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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Entrepreneurial Cross-Training – More Questions than Answers

by Dr. Tim Simpson

So what does it really take to get a good idea to market? How much of that can I do as a faculty member and how do I avoid conflicts of interest with my research and my students? How should I be advising my graduate students to take their ideas forward and what should I be teaching undergraduates interested in design innovation?

These are the sorts of questions that I’m investigating by immersing myself in our local entrepreneurial ecosystem during my sabbatical. I’m hoping that this “entrepreneurial cross-training” will provide insight not only into the problems that we encounter (as faculty and as students) in bringing ideas to market but also into the “innovation assets” that are available to help at Penn State and in our local ecosystem.

What I have seen thus far is both exciting and overwhelming. It is exciting because there is considerably more going on now than there was five years ago, let alone last year. At the same time, it is overwhelming because there is so much going on across departments and colleges. While small pockets of activities may be coordinated, there is little to no coordination of these entrepreneurial activities across the university, which is both good and bad. Good because we need to explore many different models for innovation and tech transfer in order to learn what works best within our institutional culture. It’s bad when efforts are duplicated and resources are wasted, or we miss synergies between those with the passion and energy to get things done and those trying to effect change. Like any other large organization that struggles with getting everyone on the same page, we need to find new ways to communicate effectively about something that was on few people’s radar screens last year.

So while I don’t have all the answers, and I never will, I at least know the questions to ask. This is where learning starts—when you realize that you don’t know something, and you can start to ask questions and find the right people to answer them. To share where I am at in my learning, here are the questions you should be asking yourself:

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students


Finding the solutions is the tough part. It requires work and lots of networking, and then more networking, and more networking, which is what I’m spending most of my time doing on sabbatical. I’m co-working in New Leaf, helping organize events for, advising the development of networking website for State College, HappyValleyStartUps, helping a former graduate student launch and grow DecisionVis, participating in TechCelerator and “triage sessions” to see how Ben Franklin and SBDC work with faculty, sitting in on Cool Blue Mentoring meetings to see how MIT’s Venture Mentoring Services gets adapted to our ecosystem, and attending SCORE workshops to meet others in the community, shadowing local entrepreneurs and start-ups to hear their stories, talking to students about commercializing their ideas, co-developing a product based on what I’ve learned, and figuring out what and how to bring all this back into Penn State to benefit our faculty, students, and tech transfer opportunities because we are lagging behind many other universities.

Why are we behind? It’s not for lack of trying mind you. We have a phenomenal entrepreneurial ecosystem emerging here, and everyone is doing the best they can with the time they have. If this interests you, then get involved and share your ideas and input on ways to improve our ecosystem and help answer the questions you have about getting your ideas to market.

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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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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