Engineers Without Borders Returns to Kenya

After traveling over 7,900 miles on March 15th, a group of students and mentors walked out into the warm night air, standing just outside the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The group was Engineers Without Borders from Hope College (EWB-Hope). The team of 5 students, Chris Rexroth, Annie Dankovich, Matthew Dickerson, Krista Nelson, and myself, Graham Gould, accompanied by mentors Adam Peckens and Dale Nowicki, were headed to Bondo, Kenya to monitor and assess the water systems that were installed in the community. In 2017, EWB-Hope worked with the community of approximately 500 people to install two wells and a rainwater catchment system. Prior to Hope EWB-Hope’s involvement, there had been no clean water source within the community boundaries.

EWB-Hope members inspecting components of previously installed rainwater catchment system

This year’s trip focused on monitoring and assessing to ensure the upkeep of the current systems, as well as determining the feasibility of installing another well. The first order of business was the opening meeting, during which the overall trip goals and happenings in the past year were discussed. The next few days were spent inspecting the water systems by checking if all of the components still worked properly and operated smoothly.

Hope student, Graham Gould, and interpreter, Paul O’lango, conducting a well head survey

Water quality testing was also completed to ensure the water being provided was actually clean and free of contaminants, such as fecal coliforms. One morning during well hours, (wells are only open for a certain period of time) teams were assigned to each well to conduct surveys of the community members using the wells. The goal of the surveys was to understand water accessibility and water usage. The chapter could finally collect data and see firsthand the changes in the community due to the installed systems.

Community members collecting water from a well installed by EWB-Hope

Personally, it was humbling to see a young woman, the same age as me, walk for half an hour one way carrying 3 yellow 20 liter bins to fill for her family’s daily water needs. She would then have to make several trips back and forth to bring all the water home, as one 20 liter can of water was heavy enough for one trip. This made me really consider the ease of access to water that we have in the U.S., which so many of us take for granted, and put into perspective how valuable of a resource this is.

In-country hydrogeologist conducting a resistivity survey

EWB-Hope is also looking at the possibility of installing a third well in the community, in a region that still lacks access to water, termed Bondo C. To properly assess the need, the team mapped potential locations using a GPS and also worked with an in-country hydrogeologist who conducted hydrogeological surveys. These surveys use resistivity to map the ground layers straight down from one point. They can be thought of as a sonar system, as two metal probes connected to a machine send a current from one to the other. The day before the hydrogeologist came, community members showed the team around the Bondo C region to locate possible sites. That evening the team looked at five potential locations and narrowed it down to three based on location relative to other wells and higher population density areas, elevation from sea level, and ease of access for drilling. The data from the surveys at these three locations is now being analyzed by students back at Hope College.

Team members Annie, Krista, Chris, Matthew, Graham, and Dale with children from the community.

Going on this trip made me realize just how much we take clean water for granted. In the U.S., it is not a big deal to leave the faucet on while doing something else, which wastes so much water. In Bondo, every drop has to be earned by going to wherever clean water can be found, sometimes miles away. While driving through the outer regions of Kenya, we saw people cleaning their clothes, bathing, and gathering water from a cloudy, brown river. There was no sparkly bottom to this river, making us realize just how lucky we really are. Clean water is still very much a valuable resource.

From an engineering standpoint, the trip impacted me as I saw the results of the chapter’s previous and continued hard work in Kenya. Through this experience, I was able to observe firsthand what is only in writing back home and gain a clearer perspective of the situation. To future students considering a trip like this, I would say go! Opportunities like this truly change your view on life.

Written by Graham Gould.  Graham is a freshman engineering student at Hope College.  He became involved in EWB during his first semester at college.

Alumni Highlight: Daniel Langholz (’14)

Standard profile/headshot of Daniel Langholz smilingDaniel Langholz (’14) graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in mechanical engineering. After graduation, he attended the University of Michigan where he received his Masters in Aerospace Engineering. Then in early 2016, he joined Lockheed Martin Space Systems where he is currently a Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Engineer in Sunnyvale, CA. While at Lockheed, Daniel has enjoyed working on Project Orion, NASA’s future exploration vehicle for deep space missions. His team worked on the attitude control motor for the launch abort system. He was involved in the design of the control system through preliminary and critical design review and formulation of a testing and verification plan, which involved testing of the solid rocket motor, hardware integration with NASA, and qualification testing (vacuum, thermal, vibrations, etc). The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Daniel.

What do you find most exciting or interesting about the work that you do?

Being involved in a rocket test fire is certainly the most exciting thing I have participated in. What is most interesting to me, however, is the design of the control system. Taking a diverse set of requirements and ideas, then actually designing and building a system that goes all the way from a sketch on a whiteboard to a physical working device will always be incredibly gratifying to me.

Image from a previous pad abort test for the Orion program. The exhaust at the top is the attitude control motor, the jets in the middle are from the abort motor, and at the bottom is the Orion capsule itself. Photo courtesy Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

Being involved with music at Hope was definitely essential to my time there as it provided a release valve from all of the engineering work—it was great to be able to do something different. However, my involvement in Engineers Without Borders was probably one of the most influential activities I participated in. That club, more than anything else, really showed me how uplifting engineering can be. A well-designed water distribution system can drastically decrease disease, a road can transform a region, or a cell phone tower can help lift a town out of poverty. No matter where you go, engineers are essential.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

Without a doubt, late night homework sessions in the CAD/computer lab. By that time, people would generally be finished with the easy problems and a lot of the work was a group effort. In addition to just being more fun than working by yourself, those group efforts were so much more like actually working. The problems I work on with my team now are hard—otherwise somebody else would have done it already. Learning how to figure out those hard and seemingly impossible problems in a group was one of the best preparations I could have had.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I quickly figured out in internships and my current job that the hardest part of engineering really isn’t the straight engineering. It’s the communication, taking the need and figuring out a set of requirements that can be solved with engineering techniques, organizing those ideas into an actual design, and giving clear feedback on those ideas. Being able to learn in a liberal arts environment helped with those essential parts of engineering that aren’t math and science.

What advice would you give to current students?

Get involved! Most people need to do something outside of engineering—otherwise you go a bit insane. For your career and experience, doing something engineering related that’s not class is also essential. A lot of hiring managers place much more importance in a committed EWB or FSAE experience than your GPA. Working as an engineering intern is also tremendously important. I had two internships in very different engineering fields, and decided I wasn’t interested in those fields in the future. But it gave me great experience, and more importantly, helped me figure out what to aim towards instead. Hope might not have the sheer number of on-campus opportunities as a big school, but it’s so much easier to get involved in the opportunities it does have and tailor them towards your individual interests. And if you’re looking for something different and don’t know what to do, ask a professor. You’ll never have as good of an opportunity to branch out as you will now, and professors at Hope are always willing to help.

 

 

Aerospace Aspirations

A typical semester for Hope College engineering student Samuel Bachwich (‘21) includes a full load of challenging courses across campus and long hours working on the Formula SAE team. During the fall 2018 semester he added one more activity to his schedule: Sam had the privilege of being a member of NASA’s inaugural L’SPACE Academy. Sam is passionate about spaceflight and space exploration, so when he heard about the program from Hope professor, Courtney Peckens, he applied right away and was accepted about a week later.

Sam Bachwich working on CAD models for a Mars lander.

As an increasing number of NASA employees retire, L’SPACE Academy is an attempt by NASA to prepare students for careers in the space industry. The academy is officially linked to NASA’s LUCY mission to the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter (projected to launch in 2021), and is two semesters in length, with the first semester being Level 1 of the program and the second semester being Level 2. Acceptance into Level 2 is partly contingent on each individual’s performance in the Level 1 group project, as well as, each group’s performance as a whole. Although it is not a class worth any college credit, the L’SPACE Academy does award a certificate to those that satisfactorily complete the program. The real benefit, though, is the extraordinary experience of learning from NASA engineers and the opportunity to work on a NASA directed project.

During Level 1 this past fall, all participants used video chat software to meet one night a week throughout the semester to view a 90-minute presentation given by NASA. Each week featured a different speaker, including, leading engineers and managers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. Participants (about 300 overall) were grouped into teams of nine students based on their time zone and fields of study and given a project for the duration of the semester. Last semester’s project was to write a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) document for a hypothetical mission to Mars. All science-affiliated majors in the group were tasked with determining a landing site for a Mars lander, a list of researchable science questions, and a short list of instruments that could be attached to the lander to investigate the generated questions. The engineering-affiliated students in the group were tasked with designing the lander and its descent system (meant to lower the lander from a height of 9 meters above ground to the surface). The lander came with a set of constraints: it could not have more than half a kilogram of mass, it could not cost more than $20, and it had to fit inside a cube measuring 30 cm to a side.

The group project provided a wealth of experience. Sam contributed to designs for his team’s lander concept and was involved in drafting those designs in SolidWorks (making great use of his FSAE and CAD class experiences!). He was also involved in constructing the bill of materials for the lander, and contributed to the Preliminary Design Report. Overall, Sam found the L’SPACE Academy to be an incredible opportunity. He was exposed to new concepts and technologies, like NASA’s mission review process, presentations on NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission, and access to NASA’s JMARS software (the mapping software used for the Martian surface).  He reported that the group project was an invaluable experience, “that taught me a lot about communication, initiative, and many more general career skills.” While he waits to hear if he will be accepted into Level 2, Sam is actively encouraging others interested in aerospace to consider applying for upcoming Level 1 sessions. Regardless of the outcome, Sam has gained clear confirmation that engineering for space applications is a career path and calling he wants to energetically pursue.

Current students interested in learning more about the L’SPACE Academy can access the website here or see a sample presentation about the Mars Sample Return mission here.

Hope’s Formula SAE Team Competes in National Autocross Event

Hope student, Morgan Dalman ('19) shows off the Hope FSAE 2018 race car at the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo Nationals competition
Morgan Dalman (’19) and Hope’s 2018 FSAE car at the SCCA Solo National competition.

Members of Hope College’s formula SAE team recently returned to Lincoln Airpark in Nebraska,  which was the site of their 11th place finish in the June, 2018 FSAE competition. This time they were in Lincoln to participate in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo Nationals competition. The SCCA competition attracted nearly 1,400 drivers this year, making it one of the largest racing events in the world. The event attracts primarily amateur drivers, though a few professionals also race.  The competition took place on two autocross courses, which are racetracks made of cones. The drivers compete in their car class for the quickest combined time of the two courses without drawing time penalties for hitting cones.

Students Morgan Dalman (‘19), Jarret Matson (‘19), Jack Heideman (‘20), Theo Roffey (‘21) and the team advisor Carl Heideman were the team’s representatives. After walking the track about 10 times, the races started. The course walk is a major part of autocrossing because the drivers are not allowed to test the course in a car prior to the race.  Therefore, being able to dictate speed and line is an important skill. The SCCA tracks were setup to run much faster than a typical FSAE competition, which allowed the team to test their vehicle closer to its upper performance limits.

Hope student, YYYY YYY ('XX), seated in the Hope FSAE car in full race gear prepared to begin an autocross course.
Morgan Dalman (’19) prepares to complete one of the two autocross courses.

The team’s drivers, Morgan, Jarrett, and Jack put down very respectable times on both courses. On the first course many drivers in cars similar to the Hope car finishes in 63-65seconds, while Hope’s drivers clocked in at 63 second or better. More importantly, the competition provided a lot of new information and experience necessary for enhancing the car’s performance. For example, the team learned from the driver of an A-mod style racecar that changing tire pressures from 10 psi in front and 8 psi in rear to 15 psi in front and 13 psi in the rear would provide much more grip on concrete surfaces compared to the grip on asphalt surfaces. The team was also able to meet many people who were formerly or are currently involved in FSAE, including, recent graduates, knowledgeable advisers of current teams, and representatives from companies that support other teams. Each contact provided helpful insight on the car and team dynamics. Overall, the team learned a great amount at Solo Nationals and hope to return there next year and many more years to come.

Engineers Without Borders Spring Trip to Kenya

Jenny Pedersen in Kenya.

On March 14th, five student members of Hope College’s Engineers Without Borders chapter (Kayty Ihara, Andrew Caris, Matthew Dickerson, Owen Donahoe, and myself, Jenny Pedersen) began a 10 day trip to Bondo, Kenya. We were accompanied by two mentors Nick Frank and Joe VanBennekom.  The purpose of the trip was to monitor wells and a rain catchment system that were installed by the chapter in a rural community in Kenya during the summer of 2017.

The team arrived in Nairobi on March 15th at 9pm and stayed at St. Paul’s University overnight. On the 16th we took the 8 hour journey to Bondo. Upon arrival we met Charles, a Kenyan native that was kind enough to let all seven of our chapter members stay on his property.  During the week, we spent time in the Bondo community conducting surveys about water accessibility, usage, and storage practices. We also collected water quality samples from the wells and the rain catchment system to verify the systems were still functioning properly and providing clean water to the community. All of the water quality tests showed that the water is clean and suitable for drinking!

Well installed in 2017.

Something I learned during this trip is how much we take water for granted, I always knew we use a lot of water in the US but it really hit home when I saw the journey that people take just to get water. Additionally, I learned how important it is to be grateful and generous. The community members were so welcoming and willing to give what little they had. It was an extremely eye opening experience to see the joy and gratitude that the local Kenyan culture displayed, even for small blessings. To be immersed in a different culture was an amazing experience that helped me gain perspective on my own life. It was a great reminder of how present God is and how he provides no matter who or where you are, and that you can either let a situation define you or let your faith define you!

I believe this trip will impact my life going forward as an engineer by reminding me of what goals are important to work toward. For me, that is ultimately helping others through my engineering practice and giving every person I meet the love and respect they deserve. Not only does this trip remind me to count my blessings and be thankful for whatever my future career may hold, but it also reminds me to appreciate the different kinds of people I will interact with in the workplace. To students considering trips like this, I would say GO! If it is with Engineers Without Borders, or even an immersion trip, I think it is so important to experience different cultures to try to truly understand what fuels them!

Alumni Profile: Meghan Estochen (’08)

Meghan Estochen (’08)  graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in chemical engineering. After graduation, she worked for two years as a materials engineer specializing in adhesives for a Rochester, New York based company that made optical units for satellites. Meghan then moved to Albuquerque, NM to take a Manufacturing Engineering position with SolAero Technologies, which specializes in making solar cells and solar panels for space applications. In her time at SolAero Technologies Meghan has held positions of increasing responsibility including Configuration Manager, which over time expanded to include managing the Drafting team, and the Manufacturing and Test Engineering Manager for the solar panel product line. Currently, she is the Manager of Continuous Improvement, working with the entire organization to make strategic, Lean driven improvements.

As the Manager of Continuous Improvement Meghan seeks to challenge the status quo every day. Her job is to ask “why?” and “what can we do better?” and then guide teams of hardworking, dedicated individuals to achieve great improvements. She teaches critical thinking, implementation of solutions, and how to always search for better ways to do things. This is applied in all areas of the business: production, engineering, supply chain, finance, corporate, etc. The primary tools used to generate improvement are derived from Lean Six Sigma, Toyota Manufacturing, and others methodologies that believe the strength of the business is in the creativity of its people and its willingness to constantly change to remain an industry leader. She also operates as a special projects manager using Scrum methodology for system implementation efforts and is a champion of corporate culture. She is grateful for and passionate about her incredibly unique role within SolAero. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Meghan.

What do you find most exciting or interesting about the work that you do?

 The work that I do ties directly to the mission of the organization and the programs it supports, and that motivates me every day. The first project I worked on was the solar panel array that took the Mars Science Lab to Mars. Our company powers satellites that provide early warning for natural disasters, satellites that provide entertainment like Sirius Radio, satellites that explore deep space. We will be powering the closest exploration of the sun with a satellite that will travel at 125 miles/second. We will be powering satellites that will give internet access to the world, starting with schools in third world countries. More than 40% of the power in orbit today came from SolAero Technologies. The impact of my work is vast and meaningful. It is a privilege to be a part of something so exciting.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

During my time at Hope, my technical degree was balanced with my Greek Life involvement. My senior year marked a significant ramp up in my leadership roles in Greek Life. I was the president of the Dorian Sorority, VP of the PanHellenic Council, and started the Greek Women: Making the Ideal Real initiative. I would not have been able to be so active and push for so much positive change during that year though, had it not been for the friendship with and mentoring from Ellen Awad. Her commitment to my development as a leader taught me what meaningful mentoring should look like and it has been something I have continued to leverage in my professional career, both as someone who always looks to improve and as someone now positioned to mentor others. I cannot say enough about how Ellen helped prepare me for a blossoming and fast-tracked career, maybe without even knowing it. Seeking mentors who are willing to invest time in your development and give you honest feedback is what will inevitably help anyone advance to where they want to be.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

 Engineering design is the course that I have been able to apply most in my career. It included elements of design, experimentation, prototyping, and project management. It allowed for creativity, while teaching project management skills. It also provided an avenue for large public speaking forums. Today, I find myself delivering presentations to the entire 300-person organization very comfortably, and I know that started at Hope with the opportunities to present to other students, faculty, and community members.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

There is a joke often made that engineers are a socially awkward breed. And I believe I can geek out with the best of them! But often when this joke is made around me, people tack on “…but not you, we know you are an engineer, but you are an exception to the socially awkward rule.” This always makes me laugh. I believe that this is what a liberal arts education does for those who might naturally tend towards one very technical avenue. It makes us well rounded, relatable people, capable of integrating into a business world filled with many types of people. This will only help a career in an increasingly globalized market.

What advice would you give to current students?

Get involved. Don’t be afraid to take chances and take leadership roles. Push yourself academically and in your extracurricular activities. Value each experience for what you can learn from it and how it will shape you. You will one day look back fondly and be able to see how your Hope experience has made you into the success you are guaranteed to be. And if your career path is anything like mine, where you end up will be wildly different from what you anticipated.

Alumni Profile: Biomedical Engineer, Jo Forst ’13

Jo Forst (‘13) is currently Associate Market Development Manager in the Cardiovascular Division at Medtronic, a major medical technology and services corporation. Jo graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in biomedical engineering. After graduation, she attended the University of Rochester where she obtained a Master of Science degree in biomedical engineering with an emphasis in neuroscience. Her first position at Medtronic was in the neuro modulation division, which focuses on the development of implantable stimulators for restorative medical therapies. Restorative medical therapies can include, for example, deep brain stimulation to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. Recently she transitioned to the diagnostic business unit within the Cardiovascular Division and works in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis, MN.  In her new role, she is called upon for marketing analytics where she uses her research and technical background.

As a market development manager, Jo works to increase awareness and expand the market opportunity for the use of Medtronic’s cardiovascular devices. Her main project expands the use of an implantable cardiac monitor (ICM) for patients who have had a cryptogenic stroke. A common cause of cryptogenic stroke is atrial fibrillation which originates in the left atrium of the heart. The Medtronic device is 1/3 the size of a AAA battery, and through a minimally invasive technique, sits just under the skin to continuously monitor the heart and detect arrhythmias. Jo’s work focuses on helping overcome barriers in ensuring patients have access to these kinds of diagnostic options. This task involves working with both stroke neurologists, who see cryptogenic stroke patients, and with electrophysiologists who implant the devices and track patients once they receive a long-term cardiac monitor. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Jo.

What do you find most exciting about the work that you do?

 The work I do directly impacts Medtronic patients and customers. Therefore, the most rewarding part of my job is when I get to work with physicians using our devices that improve quality of life for their patients. We are consistently developing new technology which allows us to stay more connected and expands access to more people in need.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

One of my favorite activities was working with Hope’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The trip to Cameroon and the work with the local NGO and community members had a lasting impact on me. It helped shape how I view education and sustainability management. In order for work to be sustainable there needs to be a sense of ownership and passion behind the cause. Connecting with people of all different backgrounds helped me value the importance of inclusion, diversity, and teamwork.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

My time in the Rehabilitation Engineering Lab [performing research with Professor Katie Polasek] was paramount to my engineering education. I utilize the clinical research experience and critical thinking skills every day in my job. My research experience helps set me apart from my peers and allows me to provide a well-rounded perspective for business needs.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I interact with individuals from across many different functional areas and business units regularly. A liberal arts education provided a well-rounded perspective in which I was able to learn and interact with students across other disciplines. As an engineering student, I took advantage of neuroscience courses with other life science students, played a college sport, and performed multidisciplinary research. These experiences, I think, were unique to a liberal arts education.

What advice would you give to current students?

Get involved and take advantage of opportunities to gain project management and leadership skills outside the classroom. These opportunities are plentiful at Hope and will set you apart after graduation.

Study Abroad Highlight: Tom Ritzman ’18

Tom Ritzman skiing the Mont Blanc glacier in Chamonix, France.

Spending 7 months in France taking classes, working as an engineering intern for an international corporation, and enjoying new people and a new culture sounds like a rewarding and life-changing endeavor. This experience describes the past spring semester and summer for Tom Ritzman, who is in his fourth year as an engineering major pursuing the mechanical engineering emphasis option. Tom spent the 2017 spring semester in Nantes, France living with a host family and taking classes. After the semester ended he transitioned into an engineering internship role with Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI). He worked in their Building Efficiency group, which is primarily responsible for all things having to do with controlled climate (heaters, chillers, thermostats, air ducts, etc.) for both residential and commercial buildings. The plant where Tom worked in Nantes produces industrial chillers for JCI’s European clientele. These industrial chillers can range in size from filling the back of a pickup truck to being three stories high and 50 yards long! The following are excerpts from a recent conversation with Tom about his experience studying and working in France:

Describe your study abroad experience.

I studied from January until the beginning of May. I took classes that counted toward my general education requirements at Hope in religion, cultural heritage, and the fine arts. My fourth class was a French culture and grammar class. All courses were administered by IES Abroad (Institute for the International Education of Students). I rearranged my schedule for engineering courses so that I wouldn’t miss any prerequisites during my spring semester abroad, and I was able to knock out a majority of my remaining general education credits! During the spring semester, I lived with an awesome host family. They invited me to attend two of their family weddings, to join them whenever they went to their country home, or to go with my host brother to the local radio station where he worked.

How did you obtain an internship in France?

I was a global procurement intern for JCI during the summer of ‘16 at their corporate headquarters in Milwaukee. Through networking at an intern event held at a Brewers game, I expressed my excitement to be studying abroad next spring in France (I was deciding between Nice and Nantes). A VP of the company asked if I would be interested in interning in Nantes, France if he were to connect me with the plant manager. That led to being introduced to JCI’s Europe HR and the plant manager.  Over the course of the fall we worked together to make sure all visa and work permits were in order for me to intern the following summer!

As an intern, what were your roles and responsibilities?

This plant was “smaller” in comparison to other JCI plants because it produced chillers in the hundreds while other JCI plants in the U.S. and Asia are producing in the thousands. This presented a unique opportunity to delve into multiple areas of leadership within the plant in Nantes. My “umbrella” title was a manufacturing engineer intern, but I also gained valuable experience in operations, plant purchasing, safety and quality. Over the course of the summer I was responsible for implementing Lean Manufacturing processes such as 5S, Andon systems, Value Stream Mapping or recording Takt times for different product lines. I also assisted in safety trainings, organizing personnel into product line performance teams, and assisted in aligning the purchasing department at the plant with the operations team.

What did you learn about the French culture during your trip?

The French have a rich culture. I was able to experience the music festival held every 21st of June celebrating the longest day of the year, the 14th of July (their equivalent to July 4th), and of course their food, cheese, and wine. Working alongside them I learned they indeed work hard but also believe in not allowing work to dominate their life. A concrete example of this is the minimum of 5 weeks paid vacation given to all French workers. When I first heard about their minimum vacation time, I thought it absurd and honestly wondered if they got work done at all! Yet, through seven months living in their culture, I saw fathers take 2 weeks off to be with their kids during February break, husbands take off long weekends to treat their wives to a getaway to southern Spain or northern Italy, a wife taking a week because their kids are studying for the baccalauréat and could use some support before the big day, or seeing the family vacations planned for the first 3 weeks of August before the kids return to school. From an outsider’s perspective, I naively thought they worked the system waiting for the next chunk of vacation they had planned.  However, as I grew to understand their work-life balance and increasingly came to understand their culture, the differences between my own culture and their own became more apparent. Is one better than the other? No, I don’t think so. I do believe that as an American there are strengths of our culture I’m proud of, but there are other aspects of the French culture that I would rather incorporate.

Where the French culture challenged me the most was faith. France has worked towards a separation of church and state for longer than the U.S. There is a strong division between a French person’s faith walk and the rest of their life. I went into this culture knowing full well that the spiritual landscape of France would be dry, but what I was not ready for was how difficult that is in reality. I did not have a body of believers with which I could grow, encourage, and receive encouragement from. That was tough. My 7 months in this culture spurred me towards a season holding to the truth of Romans 5:1-5. This passage talks about trials developing endurance, endurance developing character, and character strengthening our hope of salvation. This season in a dry landscape became fruitful in ways I had not expected. My faith was tested, and with no “soft” or “comforting” network of friends or brothers in Christ, it meant my faith went through a refining fire. As the saying goes, you appreciate something once you don’t have it – this rang true for me and the community I have at Hope. I’m thankful I’m able to come back to this community for one more year, and have learned how critical it will be to consider what a community looks like in decisions I make as I step from college into the working world.

Reflect on the benefits of working as an engineering intern in an international context.

My experience overall was rich. From a language perspective, I was able to continue to practice my French for another three months. Not to mention it was another contextual learning curve because terms like welding, welder, screw, brazing, cold-rolled steel, compressor, or forklift are not typical words/verbs learned in French class. From an internship perspective, it was a great experience working in another country. It was a challenge to be working on a daily basis in another language, but it was also a challenge because I was exposed to many different work areas like operations and procurement, not just manufacturing. The best part for me was connecting with people. For example, by the end of the summer I had worked one-on-one with one line operator who knew no English, yet I was able to form an understanding and connection with him in his native language. I’d always wanted to be able to speak another language and I was able to see the fruits of my labor.

I also learned a lot about manufacturing engineering. Although I haven’t studied manufacturing engineering, having a mechanical background still helped me in the broad sense of problem-solving, critical thinking and system analysis, and the rest was a great opportunity to learn! I worked with quality engineers, as well as, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers. One thing I noticed was code and CAD work was done in English so I had a steady stream of questions regarding the meanings of what they were coding or entering in their bill of materials. I saw firsthand the challenge of relaying information from headquarters back in the U.S. to a plant that operates entirely in another culture and language.

Do you have any advice for other students?

I would totally encourage engineering students to study abroad. It is possible to do it and it is such a fulfilling experience! You learn about a new culture, live with a new family, and have to figure it all out – one of the many challenges with studying abroad – but it’s so worth it! Study abroad opened the doorway to an international internship, which can also be an added benefit for you as well.

For landing an internship in general, I worked on getting an interview with JCI as well as other companies from my own connections. Don’t think your family friend who works for an engineering firm isn’t a connection! Once you get that first internship, network with those above you, those you work alongside, and any fellow interns! I still am in touch with 3 other interns from my first summer interning and I may one day find myself inquiring with them about job opportunities. Think about try an internship outside of your degree – I took on an intern position that wasn’t necessarily in mechanical engineering, but I still brought the problem-solving and critical thinking skills honed from being an engineering major into that internship. So, if you are offered an opportunity that may not be in your comfort zone or skill range, I’d encourage you to take that step and learn from it! The perspective of another country, culture and people is so valuable, but it can be daunting. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

 

 

Alumni Profile: Applications Engineer Kurt Blohm ’06

Kurt Blohm (‘06) is currently an applications engineer at Applied Biomimetic, a company based in Cincinnati, OH, with a unique focus on the development of membranes for water treatment and filtration systems. Kurt graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in chemical engineering. He started his career at ERG, an environmental consulting firm, while also working to obtain his Master of Science degree in chemical engineering at Ohio State University, which he completed in 2010. Kurt has enjoyed a wide variety of experiences including working as a process engineer at an ethanol plant (Valero Renewables), working for a water treatment startup company (Advanced Hydro), and working as a scientist focused on research and development (Battelle).

Kurt Blohm at work. Photo courtesy Applied Biomimetic, Inc.

Kurt describes himself as a chemical process engineer, but his role also includes a healthy dose of sales and business development. In his current role, he travels regularly to customer sites to develop new applications for Applied Biomimetic’s filtration products. His diverse responsibilities also allow him the opportunity to perform research and development work in a laboratory setting, and to design, build, and operate pilot systems to evaluate the success of Applied Biomimetic’s membranes in separating various flow streams. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Kurt.

What do you find most exciting about the work that you do?

I’ve had a range of experiences, from process engineering to R&D and now business development. On any given day, I could be programming a PLC [programmable logic controller], studying protein separation/purification in the lab, or in another country talking to customers. I’ve also had the opportunity to develop my own novel ideas as I have several patents pending in the area of seawater desalination from my time at Battelle. This versatility is a big part of who I am, not just professionally, but personally.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

Engineers without borders was an amazing experience. It helped me realize the value of my education and grew my interest in water and energy. The summer research program is a great way to gain experience and get to know your professors’ research interests.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

The professors in the sciences are truly top notch. Dr. Misovich was a great mentor and example to me. I could say equally great things about the rest of the faculty, but I had the most exposure to Dr. M.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I think Hope College engineers have a sense of community that I don’t see at other institutions and the same goes for the sports teams (I was on the swim team at Hope). Liberal arts colleges draw that kind of person, but Hope College students are especially community and service oriented.

What advice would you give to current students?

  1. Don’t be overly concerned with grades. If you have a weak subject or two, learn the main concepts and move on.
  2. Get hands on experience as soon as possible, through internships or for example, working in construction.
  3. For chemical engineers: I firmly believe every career chemical engineer should work as a process engineer at a refinery or production plant for some time (or, for example, as a shift supervisor). You should know the plant inside and out by the time you leave – every valve, pump, vessel and control loop. Get to know all the operators, mechanics, and electricians on a personal level because and you can learn a lot from their perspective.
  4. For students pursuing R&D and academia paths, I defer to Richard Feynman: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”