Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Break in Honduras!

Guest  blog by: Mayen Akpan

What group you went with:
RECA Penn State 2013

Where you went:
Roatán, Honduras, Central America

Why you decided to go:
When I found out about this course, via flyer advertisement, a light lit-up within me! This course is the very essence of why I chose my major! I thought that I should be smart, and utilize spring break to enhance myself as an engineering student, and enhance my resume, in terms of experience and gaining valuable skills. I would hope that this experience could allow me a glimpse into the solar industry and conducting solar energy service projects. I was so excited for this opportunity because I have been so conditioned to think that engineering is just math and using this formula for this and using this formula for that and balancing equations and measuring inertia, etc etc. This service project, I truly believe would steer my heart back to the reason why I chose to become an engineer, as well as do what I love to do: learn and help others, especially in lesser-developed places.

Share some general information about the experience or what you did while you were there:
Honestly, one aspect of this trip that I was a bit worried about was the language barrier, and how it may make or break the communication during this trip. Thankfully, our RECA team was blessed with 2 Spanish speakers, who helped us all overcome any language barriers, big or small, which we encountered. I also got to use the little amount of Spanish I have learned from living in Texas, and learned some Spanish too!

Our mission and purpose for going on this trip was install a solar PV (photovoltaic) system on the roof a

community daycare, so that system would provide energy for the establishment, reduce energy costs for them, as well as promote cleaner, more efficient and environmentally-friendly alternative energy in the Honduras. We had three sponsors which made this project possible: RECA Penn State, Vegas Electric (donated the solar array, provided electric work and labor), and Peace Work (teams university student groups with global service projects).  There were many engineering constraints we had to work through, such as the uneven surface for the array, the framing of the array, the size of the array seeming larger than the work space, work space, the language barrier, etc. Our team was given a real engineering problem with real constraints, which made for an exciting challenge. This was like no homework problem I've ever done, but the practice that I've gained being an engineering student at Penn State has equipped for any challenge - yes, even a project that I've never done before, in an entirely different country!
Working in a group...usually not what I look forward to when I have to work in a group for my previous classes. However, all the RECA 2013 students went through a screening process, and were specially selected from a pool of applicants. So, working in a group with students who exemplify what leadership, teamwork, honesty, inclusiveness and kindness was both an honour and a pleasure! We worked through this challenging project together, and that is what made the completion of this project satisfyingly memorable. This project showed me a wonderful preview of what I hope to be doing as a soon-to-be Penn State engineering graduate, and global citizen! This experience was everything I hoped for and more! It went way past my expectations! And I learned that I have a lot to learn about solar energy, but I happy to climb that mountain.

Although overcoming our challenges and constraints was satisfying, and getting past those mountains would make any engineer smile like child on Christmas morning, my favourite parts of the trip was interacting with the Hondurans. Or should we call them, Roatanians? It's fascinating to me living and learning in a new environment. Everyday, I admired the setting, their countless palm trees, the way the noon-sun gently baked my cheeks, and how it shone without shyness - how colourful parrots 'sissonned' from branch to branch like it was a dance, and although there was a language barrier amongst us and the children at the daycare, fun for child under the age of 5 is universal (jumping around, being picked up to act like a plane in the sky, cooking in their play-kitchen, etc).

This experience really did provide me insight on so many aspects of solar energy and life, in general. I am really
thankful to Penn State for providing me this amazing opportunity!!! Once I graduate, I look forward to giving back to the program.

*My advice to students looking to beef up their resume: Take an alternative S.B.S.P.E. (Spring Break Service-Project Experience)! This will be both memorable, valuable, and could possibly earn college credit! This RECA project was through the Penn State course: AE 498E (Design-Build Solar PV: Honduras). And if one just simply wishes to enhance his or her resume, an S.B.S.P.E. can provide resume embellishment without conflicting with any summer plans or employment!

***Our RECA 2013 blog:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do You Have Math Drama?

Some of us are gifted in math- the rest of us work really hard for a good B. The answer is as follows- Start out at a level you understand. Don’t worry that others may be ahead of you. Once you understand a given level, it’s easier to go to the next level. Ignore your high school grades in math. Judge your understanding of the subject on how well you’re doing in the course you’re taking here at Penn State. If you still don’t get it- get tutoring immediately. Tutors cannot work magic at finals time. Start Early.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Break in Alabama!

Mischael Joseph, Engineering Sophomore traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for Spring Break.  Below he writes about his experiences.

So this year I spent my spring on a mission trip to Birmingham Alabama.  I am a part of the Navigators, which is a Christian ministry here at Penn State University Park campus and we as a group went to Alabama for our spring break.  This consisted of 120 students from Penn state and about a dozen caravans of at least 2 cars each. 

Day1: We left for our destination on Saturday at roughly 6am and began what was a 14+ hour car drive. Being in a car with other people for so long can be boring but we kept it interesting. We got to know each other a little better by just talking about ourselves. We played games, listened and sang together to music, listened to a sermon, slept and had deep conversations. This was a fantastic car ride and is often my favorite parts of trips.  My car was one of the last few to arrive at around 9:30 to where we would be staying for the week. For the week we were housed at a church and attached facilities, which the owners allowed us to use for the week. 

Day 2: The next day Sunday we went to the Church of one of the Navigator staff whose hometown this was. We sat separately as much as possible to meet the people of the church. I greatly enjoyed the service and especially the sermon. Then after service, the people of this church showed us what southern hospitality is all about. They provided us a catered lunch that was to die for and showed us what southern cooking was all about. Afterwards we cleaned up and took a group picture.  

After lunch we had some free time for a couple of hours and people did various things such as go shopping or site seeing in Birmingham. Some of us including myself played ultimate Frisbee and enjoyed the weather, which was not extremely warm (50-60 degrees) it was considerably better than State College.  After free time we divided into our small groups which comprised of students of different ages. For this first meeting we just spent time getting to know each other.  Afterwards we had dinner. After finishing our dinner we had our large group meeting where all 120 of us students and faculty met for group worship and to hear from a speaker. After the large group meeting we signed up for the work groups for the week at UCP. UCP(United Cerebral Palsy) is an organization created to support children and adults with disabilities.  A third of us, spent the week devoting quality time with the people from UCP and just showing them love and attention. Another third of us, spent the week as a maintenance crew helping the UCP staff with tasks across their campus. The last third of us worked on a garden project for a school for children with disabilities.

Day 3,4,6:  The days of Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday all went about the same way. The day started at 7:30 with breakfast until 8:15. Also in that time we had to make our packed lunches. After that we had had our TAWGs, which are our time alone with God in which we separate from distractions and seclude yourself and spend some quality time in the word and communicating with God.   At 8:40 we left for our service projects. UCP was actually located across the street from the church we were staying in and it was an easy walk over. I was part of the maintenance crew for these three days and I specifically worked on a project to improve the appearance and function of 2 tractor-trailers. Our task was to wash it, clean it, paint it, put fencing around it, clear out what was inside and in one of them reorganized what was stored, and in the other create useable storage space with shelves. In the end it turned out beautifully.
We would complete our work at 2:00pm. After work we had free time for 2 and a half hours. We did many fun activities that included Frisbee, jogging, insanity, volleyball and an assortment of other activities. Afterwards we got into our small groups.  After small groups we had dinner. Thursday the church who was hosting us served us southern barbecue which was delicious. After dinner was our usual large group meeting and after that was free time to do whatever but lights out was at 11pm.
Tuesday night and all of Wednesday was all free time to do whatever we wanted. Tuesday night almost all of us went to Alabama University to go to the NAV night that the Alabama navigators were having. NAV night is our large group meetings that we have every week. The one at Penn State is on Friday nights. It was an awesome time getting to know some of the Alabama navigators.
Day 5:  We spent this free day by first going back and spending some time on the Alabama campus. We began by going to the BAMA retail store where many of us purchased some Alabama memorabilia. And even met a woman who worked in the store who went to school at Penn State.  We then proceeded to take pictures around their campus and notably around the stadium.  We also hitch hiked on a tour group. We then had lunch at Rama Jama.  Rama Jama is a BAMA dedicated restaurant right across the street from the university.  After touring the campus we went back to Birmingham where we went to the civil rights museum. It was a very eye opening experience and remember the truth of segregation that existed in our country roughly 2 generations ago. We have since come a long way. After reliving the past  we had dinner and more delicious southern barbecue. After dinner went to get some delicious ice cream
Day 7: I spent my last day working at the Garden project site and helped as needed. I transported, shoveled, and leveled gravel. I also helped put up the fence while others worked on the plant boxes, the patio deck and the retainer wall. The project was not completed but we made great progress.
Day 8: We spent this day, Saturday, driving back to campus.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Congratulations to All Award Winners!

As part of our Spring 2013 Engineering Diversity Advisory Board meeting an annual awards dinner was held on Monday, March 18th.    We  honored Dr. David Wormley for his years of dedication to the College of Engineering and the Office of Engineering Diversity.  Shani Allison along with T. Alan Payne and Marc Payne were given the 2013 Engineering Diversity Award.  We will also be presented several prestigious awards to both Multicultural Engineering Program and Women in Engineering Program students. 
Multicultural Engineering Awards

MEP Outstanding Mentor:
Dennis James, Civil Engineering Sophomore, In recognition of his devotion to the success of his peers by leading in action and encouraging them to achieve the highest standards of excellence.
Iman Perry, Security and Risks and Crime, Law & Justice Junior, In recognition of her unselfish dedication of time and wiliness to guide herpeers through difficult challenges with intelligence, patience and perseverance.

MEP Student of the Year:
In recognition of their time less effort and insight for helping other students achieve academic and personal success.  They also assist the MEP office in achieving its mission of recruiting and retention of multicultural engineering students.
Lindeon Davis, Civil Engineering Senior
Rolando Irizarry, Energy Engineering Senior
Lindeon Davis, Valentine Asalu, Dennis James

MEP Outstanding Leader:
Cavon Cormack, Aerospace Engineering Senior, In recognition of his superior leadership qualities and dedication to provide tools for success and sense of community to his Multicultural engineering peers

Women in Engineering Awards

Nadine Barrie Smith Mentor Award:
The Nadine Barrie Smith recipient is an upper-level woman engineer who, like Nadine, has devoted significant time and resources to mentoring other female students in their quests to become better students, people, and engineers.
Karen Bobkowski, Mechanical Engineering Junior
Divya Mehta, Industrial Engineering Junior

WEP Oustanding Facilitators:
This award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of WEP Academic Facilitators who go above and beyond to engage their group members in meaningful enrichment to ensure success in each course.   
 Kristen Myatt, Chemical Engineering Sophomore
Allison Ranslow, Architectural Engineering Sophomore

WEP Oustanding Intern Coordinator:
This award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of a Women in Engineering Program Coordinator who consistently performs at a measurably high level to ensure the success of her project.                                                                                  
Victoria Interval, Architectural Engineering Senior
Joelle Award Recipient:
The Joelle recipient is an upper-level woman engineering who has an outstanding record of leadership, service, and citizenship that positively affect the climate for women in the College of Engineering and/or in the University.
Kylie Sheplock, Biological Engineering Senior

Joelle Award 1st Runners Up:
Sienna George, Chemical Engineering Senior
Sarah Schopman, Bioengineering Senior

Engineering Diversity Award

Shani Allison, Ford Motor Company, In recognition of her years of leadership and mentoring to MEP and WEP students to aspire to be World Class engineers.
                                                                       Dr. Ed Liszka, Kylie Sheplock, Jane Liszka
T. Alan Payne, ARL - Penn State, In recognition of his personal commitment, dedication and passion for the success of current and future Penn State engineers.  You can hear a little of Alan's history from an apperance on   Story Corps: 
Marc Payne, Chevron, In recognition of his intuition and extreme generosity to provide support to future generations of engineers with the creation of the T. Alan Payne Trustee Scholarship in The College of Engineering.

Special Recognition to Dean David N. Wormley

We honored David N. Wormley, Dean of the College of Engineering.  After a 20 year career at the university, Dean Wormley is set to retire this summer.  We cannot begin to express our gratitude to Dean Wormley for all that he has done for the Office of Engineering Diversity, the college and the university as a whole.
Back row (L-R): Valentine Asalu, Lindeon Davis, Rolando Irizarry
Front row (L-R): Cavon Cormack, Serge Gaba, Dennis James, Demetrius Harris

Thursday, March 21, 2013

AP Math is Not the Same!

If your AP course placed you in Math 141 (Calculus II) and you are not comfortable with attempting Calculus II, consider having the AP course removed from your record prior to beginning your freshman year.
Don’t risk damaging your GPA. (Remember, a C is worth 2.0 not 3.0 needed for scholarship recipients and those in limited majors). Once you are placed in  Calculus II, if you find it difficult, you are not permitted to go back and enroll in Calculus I at Penn State. You can choose to begin in Math 140 (Calculus I) instead to secure a good college calculus background. This is the math level where most engineering freshmen start.  You can then complete Math 141 the following semester.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Late Drop Credits are FOREVER Right?!

Each student is given 16 late drop credits when they starting at Penn State. The purpose of these drop credits is to get you out of trouble.  If you are not going to pass a class with a satisfactory grade, you have the option of using some of your late drop credits after the drop/add deadline has passed. This allows you to remove a class from your schedule and avoid bringing down your GPA. 

Use them wisely as you may only drop a total of 16 credits in your 4-5 year academic career!  If your cumulative GPA dictates your acceptance to a controlled major or your financial aid, consider this option to protect your GPA. (i.e. If you feel a C or a D coming on- drop and run!)

There is a LATE DROP DEADLINE DATE. Find out what it is a make a note of it because after that date, you cannot drop any courses.  Keep in mind that you MUST maintain 12 credits to continue receiving financial aid as a full time student! This means that in order to drop, you must start out with more than 12 credits. If you start out with the minimum 12 credits- you cannot drop without a replacement course.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Can I become a student leader?

Many students are involved on campus in one way or another, whether it be in a club sport, a dance team or another student organization. These organizations are great ways to build a new family and work together toward a common cause. In most cases these organizations aren’t run by a professor or administrator, but rather by a student much like you. You might ask, “How is it that a just a normal student can run an organization of their peers?” Well let’s look at the path of one shining example, our very own Ms. Brianna Hammond, the current Secretary of the  National Society of Black Engineers Region II Executive Board.


Brianna’s path to the Regional Executive Board began after a summer picnic when she was introduced to the organization by several upperclassmen. In the fall she attended meetings and made NSBE her second family. By the time the springtime rolled around Brianna had been fortunate enough to attend NSBE conferences in Norfolk, Virginia and Las Vegas, Nevada, and she was ready to take her involvement to the next level. Although initially apprehensive, with the guidance of friends and advisers, she ran for a position on the chapter executive board. In her sophomore year Brianna was the chapter’s Communications Chair and was placed in charge of making updates to the bulletin boards, maintaining the chapter’s social media presence, and creating and distributing the weekly email blast. While challenging, the position taught her several lessons in leadership that she has built on each year since then during her tenure as chapter Vice President and chapter President.  The next big step was the leap from the chapter board to the regional board, which required a different set of skills and introduced the concept of working on a board larger than her local Penn State chapter. Again, though unsure at first, Brianna made the decision to give it a try and was successfully elected as the regional Secretary for the 2012-2013 school year. As with each position she has held, the learning curve was steep but the benefits of the position far outweighed any initial uncomfort.  Now nearing the end of her term, Brianna looks back and had this to say about her experience:


“My experiences in this organization have proved to be some of the most unique and exciting that I’ve ever had! I am honored to come from Penn State’s amazing NSBE family, and am thrilled to have expanded that family to the Region II Executive Board.  I strongly encourage those who are pursuing leadership to take advantage of the opportunities that this organization has to offer.  They truly are one-of-a-kind J


A recent alumna and aspiring graduate student, Brianna is a polished, proven leader prepared to tackle any situation she might encounter in her bright future. While she might seem like it, Brianna is no superwoman. She started as any freshman does, wide-eyed and unsure. Her maturation was the result of solid planning, hard work, and a desire to make a difference in the world. Student leaders are normal people just like you! Hopefully this has encouraged you to consider expanding your leadership experience. If you’d like to contact Brianna, she can be reached at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Some Math About Your Grades

Many people feel that one good semester can redeem them for several bad semesters.  This is not the case! Every grade is factored into your entire GPA, not averaged. Let’s look at the math for a second.

Grade Point Values
















The box above is the assigned point value for every grade that you receive.  (Note: There is no A+, C-, D+, nor D-.) Your GPA is computed as follows:

 S(credit value * grade pt. value)

total number of credits attempted.

For example if a student takes 6 classes worth 18 credits, the GPA for that semester would be computed as follows:

Class    Grade   Credit* Point=   Quality

                       Value    Value    Points
1           A          3 *       4.0 =     12.00
2          A          3 *       4.0 =     12.00
3          A-        3 *       3.67 =    11.01
4          B+         3 *       3.33 =     9.99
5          B          3 *       3.0 =       9.00
6          B          3 *       3.0 =       9.00
Totals                  18      63.00

 63.00/18 = 3.50
First Semester GPA = 3.50

Now let’s take the previous example a step further.

 A student gets the same grades in the previous example for 5 semesters, totaling 90 credits. This is 90 credits worth of 3.50.  Then she has a bad semester where she took 18 credits and received a semester GPA of 1.33 (that’s 24 quality points).   What would happen to the 3.50 cumulative GPA?


 [(5 semesters * 63.00)+ (1 semester * 24)]

(90 + 18 total credits)  =3.14 cumulative GPA

That is right, a 3.14.  The initial hard work (2.5 years) put in by the student was a buffer for the one bad semester. Were this student required to maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA (for a controlled major or as a scholarship recipient), the student would still be eligible for these opportunities.

Keep in mind that the reverse is also true. Imagine how long it would take to raise 90 credits of 2.5 to a 3.0 cumulative GPA.

Every grade you receive is on your permanent Academic Record as long as you are a student at Penn State. (It takes an act of the faculty senate to get one removed.)  Therefore- it is critical that you understand that a D received cannot be replaced by taking the course over. Should you retake the course, your new grade will be factored in to your GPA with everything else. If you do not feel that you are doing well in a course you can use some of your late drop credits to get out of the class.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Life of a Professor!

Dr. Conrad Tucker
Assistant Professor : Engineering Design and Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
Conrad has his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering.  After receiving this degree he went to work as a Process Engineer in a large manufacturing plant in Georgia. Here he learned that industry was not for him and that he wanted more in his life.  He decided to go back to graduate school to pursue his Masters and eventually Doctorate degree.  He received both his masters and PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois. While getting his PhD he worked as a research scientist with a National Lab and earned his MBA.  During his work as a research scientist learned that his calling was in Academia, where he would have the ability to work in a dynamic area and have the creative freedom to pursue his passion.

What was your resume like when you starting applying for an academic appointment?
It took a good 3-4 months to organize everything needed.  I actually ended up making a portfolio to help keep everything in order. This portfolio consisted of my research statement, teaching plans and also a 4-5 page CV. You will be surprised of the types of experiences that you forget to put in.  For example:  I had to opportunity to travel to Japan for 3 months as part of the NSF East Asia Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI)I did this right after my masters, it was actually the first grant that I had ever written and been awarded.

It was an amazing experience; I was able to see how research varies with culture.  I was in a city of about 1 million, Kanazawa. In the city you would swear that they never saw a black man before.  I would be at the gym and I would have these soccer moms coming up to me with a soccer ball for my autograph.  Assuming that since I was a black man I played some sort of sport with ball.  Since my last name is Tucker, I would say hi I’m Conrad Tucker, they would think I’m Chris Tucker.  So I just went with it and signed my autograph C. Tucker!

From a research perspective the Faculty-student relationship is very hierarchical. In the United States, I would ask my student their opinion on a certain research topic.  My experience in Japan was that the faculty gives the student the tools to implement from more of a top down approach.  Creative freedom is ingrained in the American culture, which fosters new ideas, that is very difficult for other countries to replicate.

In Japan, Advisors would be very strict during the day but then they would all go out with their graduate students for drinks after work, joking around and such would take place while they were out.  But the next day it was like that never happened.  Their personal and professional lives are very separate.  I never realized how relevant this experience was and how much I truly learned from it.  That is something simple that I should have added to my materials when applying for an academic position.

What has the tenure process been like for you so far?
Wow, you think when you are getting your PhD that you are busy but when I compare it to what I’m doing now there is no comparison.  But I think the PhD process does gives you the foundation to build upon and the tools to be successful.  I am doing so many different things now, managing more than one grant, graduate students, research and classes.  I feel like I am constantly working, even on the weekends you can find me at Starbucks on Atherton….it is my weekend office!


Do you feel like your work experience in industry has helped you with what you are doing now?
Yes, my work experience in industry allows me to relate theoretical course concepts to real life engineering applications. Everything is a learning experience and while academia is where my passion lies, I do not regret my time in industry and in fact, work closely with industry now as we move to foster stronger industry-research relationships within my research group.


Is this anything you wish you had known before you started this process?
How much paperwork I have to do as a professor.  For example: filling out conference receipts, managing student files, etc. just things to distract you from your research.  As a grad student you get shielded from a lot of the administrative work, which is beautiful.  If you want to go into academia, cherish these years because this is the time where you can do research at a purely uninterrupted level.


What is your professional goal going forward, in the next 5 years? I always want to have some type of involvement with research.  I learned with my MBA that I aspire to something more than management.  But I do have a goal of winning a Noble Prize.  That may seem a little farfetched at this point but I believe you have to set these global visions for yourself. I feel like I’ve been provided the tools to be successful but I don’t want to settle with just having the tools. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m just sitting in the past.


 Why did you come to Penn State? I had a couple of academic interviews back to back, one at Penn State and another highly reputable institution.  There was such a contrast in the collaborative work ethic between Penn State and the other school.  I knew immediately that this was the place where I wanted to be.  If you aren’t surround by people who share your passion and you can work with easily you won’t be able to grow.  


What is the academic interview process like? The academic interview process is grueling, it’s a 3 day process and bathroom breaks are few and far between!  Back to back to back interviews over the 3 days.
They pick you up from the airport on Day 1 and immediately the interview starts, drop your stuff off at the hotel and then go to dinner. The dinner is also an interview where they ask you to tell them about yourself etc.  There are these nuances that they are looking for because the university is making a huge investment and they want to make sure that this person has a vision that is consistent with the university.  It’s gets to a certain point where everyone being interviewed has a great resume but do you fit personally with everyone you will be working with.
So the dinner ends at midnight, then at 6am they pick you up for breakfast and then everything continues, from there it’s just a day full of interviews.  You meet with each faculty member over the course of the 3 days, then their opinion is weighed when making the decision of who to hire because you are going to be working very closely with these people and it has to be a good fit both professionally and personally.  This is different than in industry where a manager will interview but then you have to work and get along with everyone else.
The academic interviewers  ask questions about big pictures , where you see yourself etc.  As opposed to industry interviews which are basically behavioral questions, what would you do in this situation?
With the academic interview you also give a job talk, which is basically in front of the classroom giving a presentation.  They are observing your ability to communicate and your scientific depth.


 Did they expect you to extend the research that you were already working on? How does it work on terms of your research direction?
What graduate school provides to you is the foundation.  I have been out for less than 2 years and the path that my research is taking is completely different than what I was doing for my PhD.  You have the tools, and whatever direction you take your research is up to you.  During an interview process they will ask you how you plan to differentiate yourself from your advisor and it’s good to have an idea of the path you want to take.

Do you have to find places where your research matches the ground work that is already in place at an institution?
The most important thing is to be yourself.  You can’t tell people what they want to hear; you have to be yourself.  If you tell them what they want to hear and you end up there not doing something you want to do then you will be unhappy and the people you are working for will be unhappy.  If you interview for a place and you don’t like it, don’t go there and it’s best for both.  Be yourself and go somewhere that you are wanted and you will feel supported.