Penn State Engineering: A Leader in Scientific Communication

by Katie Kirsch (’11, ’13g ME)

Imagine yourself in this situation: you go to a presentation (at work, in a class, at a conference) and you’re determined to learn something new. You’re with the speaker at the beginning—he (or she) introduces himself and mentions his affiliation. Maybe you even understand the title of his talk. So far, so good. Then, before you can even prepare yourself, he launches into the core of his talk, complete with full paragraphs on his slide (of which he reads every word), charts with axes at size 2 font, out-of-control laser pointing, acronyms you don’t understand… And you start thinking about all of the less painful things you could be doing with your time. Death by PowerPoint—we’ve all been there.

Penn State professors Michael Alley and Melissa Marshall are actively changing the stereotype that engineers and scientists are poor communicators. Termed the “Assertion-Evidence Approach,” their advocated slide design employs the use of two simple concepts. On each slide of a presentation, determine the most important message (which is a full sentence) of that slide and put it at the top, where the audience can readily see it.  Then, support that assertion with visual evidence.  Professors Alley and Marshall regularly travel worldwide giving lectures and communications workshops, and are sought out by both industry and academia alike.  At Penn State, they devote their time to training their students, ensuring that their legacy carries on.  Their students develop as confident speakers and, as they transition into their roles beyond Penn State, continue to spread the Assertion-Evidence message.

A revolution in scientific communication is coming and it has its roots in Penn State.  As the Assertion-Evidence technique spreads, the important messages from our scientists and engineers impact a continually widening audience. The benefits of strong scientific communication never end; one day, perhaps even in the near future, poor presentations will be in the strong minority and we can all be prepared to learn about the new, exciting, innovative developments our scientists and engineers make every day.

For more information on The Assertion-Evidence slide design, visit


Katie Kirsch is a Ph.D. student in the Experimental and Computational Convection Laboratory (ExCCL) at Penn State. Her research focus is on the cooling of turbine vanes and blades in gas turbine engines. She has also conducted research in the area of gas turbine heat transfer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. Additionally, she is involved with the Engineering Ambassador Alumni Association and the Women in Engineering Affiliated Program Group. 

Katie graduated from Penn State with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a minor in engineering leadership development in 2011 and an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 2013.



Read More

Working with Global Teams

by Dean A. Lippold

Dean LippoldChances are high that in your career you will work on a global team. The team might be composed of people from different countries all working in the same office or it may be a dispersed team with its members spread out across several countries. A global team might involve you working in another country leading a team of local nationals.

These diverse teams can be of extreme value to the organization if harnessed effectively. Conversely, if ineffectively managed the teams may withdraw into themselves, providing little in the form of productive output and causing irreparable damage to the team and to the organization they are meant to serve.

When working with global teams, you must do more than you would in traditional team. The following points should be carefully considered in order to maximize the team’s success:

Communicate Effectively. Over communication may be important to ensure everyone gets the latest information, especially if teams are widely dispersed and time is short.  But communicating in the wrong manner will derail a team and cause a loss of time in the end. Consider the following when sharing information with global teams:

    • In what form does each individual embrace information most effectively?
    • Typically a person from a low context country, such as the United States, Germany and Sweden, prefers to communicate in a direct, transactional fashion. Conversely, a person from a high context culture (ie: Far East, Middle East and South American countries) views relationship building as an important part of the communication process.
    • Communication must increase in proportion to the diversity of the team and the distance the team members are from one another.

Appreciate the Values. It is important to understand not just what people do, but also why they find value in doing so. Understanding the value of the team’s customs and approaches will help you discover clues on how to effectively motivate the team, as well as help you establish respect with them.

Team Building. It is important that you encourage and sustain collaboration, especially in a team that is culturally diverse and/or dispersed. The team must not only work with you, but you will also need to ensure they are working effectively with each other.

Establishing Credibility and Respect. You will often be required to participate from a distance or in an environment where you have no previous history. To be effective over the long run, you must quickly build respect and credibility by going out of your way to help, learning from the team, and meeting in person during the initial stages of the team’s formation.

Spending time thinking about and adjusting your individual style to these points will help you become more effective when working with global teams.  Often times, just demonstrating to the team that you are serious about these points will go a long way to helping you and the team be successful.

Mr. Lippold is currently Vice President of Research and Development at Dean Foods, Broomfield, Co. He has spent his career working for top companies within the food & beverage industry where he has been responsible for developing new products, packages and processes, cross-functional team leadership, and organizational development.  He has held assignments in the U.S. as well as abroad, which have given him first-hand experience and appreciation of the challenges associated with leading multicultural and dispersed teams. Mr. Lippold graduated from Penn State in 1991 with a degree in chemical engineering.


Read More

Melissa Marshall TED Talk

Melissa Marshall is a crusader against bullet points and an evangelist for effective slide designin scientific presentations. She believes that the future depends on the innovations of scientists and engineers, and is passionate about helping them effectively tell the story of their work.

A faculty member with the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences at Penn State University, Melissa specializes in teaching speaking skills to engineering students and has also lectured at Harvard Medical School, the New York Academy of Sciences, Cornell University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Melissa is the co-founder and advisor for the Penn State Engineering Ambassadors, an award-winning science and engineering outreach communication program. She is also an organizer and the faculty advisor for TEDxPSU, a student-run TEDx event held at Penn State each year.

You can check out her presentation here:  Melissa Marshall: Talk Nerdy To Me

“Our scientists and engineers are the ones that are tackling our grandest challenges, [but] if we don’t know about it and understand it, then the work isn’t done.” -Melissa Marshall

Read More
Skip to toolbar