Resilience Pays Off for Engineering Students

Plans change but summer learning experiences continue

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States, it disrupted not only the last few weeks of the academic semester for Penn State Behrend students, but also summer plans, too. With activity across the country and most of the world at a standstill, job offers, internships, and research opportunities were suddenly vanishing or being put on hold.

Even in a time as tumultuous as this, though, persistence and ingenuity pay off, and many Behrend students have been able to find ways to continue learning and getting hands-on experience from home this summer.

Caralyn Harben

Caralyn Harben, intern at Northrop Grumman

Caralyn Harben, a junior majoring in Software Engineering, had been looking forward to spending her summer in sunny California working at Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach location before the coronavirus conspired to keep her at home.

While she laments the location change, she is thankful to still have the opportunity to support the company’s Space Systems division as a software engineering intern. 

“I was lucky that Northrop Grumman decided to continue their internship program with many of us, including me, working remotely,” Harben said. “They shipped my work computer and additional hardware to me.”

In addition to her internship duties, Harben is an active member of the company’s intern council where she helps plan various virtual social events to keep her peers connected.

“I’m having a lot of fun with the work and the council, and it’s been a blast learning more about the company as a whole,” she said.

Micahel Magnotti

Michael Magnotti, paid research assistant

Industrial Engineering sophomore Michael Magnotti wants to get as much hands-on experience as he can before he graduates from Behrend. “Research is all about learning and I love to learn,” said Magnotti, who is also a Schreyer Honors scholar.

So when he learned about a summer research opportunity with Dr. Faisal Aqlan, associate professor of industrial engineering, and Carol Putman, assistant teaching professor of management, Magnotti teamed up with two other classmates, Samantha Melnik and Cameron Butts, to work on the project that focuses on applying an abstract concept to everyday business processes.

“Our team is working on developing a concept relationship map and an implementation plan for Industry 4.0 in manufacturing and the service industry,” Magnotti said. “First, we identified the main pillars of Industry 4.0 and how they are relate to one other and then we developed a visual representation of this relationship and created a simulation model for a small-scale implementation of Industry 4.0.”

It’s a paid position, which Magnotti said he appreciates in light of the time it requires, and it’s one that was easily adapted to an at-home work format. The Penn State Behrend Undergraduate Student Summer Remote Research Fellowship he received requires the research work be completed with software and tools that are free and available to the public on the Internet.

“You would think a virtual research experience like this would be mostly writing, but we have many different physical deliverables as well as simulation programs that allow us to be more physically creative instead of solely reading and writing every day,” Magnotti said. “The experience is incredibly exciting, even with the reading and writing, and I am so grateful to Penn State Behrend for giving students opportunities throughout these uncertain and stressful times.”

Rebecca Grey

Rebecca Grey, intern turned researcher

Rebecca Grey, a senior Mechanical Engineering major, had a summer internship lined up, but it was rescinded due to the pandemic.

“When my internship was canceled, I figured that I would probably spend my summer doing research since I am a member of the Schreyer Honors College and was beginning to transition research into work for my honors thesis,” Grey said.

But then, Dr. Charlotte de Vries, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, told her about the Multi-Campus Research Experience for Undergraduates (MCREU) organized by University Park.

Grey had worked with de Vries on a research project investigating the use of 3D printers to produce accessibility aids to support aging in place. Aging in place is an initiative largely centered on improving home accessibility to allow older adults to live in their homes longer. 

Grey submitted a last-minute application and was accepted as the program was approved to go fully virtual for the summer. 

“I am still doing research with Dr. de Vries and was also given another mentor for the MCREU program, Swapnil Sinha, who is a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at University Park,” Grey said. “My research has now transitioned from what is being printed on a 3D printer to focusing on improving the overall usability of the physical 3D printer.”

To that end, Grey is working on developing guidelines for 3D printers governed by the principles of universal design, a concept that focuses on product and building design that is accessible and user-friendly for individuals of varying ages and physical abilities 

Grey said the project is going well and she has benefitted from having a second mentor.  

“I am reviewing a lot of literature, analyzing various aspects of 3D printers that cause issues, looking for areas of improvement, and designing a survey for future use to gain more perspective on usability issues that others have dealt with,” she said. “In a remote research environment, it has been great working with a professor I know and have previously conducted research with. Having an additional mentor as well has been helpful in bringing a new perspective to my project and extra tips on conducting effective research.” 

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