of resources to assist budding entrepreneurs at Bucknell, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and Penn State. Goals include exposing nearly 5,000 students to entrepreneurship, potentially creating up to 30 new businesses and 30 new technologies by young entrepreneurs, and coordinating activities, experiences and services for undergraduate students.

For more information about the plans for this entrepreneurship program, contact Maria Spencer, business consultant, Small Business Development Center and Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), at mtk15@psu.edu.

Frank T. Koe, Ph.D. is an associate professor of engineering 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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Spring Break of Service: Spartanburg, SC

EWB Spartanburg Team

The members of the Engineers Without Borders at Penn State Alternative Spring Break Trip to Spartanburg, SC, (from left to right): Brianna Basile, Jonathan Caballero, Anthony Palacin, Jaden Martz, Karli Drda, Karen Bobkowski, Jessica Slavejkov, Allison Webster, Rachel Kester, Dayse Tapia, and Mouneesh Badam.

by Karli Drda (’16, Earth Sciences)
Member, Engineers Without Borders at Penn State

When I originally signed up to go on the Alternative Spring Break trip for Engineers Without Borders at Penn State, I had some doubts. For one, I didn’t know many people who were going on the trip. Plus, I wasn’t sure if I was okay with not going home for the week. My reservations vanished when I met the people on the trip and we hit the road. Everyone was very friendly and excited to get started on our projects.

After a ten-hour car trip, we arrived in Spartanburg, SC, to sunshine and 75 degree weather. We spent the first night settling into our home for the week, Saint John’s Lutheran Church’s Youth Center, and getting to know Sharon Tarver from the Fuller Center for Housing, who organized the projects that we had for the week.

The first project was to help a family of five whose house had fallen into disrepair after a leak developed in the roof next to the chimney. We were tasked with removing two trees that had been in danger of falling on the house, chopping it into firewood for the family’s wood stove.

The rest of our time in Spartanburg was spent working on a house owned by a gentleman named Earl, an elderly veteran. Earl was unable to take care of his home after he became disabled. Extensive damage made the bathroom unusable and forced Earl to move to a nursing home. We spent our time in Earl’s home repairing the bathroom, including replacing the tub, sink and toilet and strengthening the floor supports and replacing sheetrock. Since Earl had been away for some time, the rest of his house needed cleaning to make it fit for him to live in again. The kitchen sink was replaced, and Earl’s book and computer collection was organized and dusted. After his home was back in working order, Sharon sent a few members of our group to visit Earl to give him the good news.

Meeting Earl was a very inspiring experience. He was overjoyed when we told him that he would be able to move back home soon. After living in the nursing home for some time, he was excited that he would be able to return to the home that he had lived in for more than twenty years. He could not thank us enough for what we were doing to help him. Earl himself was able to add to the good news: after becoming disabled and having a stroke, he had been confined to a wheelchair. However, in the few months prior to our visit his condition had improved drastically and he was once again able to walk. He also told us stories about his wife and about being a veteran. Hearing these stories made us all see how we were helping to change Earl’s life for the better.

As the week drew to a close, we said goodbye to our wonderful host Sharon and the others who helped us with the projects, and headed back to State College. Although the trip flew by, I’m sure none of us will forget the awesome memories we shared.


Karli Drda is a sophomore studying Earth Sciences in the College of Earth & Mineral Science. This is her first year in Engineers Without Borders at Penn State. She hopes to continue being an active participant in the organization, as well as other community service groups, for the remainder of her time at Penn State. She hopes that her experiences in Engineers Without Borders will help with her future career in Earth Science. 


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Engineering Ambassadors use robotic senior project to educate youth

Engineering Ambassador Brad Wile makes adjustments to an interactional robotic system that can be controlled by students.

Engineering Ambassador Brad Wile makes adjustments to an interactional robotic system that can be controlled by students.

By Sabriana Pimental and Vanessa Cardy

The Engineering Ambassadors for the Penn State College of Engineering are educating State College youth on engineering and science through their senior design project — an interactional robotic system that can be controlled by students.

The goal of Engineering Ambassadors is to inspire middle and high school students to challenge conventional ideas about science and engineering through leadership.

The Ambassadors have been focused on creating more interactive projects that resonate better with younger students.

The robotic system was developed as part of a senior design class in mechanical engineering.

The robotic system was developed as part of a senior design class in mechanical engineering.

“Working with middle and high school students is one of the most enjoyable things about being an Engineering Ambassador, as most students of a young age do not have much exposure to aspects of engineering,” said Mike Coia, one of the Ambassadors. “This allows us the opportunity to show them what engineers can do and what their careers consist of.”

The project originates from enrollment in ME 440W: Mechanical Engineering Senior Design class. Students of the class are partnered with the Learning Factory, an organization dedicated to providing engineering students with practical hands-on experience through industry-sponsored design projects.

“Using the Learning Factory has helped us expand our array of activities and demos to more complicated mechanisms,” said Coia. “Being able to assemble and fabricate parts and systems in the Learning Factory allows us the convenience to continue these types of projects.”

The robotic arms are an idea developed by the Engineering Ambassadors and an activity that can be used in a middle or high school science fair environment. The purpose of the robotic arms is to capitalize on children’s interest in robots and show their use in today’s society.

The robotic arms will use six standard servo motors to allow a person to move the arm to an exact point in 3-D space. The servo motor will be connected to an Arduino motor controller. The arms will have six degrees of ample range of motion and freedom for the given workspace. They will be constructed out of acrylic to provide low-cost manufacturing ease and durability.

“Having access to the Learning Factory helps us make a more robust design,” said Ambassador Brad Wile. “They have tools, such as the laser cutter, that help make our robots easier to manufacture.”

The Ambassadors will utilize the arms to allow students play games and compete with each other. The students will use a PlayStation 2 controller that can be interfaced with the Arduino microcontroller to move each of the servos on the robot.

They will be presenting their project at the College of Engineering Design Showcase on May 1 in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Pimental and Cardy are students in Penn State’s College of Communications and account associates with the student-run Happy Valley Communications.

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Penn State hosts Energy & Sustainability Day at The Navy Yard

by Colleen Lynch, PR ’14
Intern, GridSTAR

On Wednesday March 19, Penn State held Energy and Sustainability Day at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia, as part of the Schreyer Honors College Shaping the Future Summit. Over fifty students and faculty members from a variety of educational backgrounds were welcomed from Penn State’s University Park, Abington and Berks campuses.

The event was hosted by Penn State’s Grid Smart Training and Application Resource (GridSTAR) Center, an innovative learning and research environment focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy and smart grid technologies.  The GridSTAR Center is coordinated by Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering and is based on The Navy Yard campus in Philadelphia.

David Riley, professor of architectural engineering at Penn State and the Principal Investigator of the GridSTAR Center said, “Penn State is fortunate to be a part of the redevelopment of The Navy Yard, as it will offer our students excellent opportunities for learning and research about sustainability.”

The day began with an introduction from Navy Yard leaders, including the director of the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation (formerly known as the EEB Hub), Martha Krebs; Senior Vice President of Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), Will Agate; and Principal at Kieran Timberlake, David Riz; who is the leading designer of Penn State’s new facilities at The Navy Yard. Students were then taken on a bus tour of The Navy Yard, led by Will Agate, with a variety of stops including GlaxoSmithKline headquarters, the Courtyard Marriot and Penn State’s new facilities, The Center for Building Energy Science and Engineering and The Center for Building Energy Education and Innovation. The tour concluded at the Urban Outfitters headquarters where students enjoyed lunch at the Shop 543 food court.

After lunch, participants visited the GridSTAR Center for demonstrations of cutting edge technologies in the Smart Grid Demonstration Residence, including energy storage systems, solar modules, sustainable construction methods and electric vehicle charging stations. Students also had the opportunity to learn from our industry partners at Solar Grid Storage about what it is like to work for a start-up in the energy sector. The demonstrations and workshops within the GridSTAR Center were most popular among participants. A student from Penn State Berks said, “All of my classes are based on micro grids, solar power and electricity, so being able to see it in action brings life to it. It’s new and exciting.”

Though some were unaware of Penn State’s presence at The Navy Yard, many were impressed with the progress that has been made. After their visit, students and faculty from a variety of academic backgrounds recognized the growing importance of interdisciplinary sustainability and left feeling energized about the potential of Penn State’s initiatives in Philadelphia.

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Engineers Without Borders Heads South for an Alternative Spring Break

by Nick Slavtcheff, ChE, Entrepreneurship (minor) ’16
Alternative Spring Break Coordinator, Engineers Without Borders at Penn State

EWB volunteers gather on the last day of work to say goodbye to JoAnn and celebrate the fantastic progress made on her home.

EWB volunteers gather on the last day of work to say goodbye to JoAnn and celebrate the fantastic progress made on her home.

Where to begin, where to begin. Let’s start at the beginning: A van full of Penn Staters on a alternative spring break trip to Louisiana for Engineers Without Borders. A nineteen hour car ride halfway across the country.

After a bathroom break in Tennessee, the van doesn’t turn back on. OK. We made friends – and created an unrehearsed video to Harlem Shake – while waiting for AAA only to learn that we had a weak battery. There was no time to replace the battery so we continued our trek to the sunshine and the legendary cuisine of Louisiana with only a 50% chance our van would turn back on. Needless to say it was quite an exhilarating experience every time we filled up for gas.

Somehow the odds were in our favor and we were about to make it to our home for the week, Rosaryville Spirit Life Center, a spiritual retreat and convent with beautiful grounds surrounding their chapel and clubhouse, in Ponchatoula, LA. Despite our collective average of one hour of sleep, the first day was a blur as we readied ourselves to get our hands dirty by buying our supplies and repairing the van. We met with our Tamara Danel, our contact from the Fuller Center for Housing, who described the projects that needed the most attention for the week.

As we pulled up to our first site that Monday, it was evident we would have our hands full. We were to assist an elderly, handicapped woman named JoAnn in salvaging her home of nearly fifty years. There were some significant repairs that needed to be made, but the most obvious one was the demolition of the back half of her home that had collapsed in on itself and was leaving the interior of her bedroom and living space exposed to the elements. In addition, the vast majority of her roof was shingle-less and rotting out and we knew replacing her rafters would be no easy task.

The entire Penn State EWB group enjoys a delicious, donated meal of casaba pastaya with their client JoAnn and the Fuller Center staff.

The entire Penn State EWB group enjoys a delicious, donated meal of casaba pastaya with their client JoAnn and the Fuller Center staff.

Just simply being there with her it was palpable how deeply grateful she was as she broke down into tears and prayer and insisted on hugging each of us. Tamara had told us how JoAnn lives in constant fear of snakes entering her home as a result of her property being flooded because of faulty plumbing. There was an incredible work to be done and our volunteers put their hearts and backs into the job right from the beginning.

In addition to working with JoAnn, we also had the pleasure of helping George, a WWII veteran. George’s situation was unique because various community organizations had been doing repairs to his home for roughly a year and it was clear immense progress had already been made. When they first visited the 91-year-old man’s home there were massive holes in the roof and he was sitting in his living room surrounded by buckets to catch the water that came through the holes. As a result, George’s home had been invaded by various insects and reptiles. When we arrived George’s living room had been converted into a covered porch and his roof had been replaced with metal shingles. The Engineers Without Borders team’s main focus:  finishing interior renovations such as stripping out old carpets and drywall, laying new flooring, putting up new drywall, and painting the home, inside and out.


Penn State EWB Alternative Spring Breakers take a break from working on the interior of the home of their client, George (shown third from left).

Penn State EWB Alternative Spring Breakers take a break from working on the interior of the home of their client, George (shown third from left).

It became clear to us that buildings in Louisiana are in constant battle with the wet and volatile climate, and George’s home was no exception. His gratitude was clear to us. Each morning we were there he would wake up early to come spend time on his new porch, sharing with us his life experiences and carpentry knowledge. He even brought out his collection of war medals and exclaimed each time that he had received them because “the president had thought he was a good boy back then.” It turned out that he had actually been a runner up for being on the crew that dropped the hydrogen bombs that ended WWII and it was clearly something that was very dear to him.

By the end of the week we had had a week chalk full of all kinds of experiences. We had made incredible progress on both sites, with JoAnn’s home completely sealed and half her roof replaced with metal shingling, and George’s interior gutted, replaced and painted. We had each eaten what seemed to be a lifetime supply of seafood. We got to dwell in the vibrancy and excitement of New Orleans, and even meet the original cast of Swamp People at their four-generation old alligator and turtle farm.

To say it was a memorable week would be an understatement.

Nick Slavtcheff is majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in entrepreneurship and plans to graduate in May 2016. He’s been part of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since his freshman year and served as the Alternative Spring Break Coordinator this year after going on the trip in 2013. He says he has always had a passion for humanitarian work and found EWB to be an incredible avenue to pursue that passion. He hopes to be an EWB officer again next year. Originally from Guilford, CT, Nick’s family now calls Washington Crossing, PA, home. 

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