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.



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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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Engineering Students Selected to Present at PA State Capitol

Two College of Engineering students — Anthony Trezza and Nathan Deffenbaugh — will present their research at the 12th Annual Undergraduate Research at the Capitol—Pennsylvania Poster Conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

Nathan Deffenbaugh, biomedical engineering, will present his research project titled High Resolution Tracking of Single-molecule Kinesin Motor Proteins by TIRF Microscopy. Kinesins are intracellular molecular motors and play a critical role in mitotic spindle formation during cell division. Their dysfunction has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and ALS. Additionally, the role of kinesins in mitotic spindle formation makes a relevant target for anti-cancer therapies aiming to inhibit cancer cell division and proliferation. Deffenbaugh’s research uses total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy to image individual kinesin proteins, allowing discovery of different kinesin protein’s molecular mechanisms, which is critical for understanding their diverse cellular roles.

Deffenbaugh is supervised by Dr. William O. Hancock, professor of biomedical engineering.

Anthony Trezza, mechanical engineering, will present Simultaneous Localization and Mapping of Indoor Robots Using Permanent Magnetic Fields. This research is prototyping the use of low-cost, highly sensitive magnetometer technology to develop low-cost guidance systems for wheelchairs with the intent to assist amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) patients maintain mobility. As stated in Trezza’s submission, there have been long-standing dreams of using robots to provide extra functionality, care, and comfort to our living environments, offices, factories, and warehouses. But this dream is thwarted by the difficulty of a robot to know its position indoors. GPS signals cannot be reliably measured inside buildings; lighting conditions are highly variable; and modifications to the built environment for robot localization can be expensive and intrusive.

Trezza is supervised by Dr. Sean Brennan, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The event serves as a unique opportunity for undergraduate students enrolled in Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities to showcase their research projects to an audience of Pennsylvania legislators. Participants spend the day in the Pennsylvania Capitol Building, share experiences and ideas with counterparts from other schools, and present research posters.

The Office of Undergraduate Education coordinates Penn State’s participation in the event.

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Inside the Recruiter’s Mind…5 Need-to-Knows for Students

by Jonathan U. Dougherty, PhD (’99 AE, ‘06g)

Dr. Jonathan DoughertyFor students, career fairs represent dichotomy in action – intimidating and exhilarating – as you try to navigate the maze of company booths, make a good first impression, land that interview, and hope your efforts result in an internship or full-time job. I can tell you from over a decade of firsthand experience, those same feelings of intimidation and exhilaration are felt by recruiters. Now, don’t get me wrong, recruiters have the peace of mind knowing that they already have a job – something you, as students, are urgently searching for…mostly to please your Mom and Dad. Take it from the guy who spent 12 years at Penn State, college is probably the greatest time of your life so you are probably not in a rush to leave Happy Valley! But I digress…

Let’s take a journey inside the mind of the recruiter (with the caveat that not all recruiters are created equal and the reflections in this blog are not necessarily representative of all recruiters’ perspectives). For as much as you may think that finding an internship or permanent placement is a chore, I can tell you recruiting is a tough job also. Think about it, these folks, who are not always HR professionals, are coming to college campuses to find their future colleagues and company leaders, all while considering the perceptions and expectations of current company management, culture, and most importantly, their personal reputation. Companies spend, on average, one to one-and-a-half times a person’s annual salary to replace an exiting entry-level employee. That means that if those new hires don’t work out and leave the firm, management sees dollar signs walking out the door, and the recruiter may see their reputation depreciate at the company.

Because company culture is such a prevalent issue, whenever I am recruiting I’m looking for the intangible quality that cannot be defined in a rubric or on a sliding scale: Fit. For me and many others, fit trumps GPA and is held in the same regard with relevant work experience and leadership/community involvement.

Here are a few questions related to fit that may be going through the recruiter’s mind:

  • Would I want to have this person in my home for dinner?
  • Would I want to sit next to this person for six hours of business travel?
  • Would I want to work for/with this person?

I want to stress here that academics are very important, but most good recruiters have done their homework on universities and specifically programs and departments where they actively recruit. They know the caliber of students who graduate from the rigorous Penn State engineering program, and that is why our University is consistently ranked so highly by recruiters – Penn State graduates are in demand! I mention this because in many instances academics are not the key differentiator; you need to find meaningful differentiators through work experiences, leadership roles, community service and outreach, and thoughtful relationships with the recruiter and company.

While the job of the recruiter is not easy, it can be very rewarding and fulfilling. Being able to interact with, mentor, and positively influence the future leaders of our industries and society is an awesome responsibility and one that good recruiters enjoy – and it is honestly one of the best parts of my job.

So, what are the 5 Need-to-Knows about networking with recruiters?

  1. How you are perceived to fit into the organization may very well trump all your other amazing traits, including high GPAs.
  2. Recruiters know the territory and they know the caliber of the candidate they are looking for to fill the role.
  3. Be authentic in your approach. This will go a long way in developing a relationship with a recruiter, and when you have developed a good rapport with a recruiter, it is a lot harder for them to turn you down!
  4. Recruiters love the Penn State College of Engineering and hiring its graduates. Your Nittany Lion pedigree will likely cut through the clutter of other candidates but it’s up to you to show that you live up to that reputation.
  5. Recruiters have a tremendous task of finding future leaders for their organization, but at the end of the day they are real people and are usually pretty interesting if you get to know them.

Good luck in your career search!

We Are…Penn State!


Dr. Dougherty is director, corporate knowledge center for James G. Davis Construction Corporation, Rockville, MD. In this role, he leads the corporate education and knowledge management initiatives of the corporation. An award-winning teacher, Dr. Dougherty served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Building Construction at Virginia Tech and is an invited guest lecturer at several universities.

Dr. Dougherty received his B.A.E. from Penn State and continued his academic career at Penn State and earned his Ph.D. in architectural engineering. Prior to joining Davis, Dr. Dougherty taught for six years in the architectural engineering department at Penn State.

He currently serves on the advisory board at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, is president of the Penn State Alumni Society of Architectural Engineers, is a trustee for the Francis L. Greenfield Laborers’ Joint Training Fund, Washington, DC, and is a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association

Dr. Dougherty was honored as an Architectural Engineering Centennial Fellow by Penn State in 2010 and received the PSEAS Distinguished Service Award in 2013.  Most recently, Dr. Dougherty was named to Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) 2013 Top 20 Under 40 in the Mid-Atlantic and served as the 2013 Commencement Speaker at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

You can connect with Dr. Dougherty on twitter @JUDougherty.

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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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