WVU engineering students spend summer seeking opportunities
Opportunity comes to those who seek it. As West Virginia University engineering students flock back to campus, many will arrive from opportunities they found in the form of internships, work experiences and fellowships that took them all around the world. With new-found knowledge and once-in-a-lifetime stories to tell, these students made an impact on the companies they worked for, the communities they visited and their future careers over the past three months.
He knew he wanted to study mechanical and aerospace engineering long before he came to WVU. He felt a deep connection to Morgantown after his first visit, and after endless opportunities, the connection has only grown stronger.
The latest opportunity Billups found was a Gas Turbine Industrial Fellowship through the Southwest Research Institute. Billups was placed with program partner Siemens Energy in Orlando, Florida, where he worked as a researcher in gas turbine heat transfer.
Billups, from Mechanicsville, Virginia, worked on computational fluid dynamic modeling and experimental research, which meshes well with his previous undergraduate research on film-cooling technology.
"My summer experience expanded my understanding of the technologies implemented in today's gas turbines," said Billups. "Working at Siemens has further shaped my thought- and decision-making processes and has increased my level of comfort in a research role.
"I owe so much of my growth as a student and researcher to the supportive community I have found at WVU and the opportunities I have been presented with as a Mountaineer. Moving forward, I hope to continue to embody the Mountaineer spirit and never stop climbing."
Senior chemical engineering major Jamin Jones has had his sights set on Dow Chemical Company for years. After applying for a Dow internship through MountaineerTrak, Jones spent the summer at Dow's Institute Manufacturing Site in South Charleston. His work focused in polyethylene oxide, a water soluble polymer most notably used in the pharmaceutical industry to make time-released capsules.
"Working at Dow gave me the opportunity to watch everything that I have learned in school come to life before my eyes," said Jones, a Kenna native. "There are so many intangibles that cannot simply be picked up in the classroom. Being in the field has been really rewarding."
The internship has also given Jones the ability to expand his connections through Dow's New Professional Network, a program that allows employees to participate in various in-work and after-hours activities in the community. Becoming a part of the team at Dow has been one of Jones' favorite parts of the experience.
"I loved seeing how the projects I worked on impacted the prosperity of my colleagues, the company and the industry," he said. "The people I met and the work I have been a part of have not only given me an advantage for career options post-graduation but also provided me with meaningful experiences and memories that I will never forget."
While they study different disciplines, John Harper and Zane Troutman were brought together this summer through a unique opportunity with the Aleutian Housing Authority in Palmer, Alaska. The Aleutian Housing Authority looked to WVU's Constructed Facilities Center for help building rammed earth homes, a technique that uses natural, raw materials to build walls that last far longer than traditional methods. Harper, a graduate student from Atlanta, Texas, studying civil engineering with a focus in composites, found out about the opportunity through CFC's director and Wadsworth Professor of Civil Engineering, Hota GangaRao.
"I had previously expressed interest in getting a head start on research before classes started in the fall, so Dr. GangaRao asked me if I would be interested in this particular project," said Harper. "It focused on the construction and monitoring of the energy efficiency of the stabilized rammed earth house, which sounded interesting, so I signed on."
Troutman, a junior chemical engineering major, found out about the project through a course on Native American studies. The Native American studies program at WVU promoted the project to students because of the Aleutian Housing Authority's designation as the sanctioned housing entity for the 12 federally recognized Native American Tribes within the Alaskan region.
After talking to GangaRao, Troutman, from Freeport, Pennsylvania, agreed to be part of the project. "I couldn't turn down an opportunity to be a part of a project that will have a great impact on a community in a part of the world I may never have seen otherwise."
The duo spent weeks in the labs on campus before heading to Alaska. They created test cylinders and sample walls, gathered raw materials and evaluated their data. Once in Alaska, all their preparation was put to the test.
"Every single day was something new with this project," said Harper. "We learned the fundamentals of safely setting up site equipment and machinery, assembling the rammed structures, clearing and leveling a site and everything in between."
Now back in West Virginia, Harper will help remotely monitor the house's embedded temperature and humidity sensors to evaluate its performance through the tough Alaskan winter and both will stay in touch with the crew finishing the house.
"This opportunity was so important to me because I got to be a part of something that is new, sustainable and revolutionary to the construction industry," said Troutman. "This house has the capability to last for hundreds of years and I'm proud that I was able to be a part of that."
"I chose to study engineering because my deepest desire is to help others," said Harper. "This experience has allowed me to provide services that will improve and impact hundreds of people's lives. I hope that I can have more hands-on opportunities that will make as big of an impact as this project."
Dual computer and electrical engineering major Tyrone Croswell, from Accokeek, Maryland, had his work cut out for him this summer at his internship with Noblis, a nonprofit research corporation with clients in the federal, state and private sectors.
Croswell's internship responsibilities included performing benchmarking analyses that compared the performance of databases provided web development support utilizing the open source web framework, Django.
Working out of Bridgeport, Croswell was part of a small, 15-person team that worked on various projects. Many of Noblis' employees work remotely or at the company's headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.
"The project I worked on has been really rewarding," said Croswell. "It was a great experience to use the skills I have learned to solve real-world problems and contribute meaningful work to the team."
So rewarding, in fact, that Croswell has been offered a full-time position with the firm upon his graduation next May.
"I worked hard at my position and kept learning. I've acquired many technical and business skills as a result of my internship that will help me in my career. I wanted to do well not only for myself, but as a representative of the Mountaineer community, as we all benefit from each other's success."
Senior mining engineering major David Kuegler didn't wait for a summer internship to find him. He knew he wanted to intern with J.H. Fletcher and Company, a mining equipment manufacturer. Kuegler was attending an industry conference in Greenbrier County when he met an executive at the firm. After introducing himself and explaining his desire to work at Fletcher, he sent over his resume and the rest was history.
Kuegler spent his summer traveling to underground mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland to discuss the operation of Fletcher's equipment, making sure the maintenance departments were happy with the machines. When necessary, Kuegler diagnosed and fixed problems with the equipment.
"Getting to go underground and meet the mine employees that operate and work on these machines was the best part," said Kuegler. "I've been able to put my problem-solving skills to the test in this position and it's helped me become faster and more knowledgeable so that I can find solutions for our clients."
The internship also showed Kuegler, from Finksburg, Maryland, a side of the industry he never knew he was interested in.
"The machinery and maintenance aspects of mining engineering aren't factors that are regularly discussed in the classroom," said Kuegler. "I now have a huge appreciation for this side of the industry that I never had experienced before."
Kuegler finished his internship with a deeper appreciation and a better understanding of the mining industry. Picking up the jargon used in the industry, learning the roles and responsibilities that fall under each employee's title and observing the day-to-day working that happened underground have given Kuegler more confidence in the field.
"This summer has affirmed my pride to be involved with the coal mining industry and the mining engineering program at WVU. Both have a long heritage within the state and I look forward to being a part of that moving forward."
Nicole Babb always knew she wanted to study abroad, but never found the right program that meshed with her industrial engineering major. Determined to spend time outside of the United States during her college career, Babb, from Old Tappan, New Jersey, spent her downtime networking. She eventually connected with someone at East Asia Composites, a composite manufacturing company located in Zhuhai, China, about 45 miles southwest of Hong Kong and 8,000 miles from Morgantown.
"I went through three rounds of interviews over the course of about two months," said Babb. "Once I was offered the opportunity, I jumped at it."
Babb was involved in multiple projects and was given a multitude of tasks at East Asia Composites. Some days were spent in the research and development stage of projects, while others were spent on the manufacturing floor watching her designs come to life.
Babb was also taking summer courses from WVU's online program, managing to submit homework on time despite a 12-hour time difference. Another challenge for Babb was communicating with her team because of the language barrier.
"I didn't speak an ounce of Mandarin going into this internship," said Babb. "Not only the language, but the ideologies that the Chinese culture is based around are much different than ours in the United States, so I had to quickly learn how to fit in and cope with the culture shock to be able to communicate and effectively do my job."
For Babb, the exposure to real-world projects and technologically advanced concepts was the most rewarding part of her internship. Going into her final year of classes, Babb has an enhanced knowledge of engineering principles and what is required to succeed in the business.
"As a woman majoring in a STEM field, I felt a pressing desire to prove myself in this male-dominated field," said Babb. "I've held a fascination with science from a young age, and this internship helped me prove to myself that I have been able to turn that fascination into the knowledge I'll need to have a successful career."
Another opportunity found through MountaineerTrak took sophomore petroleum and natural gas engineering major Bruce Ensley, Jr., from Richmond, Virginia, to Casper, Wyoming, to work as a field engineering intern with Chesapeake Energy. The first half of the internship operated on a rotational schedule, which allowed him to see all aspects of the business. He spent the second half of his internship helping Chesapeake's team complete a facility design.
"From pad surveying, to drilling, to completions and productions, I learned what each job and operation entailed," said Ensley. "I had the ability to actually see everything we have talked about in the classroom, and ask Chesapeake's experienced employees any question. I was given the opportunity to learn as much as I wanted."
Each week spent with a different group of Chesapeake's staff learning the ins-and-outs of the industry verified Ensley's decision to choose the PNGE program at WVU.
"This internship confirmed that I chose the right field to study," said Ensley. "I was able to visualize my future during this internship and it's made me look forward to working in the field upon graduation."
For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources:
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