Building the STEM Workforce of the Future

By Heather Cass

Publications manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

As the number of jobs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields continues to grow, industry leaders and educators are recognizing the need to start “recruiting” early. Very early, as in, elementary-school early.

In the early years, however, “recruiting” looks nothing like people in ties and suits sitting at desks. It looks more like an engineer in a sweatshirt and jeans overseeing a noisy and boisterous game of life-size Jenga, or a high-school robotics team member encouraging kids to pilot a LEGO robot through a maze, or a chemistry major helping kids concoct a bubble they can hold in their hands.

“It starts with getting young children interested in and excited about STEM concepts,” said Melanie Ford, director of Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach efforts and a lecturer in computer science and software engineering.

That’s why, for the last three years, GE Transportation and Penn State Behrend have teamed up to host a STEM Fair that is open to the public and geared toward students of all ages. This year’s fair is Monday, February 20, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Junker Center.

In addition to at least a half dozen GE divisions and nearly twenty Penn State Behrend clubs and organizations, a variety of other Erie STEM companies and organizations, including Erie Insurance, the Erie Maritime Museum, Acutec, and Cummins, will also join in the fun.

“Every table will have some sort of hands-on component or activity,” Ford said. “The funny thing is when younger kids are doing these activities, they don’t even realize that they are experimenting and exploring in chemistry, physics, math, and engineering. They’re just learning that STEM can be fun and challenging.”

They are not the only ones having fun. The business and industry professionals, faculty members, and Behrend students who volunteer at the event are having a blast, too.

“Our students really step-up for our outreach events, and they clearly enjoy sharing their knowledge with the younger generation,” Ford said. “They think what they do is cool and they pass that passion on. The added bonus is the college students end up with a better understanding of these concepts as well.”

Join in the STEM fun – Monday, February 20, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Junker Center

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PLET Students in Germany – Days 6-10

Guest Post by Ian Duchene, Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 20th, thirty-three PLET majors embarked on a 10-day trip to Germany. We asked them to tell us about their journey. In this blog post, students give us a report on the remaining days of the trip:

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Day 6 — Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An early morning checkout from our hostel lead to a couple sleepy train rides to Stüttgart. Upon arrival the group split in two, one exploring the city while the other boarded yet another train to the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Once at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, the students were guided through the spiral halls which showcased the many automobiles produced by the company throughout their long history.

The students who stayed back from the museum went sightseeing in the city with a couple of professors. First, they went to the Schlossplatz and the palace Neues Schloss. Neues Schloss was the seat of the Kings of Wurtemburg and had multiple neat statues.

They also checked out the Schillerplatz, which was named after the famed poet Friedrich Schiller, but today houses many market stalls. For sale at the stalls were a multitude of goods, including exotic fruits and freshly baked bread.

The Stiftskirche, next to the plaza, is a beautiful church that was home to evangelical Lutherans in Stuttgart. Johanneskirche is another church the students visited. It had a spectacular view, showcasing a pond full of ducks and a swan. For lunch, they went to a German brauhaus to eat traditional German food, including spätzle.

After the tour, the two groups met again at the Stüttgart HBF and proceeded to the hostel. The hostel was perched high on a hill which provided a beautiful overlook of the city.

Schlossplatz was a hub for foot traffic as the setting sun lit the city’s small streets just in time for dinner. Shops, restaurants, and historical bullrings created a maze around Schlossplatz. The extra exercise gave way to an early night for the young student globetrotters; although a 6 am wake up call the previous and ensuing day may have been a factor as well.

Ian Duchene, Myles Mike, Eric Santini, and Glenn Spiering 

Day 7 — Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Needing to be at the train station by 8:15 a.m., it was yet another early morning wake-up call. Everyone was reaching for a cup of coffee!

By 10:00 a.m., the class reached the Arburg injection molding manufacturing plant in Loßburg, Germany. Upon arrival, everyone received a name tag with their full name.

At the facility, we went to a brief video presentation which gave an overview of the company and their current strides within the plastics industry. Following the video, we split in two groups to tour the facility.

For a private, family-owned company, their facility was enormous. Everyone was in awe with the size of the facility as well as the project management and creative thinking that goes into running an operation this large. There were automatic robots on rail tracks from the ceiling that would carry parts from one work station to the next. The robots had sensors prevent collisions.

Unfortunately, we were not permitted to take any pictures while in the facility. So, you’ll have to trust us when we tell you that it was incredible.

At the end of the tour, students received a delicious free lunch. Before leaving, everyone was given a parting gift, an Arburg umbrella. We then boarded a train back to Stüttgart where we would yet again split in two groups.

One group would head to the Porsche Museum while the other began their journey to Munich where we will be for the remainder of the trip.

— Ian

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Day 8 — Thursday, October 27, 2016

A 6:45 a.m. train took us to Neuschwanstein Castle in Fußen, Germany. The castle was built for King Ludwig II in 1869 and took many years to build. Unfortunately, he only lived there for 172 days before he was found dead in a nearby pond. To this day, his death is still a mystery. Neuschwanstein became open to the general public within six months of the Kings passing. Since then, it has grown to be a major tourist attraction in Southern Germany. (I wonder if he was killed so they could make a small fortune on tours! LOL.).

Following a tour of the inside of the castle, everyone took a ten-minute hike up a pathway that led to a bridge with a beautiful view of the castle. A foggy morning led to great speculation of whether or not we would be able to see the castle from the bridge. Thankfully, the fog had cleared by the time we reached bridge and the view was astounding…

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Following the trip to Neuschwanstein groups parted ways to explore Munich with many students eating dinner at the original Hofbräuhaus.

— Ian

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Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences

Day 9 — Friday, October 28, 2016

Students had yet another early morning wake up call—this time for Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences. Every student was in shock upon learning that there is no tuition for students of Rosenheim. The only fee is 52€ per semester for activity and facility fees. After viewing two presentations, the students split into two groups to tour the plastics engineering facilities.

Spread across a few different buildings, the labs consisted of a few different injection molding machines, multiple different extruders, thermoformers, a few stamping presses, and something that was new to many of us, a wood chipper and grinder for wood fiber additives.

The plastics program itself seemed very research-oriented and heavily influenced by industry needs. The tour was interesting and it was interesting to learn how another plastics program runs on the other side of the world.

— Ian

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Dachau Concentration Camp today

Day 10 (Final Day) — Saturday, October 30, 2016

Many of the students took the morning to visit the nearby Dachau Concentration Camp from WWII. The weather for the visit was appropriately somber and heavy and the students carried that with them while trying to imagine the horrors that took place on the very ground on which they walked. For the first time on the trip, there was no jubilant conversation or laughter, just simple and respectful silence.

Following the trip to Dachau, the students were granted the day to explore Munich and collect souvenirs for their loved ones back home. There was a mandatory check-in at 6:00 p.m. after which students were led to their final dinner where the professors and Chancellor Ralph Ford were present!

— Ian

 

 

 

 

PLET Students in Germany – Days 4 & 5

Guest Post by Ian Duchene, Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 20th, thirty-three PLET majors embarked on a 10-day trip to Germany. We asked them to tell us about their journey. In this blog post, students Ian  Duchene gives us a report from days 4 & 5 of the trip:

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Day 4

Finally the moment we’ve all been waiting for… Day one of the K-Show. After two short train rides to Düsseldorf, we arrived. Unsure of what to expect, we were in for quite the surprise when we saw the size of the company booths. Many of which are larger than classrooms on campus at Behrend!

With the show spanning 17 buildings, there are endless places for the 33 Behrend plastic enthusiasts that came on the trip to get lost in a plastic engineering wonderland. Many injection molding companies offered samples of parts they were running fresh off the press. A couple of the most popular items include a collapsible step stool and watch from Arburg.

There is so much to do and see; it is impossible to see everything in one day.

Day 5

This was our second day at the K-Show. Even with eight more hours to spend, we still did not see every booth. Each building we went to, we saw different technologies. The size of the show still baffles everyone.

The automation was one thing that blew everyone away. One automation company had a display of the capabilities of their robots where the robots were dribbling and shooting basketballs. Injection molding machine manufacturers were a hit with the class as they were not only revealing new presses but also supplying everyone with cool gear such as watches, stools, screwdrivers, personalized cups, bottle openers, performs for 2-liter bottles, and countless other items.

One thing that many of the students seemed to dislike was the amount of civilians at the show that did not truly appreciate everything. It seemed they were just there for the free gear. Also, with many of the machines, many of these same people were disregarding safety guards and shoving their hands in harm’s way. Our shock was probably reflective of the amount of training we have all gone through, both at Behrend as well as at our internship sites, where safety is stressed more than anything.

Overall, the K-Show was a great experience and we all are itching to go back in four years to see the emerging technologies after we have been in industry for a few years. It was certainly an eye opening experience as well as a great learning experience. Many, if not all, of the students had the opportunity to receive beneficial information about their senior projects from some of the industry’s most experienced and knowledgeable experts.

 ~ Ian 
 

 

Plastics Engineering Technology Students Off to Germany

germany

Guest Post by Ian Duchene and Eric Santini, Plastics Engineering Technology majors

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 20th, thirty-three PLET majors will begin a 10-day trip to Germany. We asked them to send us some photos and tell us about their journey. In this blog post, students Ian  Duchene and Eric Santini give us a preview of what the group will be seeing while overseas.

For the past eight weeks, we students have been meeting in and out of class preparing for the adventure that we will be embarking on.

Upon arrival in Frankfurt, Germany, at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, October 21, we will be gathering ourselves for a tiresome first couple days of fighting off jet lag. The day will begin by boarding a train to travel to Cologne or Köln. The students have been given both Friday and Saturday as Cultural Tour days where they have the flexibility to go to specific museums or local attractions of their choice.

Sunday, October 23 and Monday, October 24 will be spent entirely at the K Show. For those who are unfamiliar with the K Show, it is the world’s largest plastics conference that only takes place once every four years…Yes, it is the Olympics of Plastics Engineering. This conference covers more than 170,000 square meters of floor space with companies presenting new technologies and systems that you should expect to see released the next four years in the industry. This is a great opportunity for all of the seniors attending the trip to network on a global level and potentially line up interviews for full time jobs upon graduation in December or May.

After our time at the K Show comes to a close, we will be traveling to Stüttgart, Germany on Tuesday, October 25 to visit both the Mercedes Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum. The following day will be spent touring Arburg, an injection molding machine manufacturer, a company that has two machines in our lab here on campus. Following the tour, we will then be travelling to Munich or “München” for the final three days of our trip.

On Thursday, October 27, we will have another cultural day to explore the city. Many students are planning to go to Dachau, a nearby Nazi Concentration Camp while others are planning on travelling to Neuschwanstein Castle.

On Friday, October 28, we will tour the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim. The final day of the trip, October 29, will be another cultural day for students to visit any remaining attractions they may have wanted to see, and to prepare for the trip home the next day.

Check this blog in the next 10 days and follow us on our journey!

Alumnus Named Top Innovator by MIT Technology Review

Humans have forty-three muscles in their face that can be combined to create 10,000 unique expressions. Imagine programming a computer to interpret all of them. And, when you’re done with that, add in the other factors that effect social interaction – body language, culture, gender, and more.

Impossible?

That’s a word that doesn’t compute for Dr. Ehsan Hoque ’04, a Penn State Behrend Computer Engineering graduate who was recently featured in MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators under the age of 35. He was recognized for developing two computer technologies— MACH (My Automated Conversation coach) and ROCspeak—that train people to excel in social settings.

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Dr. Ehsan Hoque ’04, a Penn State Behrend Computer Engineering graduate, innovator and assistant professor of computer science at the University of Rochester. Photo credit: Adam Fenster

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Hoque has been turning “impossible” situations into opportunities since his undergraduate days at Behrend.

“A scheduling mix-up required me to take some courses out of order and without having had the recommended prerequisites,” he said. “I really struggled, but it was a good thing because it made me resilient.”

His resiliency was put to the test in his final year at Behrend when his team took on a senior design project that they weren’t sure could be done. Not only did the team complete the project—a robot that could see, hear, and recognize people—but they also won the “Best Design” award.

So when Hoque was a doctoral student at MIT presenting his work on a computer program capable of gauging a user’s mood, and was challenged to expand it, he didn’t balk.

Challenge accepted

“After demonstrating my research at a workshop, a gentleman approached me and said he was very awkward in social situations and wondered if my technology could be used to create some sort of automated program that he could use at home to practice making eye contact and improve his social skills,” Hoque recalled.

As the primary caretaker of his brother who has Down Syndrome, Hoque had witnessed first-hand how difficult social interactions can be for some people. He also suspected that social stigma and shame kept many from seeking help.

“A computer, however, is completely objective, standardized, and non-judgmental,” he said. “It’s a safe place for people with social anxiety or awkwardness to practice and learn.”

Hoque, now an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Rochester, started working on MACH, a system for people to practice social interactions in face-to-face scenarios with a 3D character that can see, hear, and make its own decisions in real time.

Conversations with computers

In MACH, a virtual businesswoman has been programed to recognize the user’s expressions and statements. She can also nod, smile, and even ask questions. At the end of the conversation, the businesswoman gives users feedback about their interpersonal performance, including body language, intonation, and eye contact.

The program went live in 2015 and, to date, more than 20,000 people have used it to improve their social skills. Users can choose to share their results for research purposes and more than half have done so. Hoque uses the data to further improve the program.

“Building the original platform was easy, but then you have to add in all the insights,” he said. “That never really ends. It is an ongoing, evolving process.”

Hoque also designed a pared-down mobile version, Rocspeak, free for anyone with Internet access to use. There’s no animated character; instead, it records video and sends you a report on various aspects of your performance, such as speed of speech, pitch, intensity of smiles, and how often you repeat wrds.

Applied science

Applications for MACH and Rocspeak have gone far beyond the original intended audience. Hoque said his tool has been used by all kinds of people, including customer service representatives, nervous students with looming classroom presentations, and individuals simply preparing for a big date or a job interview. It can also help those who have social anxiety or challenges, such as those with Asperger’s.

Hoque, who earned a master’s degree from the University of Memphis and a Ph.D. from MIT, said he enjoys being able to use his skills to make a real-world impact.

“I have these advanced degrees and technical skills and, if I can use those to solve problems for people, then it is knowledge and time well spent,” he said.

Blast from the past

Check out Hoque’s Penn State Behrend senior project presentation: VisionPSU, a human interactive robot (below).

ehsan-at-psubehrend

Also, peruse these vintage photos, where you may recognize some School of Engineering faculty members, including Dr. Ralph Ford, now Penn State Behrend’s chancellor.

Class of 2016: Meet Michael Pacacha (Mechanical Engineering)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2016 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend.  We sat down to talk to some remarkable seniors before they left school and we’d like to a few of our students who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Michael Pacacha:

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Major: Mechanical Engineering

Hometown: Hunker, Pennsylvania

On majoring in Mechanical Engineering: Growing up, I always enjoyed math and science, so I knew I wanted to pursue a career focused on those. Having participated in the Pennsylvania Envirothon since sixth grade, I was also interested in environmental science/engineering. I went with Mechanical Engineering because it gave me a broader group of industries I could work in.

Campus involvement: I’ve been involved with Lion Ambassadors, Lion Scouts, THON, and Engineering Ambassadors.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I was homeschooled, so college was definitely a new and exciting experience for me. Sometimes people wonder if I socialized in high school. I did; I started working early and was always involved with several organizations.

Traveling engineer: I hope to find a job that offers me the opportunity to travel. I love exploring and going to places I’ve never been before, so finding a position that allows that outside of a professional environment is important to me.

Marathon dancin’ man: In February, I was blessed to represent Penn State Behrend at THON, the University’s 46-hour dace marathon that raises money to help kids with cancer.

Advice for current students: Always be responsible and accountable for your actions. Also, time management skills are extremely important in college!

Michael is planning to work as an engineer in the field of aerospace, defense, or energy following his graduation in May.

Class of 2016: Meet Dan Doleiden (Mechanical Engineering)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2016 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend.  We sat down to talk to some remarkable seniors before they left school and we’d like to a few of our students who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Dan Doleiden:

Dan Doleiden

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Hometown: Allentown

On choosing to major in Mechanical Engineering: It’s a major that offers endless opportunities to specialize. Mechanical engineers are employed in a vast array of exciting fields.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Presenting research at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meetings in both 2014 and 2015.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I’ve been learning the Turkish language over the past year. Also, I’m a registered beekeeper!

On undergraduate research: Assisting my adviser, Dr. Adam Hollinger, with his research on fuel cells really took my education experience to a higher level. (Read all about it the latest issue of Engineering News, Pg. 10-11).

Advice for current students: Get involved in research. It’s a great way to apply concepts you’re learning (in your major and outside of your major), and it’s a great way to network with faculty members and others in academia and industry.

Dan plans to attend graduate school following his graduation in May.