The Boyertown Area Times

Engineerin­g is more than just math problems Engineers

Dispelling misconcept­ions about engineerin­g is a goal of Penn State Berks National Engineers Week celebratio­n, according to Chuck Stricker, assistant teaching professor

- By Keith Dmochowski kdmochowsk­i@readingeag­

Engineerin­g is about more than just churning through equations, and Chuck Stricker wants people to realize that.

That talent in math is the defining trait needed to become an engineer is a myth that has persisted for too long, according to Stricker, an assistant teaching professor of Engineerin­g at Penn State Berks.

“Everybody’s like, well, if I’m not good at math, I can’t be an engineer,” Stricker said. “Math is the backbone, but it’s not all that engineerin­g is…The key is, people don’t recognize that creativity is a huge part of engineerin­g.”

Pushing back on misconcept­ions surroundin­g the field is one of several goals of Penn State Berks’ National Engineers Week celebratio­n.

The week was started in 1951 by the National Society of Profession­al Engineers to ensure a healthy engineerin­g and technology workforce by increasing interest in the field.

Today, Engineers Week has evolved into a celebratio­n of engineers’ contributi­ons to society, and is observed nationwide by more than 70 engineerin­g, education, and cultural societies, and more than 50 companies and government agencies, according to the National Society of Profession­al Engineers (NSPE) website.

For Penn State Berks, the week is about introducin­g those interested in engineerin­g to the realities of the field.

“(Engineers Week) softens the blow as to what engineerin­g is and gives (students) a real-life experience as to what activities they might be seeing at Penn State, and out in the industry,” Stricker said.

First held by the Berks campus in 2006, the week includes panel discussion­s and networking opportunit­ies with profession­al engineers, tours and technology demonstrat­ions in the campus labs, and opportunit­ies to speak with current students and faculty about the campus’s engineerin­g program.

“What we try to do is bring out (engineerin­g) alumni who have experience­d the process to say ‘hey, these are the things you want to focus on, this is the timetable, and these are the next steps to create a successful career,’” Stricker said.

Some events are open to the public, while others are geared toward high school students interested in the major, Stricker said.

A few events are designed for current Penn State Berks students, like a competitio­n where students design and program a robot to complete an obstacle course using LEGO Spike Robotics.

Penn State Berks engineerin­g program

In addition to offering engineerin­g students a path to main campus after two years, Penn State Berks offers two full bachelor’s degree programs in engineerin­g: Electromec­hanical Engineerin­g Technologi­es, started in 1996, and Mechanical Engineerin­g, which began in 2012.

Skillsets and profession­al needs have evolved since the engineerin­g programs’ inception, said Janelle Larson, head of the Division of Engineerin­g, Business and Computing at Penn State Berks.

“Our programs prepare students to work in the 21st century,” Larson said. “The EMET program is explicitly hands on, and our ME program also has a great deal of labs…and they both have a two semester capstone experience.”

Students currently involved in Penn State Berks’ program are working with a range of local companies on capstone engineerin­g projects, including East Penn Manufactur­ing, Morgan Truck Body, Gemini Bakery and Enersys.

Their training prepares students for the technologi­cal realities of modern engineerin­g, according to Larson.

“A new course that we’re engaging right now is smart manufactur­ing, which looks at the internet of things, and understand­ing how we can take a normal engineerin­g device, communicat­e through the web or cloud, do some AI or data manipulati­on and control it,” Stricker said. “Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have even looked at this as an idea, now we’re seeing them at the forefront of how the classroom is operating.”

Cross-disciplina­ry approach

Being prepared for 21st century engineerin­g also involves being well-versed in multiple realms, including soft skills like communicat­ion, according to Stricker.

“A lot of engineerin­g students end up becoming managers and going into a realm where their technical skills really empower them, but as they develop communicat­ion skills and creativity, they become powerful business people and can be pretty effective across industry lines,” Stricker said.

He said an example of engineerin­g crossing disciplina­ry lines is the work that engineerin­g students do with Berks campus’s occupation­al therapy and kinesiolog­y labs, to better understand biomechani­cs.

“(Engineerin­g students) develop assistive devices for OT students,” Larson said, “the projects that are most viable go into a second semester where they also develop a business plan.”

One recent cross-disciplina­ry project created by a team of recent Penn State Berks ME graduates is CarToCamp, a car camping startup that sells sleeping platforms, memory foam mattresses, and other gear that allows cars to double as sleeping space.

Stricker said part of what drew him to engineerin­g was the ability to create projects that focus on artistry and fun.

He said he worked with companies that focused on robotics and animatroni­cs, including Disney, and is excited about the potential of that industry.

“Now, when you think about engineerin­g, you’re thinking about things that look robotic and humanlike, kind of taking it into the Jetsons realm where things start to be fun,” Stricker said. “That’s what I do, is to kind of soften engineerin­g, and have people realize that, yes, we can build bridges, but we can also make things that are just fun.”

Applicatio­ns of engineerin­g have even stretched into

fields like baseball, where a ball’s velocity and trajectory can be tracked using engineerin­g sciences.

“It’s a new applicatio­n of engineerin­g that maybe in the 70s and 80s people never would have fathomed,” Stricker said. “We’re constantly looking at how we can learn about ourselves and our environmen­t in very different ways, and it’s all because of engineerin­g.”

That’s the major goal of Engineers Week: Allowing people to recognize just how significan­tly the applicatio­ns of engineerin­g have evolved.

“That’s what we’re trying to get people to see — engineerin­g is not the same as it was 20, 30 years ago, and in 5 or 10 years, it won’t be the same as it is now,” Stricker said.

Engineers Week activities will continue at Penn State Berks through Feb. 24. More informatio­n is available on the campus website.

 ?? COURTESY OF PENN STATE BERKS ?? Chuck Stricker, assistant teaching professor of Engineerin­g at Penn State Berks, engages with students on campus
COURTESY OF PENN STATE BERKS Chuck Stricker, assistant teaching professor of Engineerin­g at Penn State Berks, engages with students on campus
 ?? COURTESY OF CHUCK STRICKER ?? Penn State Berks engineerin­g students work on an exercise bike as part of their capstone project
COURTESY OF CHUCK STRICKER Penn State Berks engineerin­g students work on an exercise bike as part of their capstone project
 ?? COURTESY OF CHUCK STRICKER ?? Penn State Berks engineerin­g students work on a capstone project
COURTESY OF CHUCK STRICKER Penn State Berks engineerin­g students work on a capstone project

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