Annual Engineering Awards

The Engineering Department is pleased to announce our annual year-end student awards. This list of awardees represents just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing engineering students at Hope College. Descriptions of the awards and some information about the recipients are give below.

Senior Engineering Prize

Shelby Harper (’20)

Shelby Harper was selected by the engineering faculty to received the Senior Engineering Prize. This award is given to the senior student who is the most outstanding student in engineering. Shelby served the department as a teaching assistant, help session leader, and grader for countless courses. She was always eager to help the department in any way. After graduating in just 3.5 years, she is now working in Dayton, Ohio at KBR Inc. as a Research and Development Engineer supporting contracts at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

The VanPutten Engineering Design Prize

Theo Roffey (’21)

The VanPutten Prize is given by the Engineering faculty to a graduating engineering student who shows exceptional ability, interest, and accomplishment in engineering design. This award is named in honor of Professor James VanPutten in recognition of his accomplishments in engineering design and his efforts to establish the engineering program at Hope College. This year’s recipient was Theodore Roffey. Theo’s senior design project focused on a radiator design for the Hope College’s Formula Racing Car (Formula SAE). Over the past four years, Theo has been heavily involved in Formula SAE and served as the team captain during the 2020-2021 academic year. After graduation, Theo plans on working as an engineer at Innotec.

Blok-Williams Graduate Study Award

Matthew Dickerson (’21)

Matthew Dickerson received the Blok-Williams award, which is given to a graduate school bound senior student for excellence in the study of the field of engineering. Matthew was involved in Hope College’s Engineers Without Borders and served as the project leader during a team trip to Bondo, Kenya. Matthew also participated in several cultural exchange programs at Hope, including Technos International Week in Tokyo, Japan. this summer Matthew will be interning at OWL Biomedical in Santa Barbara, CA and in the fall, he will be attending Purdue University to pursue a PhD in power and electrical engineering.

Paul Baeverstad Award

Rachel Foy (’21)

The selection of the Paul Baeverstad Award recipient is based on a vote of the senior class of engineering students. It is given in recognition of a student who is valued as a superior engineer, classmate, and friend. This year’s winner was Rachel Foy. Rachel was very involved in Hope College’s Society of Women Engineers , serving as the president during the 2020-2021 academic year. She also was a dual major in engineering and business. After graduation, Rachel plans on working at Consumer’s Energy as a rotational engineer.

Freshman Engineering Prize

Yeageon Song (’24)

The Freshman Engineering Prize is given to recognize the achievement of the best first-year students in Engineering. These students have already shown a strong ability to understand and express engineering concepts. The two students to receive the award this year were Yeageon Song and Gabriella Bishop. When asked about what he enjoyed about Hope, Yeageon said, “I enjoyed spending time with my friends and it was also my first time experiencing so much snow, so that was great as well.”

Gabriella Bishop (’24)

Gabriella’s response was, “With my first year at Hope College coming to an end, I can honestly say that although I came here with high expectations, Hope has succeeded in exceeding those expectations. There is a certain energy at Hope that is infectious and I believe it starts with the enthusiastic updates from President Scogin along with the passion my professors show in the classroom and the kindness I encounter everyday by my colleagues. I am grateful that Hope was able to maintain as many classes as possible in-person, as I feel strongly that this has been instrumental to my academic success. The professors here at Hope have played a huge role in my education, first and foremost by getting to know me personally. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who want me to succeed and are there to help me achieve my goals. In a year where there have been so many challenges due to the pandemic, Hope College has been a blessing for which I am truly grateful.”

The Engineering Department offers heartfelt congratulations to all of this year’s award winners!

Alumni Highlight: Electrical Engineer Jorge Benitez ’18

Alumni Jorge Benitez smiling in profesional attire.

Jorge Benitez ’18 graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with a concentration in electrical engineering. He started his career working part time at GMB Architecture + Engineering in Holland during the second semester of his senior year. After graduation he transitioned into a full time role at GMB.

As an electrical engineer, Jorge is responsible for interior and exterior electrical design for buildings, primarily in the education market. His design work includes power distribution, lighting design and lighting controls, communication systems, and electronic safety and security systems.

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

I love the mix of creative design of electrical systems within my projects and the practical problem solving to meet codes. It’s a career field where the learning never stops, and no two projects are the same! I am working alongside peers, both inside and out of engineering, who bring fresh perspectives and a new way of thinking to the design process. I also have the pleasure of interacting with our clients to guide them through the design and construction process and deliver spaces that will have lasting impacts on their communities for years to come.

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

I had such a positive experience within the Hope student culture, from meeting lifelong friends and my wife, to engaging in various athletic, social clubs, and residential life that it’s hard to pick just one! All of these contributed to my well rounded education at Hope College.

What aspect of your engineering education at Hope was most beneficial?

The ability to think critically is imperative in an engineering education, because it’s impossible to prepare students for the specific career field that they will find themselves in. So much of engineering is simply learning how to solve problems!

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

Immensely. I have a passion of connecting with people, and in my career field I am able to explain engineering concepts and solutions to our clients in a non-technical way, making me a better engineering consultant.

What advice would you give to current students?

Take advantage of the level of interaction with your professors available to you. Grab a coffee, share a meal, utilize office hours. Hope’s faculty is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips, and a great source of mentorship as you navigate the next steps in your life and careers.

Meet Your Engineering Professor

This semester was filled with in-person classes using masks and social distancing and online learning through Zoom classes. The Engineering Department shined a little light into the lives of its faculty and staff members with a social media series termed “Meet Your Engineering Professor”

Here is a summary of this series.

Dr. Miguel Abrahantes

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  16 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Electronics
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work?   Traveling, gardening, swimming
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? I am from Cuba and I lived in Argentina during my graduate studies and I came to the U.S. as a refugee. I hold 3 citizenships and carry 3 passports: Cuban, Spaniard and American!

Dr. Jeffrey Christians

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  3 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach?     Fluid Mechanics
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work?   Running, Fishing, Watching Basketball (I like playing too but am not what one would call “good”)
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? I can (or I used to be able to…. I’m medium old now) do a barrel roll on a tube being pulled behind a boat. With my brother and cousins, we spent a lot of time on the water during summers at my parent’s cottage on Cowden Lake, North of Rockford, MI.

Prof. Susan Ipri-Brown

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  7 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach?     Mechanics of Materials Labs
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work?   Volunteering, cooking, exciting kids about engineering
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? I have an identical twin sister.

Dr. John Krupczak

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  26 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Hard to say, they are all my favorite!
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work?   I have been doing work on our house lately and I enjoy getting out to the beaches.
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? Our cat Sophie likes to watch zoom meetings.

Dr. Michael Misovich

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  18 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Too many to choose! Process Calcs, Separations I, Chem E Design are all favorites
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Walking, hiking, traveling
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? At different times and places in my life, I have lived on a street where George Washington had marched (in the 1770s, I wasn’t there) and where Martin Luther King marched (in 1966, I was there).

Dr. Brooke Odle

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  2 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Engineering Computing
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Cooking and Baking
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? I participated in a study abroad program (at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico) as an undergrad. It was one of the best experiences of my undergraduate studies.

Adam Peckens

  • How long have you been at Hope?  6 years as the department lab director
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Geotech Labs or Intro to CAD Labs
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Hobby Farming/Homesteading, kayaking, backpacking, making maple syrup in the spring
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? I Hiked the Appalachian Trail. All of it. From Georgia to Maine, ~2,200 miles in five months.

Dr. Courtney Peckens

  • How long have you been at Hope?  8 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Steel Design because I get to use real world design problems that I encountered when working in this area in industry.  
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work? vegetable gardening, kayaking, hiking
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? In the past three months, we added 2 Mini Silky Fainting goats and 11 chickens to our “farm”. 

Dr. Katie Polasek

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  10 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? I like them all but maybe Rehabilitation Engineering since I get to talk about all of my passions!
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work? I play hockey (or did before the pandemic). I also like doing puzzles and kayaking.
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? I started fostering kittens this summer and have our second litter of three with us now.

Dr. Matt Smith

  • How long have you been teaching at Hope?  9 years
  • What is your favorite course to teach? Statics (of course!)
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Playing sports with my kids, gardening, fantasy baseball, and trying out new foods
  • What is an interesting or unknown fact about you? My dad is a veterinarian and I got to help out a lot around the clinic when I was a kid including, on multiple occasions, rubbing down puppies just born by cesarean section.

Striving for Excellence: The Story of Ernest Haight

Ernest Haight ‘51 (August 5, 1924 – June 1, 2018) was born in the midst of the Great Depression. Having joined the Army in 1945, he served with the post-World War II troops in Tokyo, Japan and always aimed for excellence. His expectation for himself, as well as others, was this: Do the best that you can with what you have been given. And that he did.  

Born to Bill, a welder, and Marge, a bank teller, Ernie utilized his GI Bill from the military to attend Hope College in 1947. While at Hope, he not only earned a degree in mathematics, but he also met his future wife, Kathleen Hagstron ‘51 Haight. They married in Dimnent Chapel. He then went on to earn his master’s degree in Advanced Mathematics from the University of Nebraska. 

Excellence. 

Already, being the only member in his family to earn any degree, let alone an advanced one, showed Ernie’s will to excel in life.

He went on to spend the entirety of his adulthood working in the aerospace industry — a stressful job, one that wasn’t always enjoyable, but Ernie persisted. He ended up being part of a seven-man team to design the heat shields for the Project Mercury and Project Gemini space capsules.

Ernie believed that a good worker should be able to not only design a product but also — and more importantly — get that product to actually work in the real world. And work they did. Those shields sustained the lives of each astronaut during their missions. They helped the projects succeed. 

Ernie always regarded his education — both from Hope College and from the University of Nebraska — to be the foundation for all that he was able to achieve in his professional life. His final gift, which represents his total salary from nearly three years of his working life, has established the Ernest Haight ‘51 Summer Research in Engineering Fund. It also provided the resources necessary for the Engineering Lab Renovation Fund. 

His heart for Hope College has been beautifully reflected through this generous gift. 

At age 93, Ernest Haight was asked to look back on his life, to which he responded, “For a kid who grew up during the Great Depression, with a welder for a father and a bank teller for a mother, I far exceeded all expectations — even my own. I did the best that I could with what I had.” 

May we all strive to do the best that we can with what we have been given! 

Alumni Highlight: Shawn Bates ’16 Civil Engineer

Alum Shawn Bates leans, smiling against a stair railing in professional attire.

Shawn Bates ’16 graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with a concentration in civil engineering. Upon graduation, Shawn joined Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering as an E.I.T., or Engineer in Training. The E.I.T. is a common designation for entry level civil engineers. E.I.T.s have completed their educational preparation. However, they still need to accrue work experience before becoming licensed Professional Engineers. Shawn initially performed construction inspection on various projects, such as, roads and bridges. He then began transitioning into the office, where he performed various design tasks and assisted with client management. Since then he has continued to execute duties in the areas of design, inspection, project management, and client management.

In the fall of 2017 Shawn began pursuing his Master’s Degree in Business Administration at Davenport University while continuing to work full-time. He completed his MBA – Strategic Management program in the spring of 2020. He also became a Certified Manager (C.M.) through the Institute of Certified Professional Managers. Shawn is now preparing to take the Professional Engineers (P.E.) exam in order to become a licensed professional civil engineer.

The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Shawn.

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

What I find most interesting about my work is the wide variety of projects I have been a part of. Going into the engineering field, I was concerned about being pigeon-holed into a limited variety of projects/tasks. From the very beginning this could not be further from the truth. My employer has given me opportunities to see a wide range of projects. Some of the projects I have worked on include sea wall improvements, a tunnel design for a private developer, and load ratings for bridges throughout the state of Michigan. Other projects I have contributed to are public utility asset management, underground utility design with street improvements, and inspection of sand/gravel mining operations.

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

Plying football at Hope College certainly shaped who I am today. Many of my closest friends also played football at Hope. My college football career was short-lived, but it was filled with meaningful life lessons and development of team skills. While at Hope I also tried out for the baseball team. This took a tremendous amount of effort and determination. In the end I did not make the team which served as a tough, but very beneficial failure that only motivated me more in the engineering field. I also assisted with the construction of the Formula SAE car which was full of valuable lessons. Working as a team with one common goal is something I do on a daily basis!

What aspect of your engineering education at Hope was most beneficial?

The smaller classes really helped me understand some of the most crucial engineering principles that I draw on today. Also, the education was no walk in the park! The rigorous curriculum pushed my limits and I would not have it any other way!

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

The liberal arts aspect has enhanced my communication skills greatly. My employer has taken notice of this, and I have been able to take on more client and project management tasks as a result. It is important to have that well-rounded education.

What advice would you give to current students?

Join a club that interests you early on! Establishing yourself in a team/club setting will set you up for success in the future. Also, start early looking for summer internships.

Engineers Without Borders: Learning the Importance of Community

I am not one to usually go outside of my comfort zone, but this year I was determined to change that. Joining the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) club at Hope College seemed like a great place to start. By working to provide clean water to Bondo, Kenya, I would be able to satisfy my desire to help people while also applying engineering skills. This participation in EWB had a significant impact on me, which I was not entirely expecting.

EWB Travel Team (left to right): Rebekah Ludema (’22), Cameron Maloney (’23), Dale Nowicki, Nick Frank, Brianna Rucinski (’23), Caroline Burkhardt (’22), Chris Rexroth (’22), Krista Nelson (’21)

Even the best plans change during a pandemic

Six students, including myself, and two mentors planned on traveling to Bondo, Kenya in March 2020. The goal of the trip was to install a well in the community. On March 12th we started the trip to Africa with a 3 hour drive to Chicago O’Hare airport. While at the check-in counter, we received a call that Hope College and EWB-USA were restricting travel due to COVID-19.  We returned back to campus, disappointed in our inability to travel to the community.  We did continue to manage the project remotely and a new well was installed by the end of the month.

I am proud of the community for continuing the work to complete the new well. The videos and pictures that we were sent during the construction were inspiring and helped overcome the disappointment of not traveling. Seeing the joy on the community members’ faces while using the well made me grateful for the mission of EWB. It became very clear to me how much a group of people can accomplish if they work together.

Drilling the borehole for the well in Bondo, Kenya
Bondo community members using the new well

But lessons learned last forever

When I joined Engineers Without Borders I was not planning on being part of the travel team. But through the support of friends and family, I made the decision to go further out of my comfort zone than I ever had before. I learned how important it is to lean on those around you and also support them in their own endeavors. Such a supportive community enabled significant personal growth for me and I am grateful for that. 

Engineering Student Award Winners for ’19-’20

The Engineering Department is pleased to announce our annual year-end student awards. This list of awardees represents just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing engineering students at Hope College. Descriptions of the awards and some information about the recipients are give below.

Senior Engineering Prize
Headshot of senior engineering award winner Alyssa VanZanten
Alyssa VanZanten ’20, Chemical Concentration

Alyssa VanZanten was selected by the engineering faculty to received the Senior Engineering Prize. This award is given to the senior student who is the most outstanding student in engineering. Alyssa researched advanced materials at Hope for two summers, was awarded a nationally competitive SCI Scholar internship at Honeywell, and co-founded the Women in Science and Engineering group at Hope. This upcoming fall, Alyssa will begin her doctoral studies in Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan State University, where she was awarded an Engineering Distinguished Scholarship for her first year of graduate study.

The VanPutten Engineering Design Prize

The VanPutten Prize is given by the Engineering faculty to a graduating engineering student who shows exceptional ability, interest, and accomplishment in engineering design. This award is named in honor of Professor James VanPutten in recognition of his accomplishments in engineering design and his efforts to establish the engineering program at Hope College. This year two students received the VanPutten award, Anna Wormmeester and Devin Hiemstra. Anna worked on a client supplied design project, the Namaste Task Light. The goal was to create an aesthetically pleasing, fully functional task light, that satisfied a variety of design requirements and lighting codes. She particularly enjoyed working with the microcontroller that was used to control all of the light’s functions. The goal of Devin’s project was to develop an automated decision-making tool  that optimized the construction of residential walls for homes constructed in the context of disaster relief housing initiatives. He was particularly engaged in programming the decision making tool and performing thermal simulations of a variety of wall material types. Anna will be joining Dematic as a Software Engineer in their autonomous vehicle group. Devin will be joining Tekton, a hand tool company, as a Product Developer.

Blok-Williams Graduate Study Award

Alex Osterbaan received the Blok-Williams award, which is given to a graduate school bound senior student for excellence in the study of the field of engineering. He worked as an undergraduate researcher at Hope for two summers in the areas of advanced materials (metal organic frameworks) and in designing lab experiments using a prototype Raman Laser for undergraduate education. He also was awarded a nationally competitive SCI Scholar engineering internship with Trinseo LLC in Midland, MI. Alex will be attending the University of Colorado Boulder to pursue a PhD in Chemical Engineering. He plans to perform research in the area of polymers.

Paul Baeverstad Award

The selection of the Paul Baeverstad Award recipient is based on a vote of the senior class of engineering students. It is given in recognition of a student who is valued as a superior engineer, classmate, and friend. This year’s winner was Kelly Peregrine. Kelly was a member of the Hope women’s cross country and track teams, including serving as captain of the cross country team. She performed summer research at Hope on the breakdown of running shoes over time, and on a separate project she worked on developing noninvasive treatments for phantom limb pain. Kelly will spend the next year as an intern at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Neuromuscular Biomechanics Lab.

Freshman Engineering Prize
Outdoors Headshot of Freshman Engineering Award RecipientJenna Core
Jenna Core ’23

The Freshman Engineering Prize is given to recognize the achievement of the best first-year students in Engineering. These students have already shown a strong ability to understand and express engineering concepts. The two students to receive the award this year were Jenna Core and Grace VanDellen. Jenna and Grace are both Hope athletes. Jenna is a member of the women’s volleyball team and is considering the mechanical, environmental or civil areas for her engineering concentration. and Grace is a member of the women’s golf team and is planning to pursue the biomedical-biomechanical concentration. When asked about what she enjoyed about Hope, Jenna said, “my favorite thing about Hope this year was definitely the people! I have gotten to know so many new people and made some amazing friends. The professors, coaches, staff, and classmates have been so welcoming, friendly, and genuine. Hope definitely wouldn’t be the same without the people and the environment that they create.”

Headshot of freshman award winner Grace VanDellen
Grace VanDellen ’23

Grace’s response was, “my favorite thing about being at Hope this year was getting to go to all of the athletic events. I am a part of the women’s golf team and that gave me some great friends and an amazing coach. While that was great I also loved attending different games with my friends. I loved watching basketball (one of my favorites), volleyball, and football. I went to my first hockey game ever and loved every minute of it! It is such a fast paced sport and I enjoyed cheering on the team with all of the other students in the stands. I always looked forward to Friday nights and getting to go watch a hockey game with my friends! It was a blast!”

The Engineering Department offers heartfelt congratulations to all of this year’s award winners!

Alumni Highlight: Prototype Engineer Brock Benson ’16

Headshot of Brock Benson

Brock Benson ’16 graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with a concentration in mechanical engineering. He started his career at Gentex Corporation in Zeeland, MI during the summer of 2016 as a Production Support Engineer working on the Full Display Mirror production line. He then became a Production Process Technician in the Microelectronics Assembly area in late 2016 where he remained until he became a Prototype Engineer in the fall of 2018. After moving to California, Brock joined Siemens Mobility as a Projects Control Engineer.

As a prototype engineer at Gentex, Brock worked in the final assembly and electronic assembly production areas. He interacted with production engineers on continuous improvement and mechanical engineers on design projects. He designed fixtures, maintained equipment, and managed resources so that customer orders were filled in a controlled manner. He has contributed to Gentex’s Smart Lighting and Full-Display Mirror applications. The following are excerpts from a correspondence with Brock about his time at Gentex before he accepted his role at Siemens Mobility.

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

The most interesting aspect of my position is the range of projects I’m involved in. I get to work on new products for Gentex. I get to spend time designing, but I also get to be hands-on actually implementing my changes, as well as, interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds.

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

My favorite memories from Hope all involved playing basketball in front of our screaming fans in a sold out Devos Fieldhouse. Being a part of a team is something that I really enjoy in the workplace as well, and I try to find other teams to be a part of in my everyday life – from actual sports teams to different project groups at work.

What aspect of your engineering education at Hope was most beneficial?

The career fairs were really helpful because they allowed me to talk with a lot of the local companies, work on my interviewing skills, and help me get over my nerves of doing interviews for the first time. I also enjoyed the collaborative environment we had with our classes, as it allowed me to create good relationships with my classmates.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I feel the liberal arts aspect of Hope helped me become a more well-rounded person. I enjoy the sciences, but I also have benefited from the arts. I have been able to use those soft skills developed at Hope in the workplace.

What advice would you give to current students?

Make the most of your relationships while you are in school. I formed some of my best friendships through my engineering classes. In addition, those friends are great resources. I’ve received career advice from them and can bounce ideas off of them to help troubleshoot work problems.

Hope College Rocketry Group Hosts First Launch

Members of the Hope Association of Rocketry and Performance Aviation (HARPA) recently hosted their first launch event at Park Township Airport of Holland, MI. They tested medium to high power designs built by sophomore engineering student and launch director, David Hallock ’22, and aided by senior engineering student and range safety officer, Owen Donahoe ’20. HARPA is one of Hope College’s newest student organizations. It is open to all majors and is dedicated to cultivating student’s knowledge and experiences in the areas of rocketry and aeronautics through amateur rocketry. A running theme for HARPA is proving that one does not need to be a “rocket scientist” or engineer to find success (and fun) launching rockets or to experiment with rocket design.

Hope students smiling next to 5 foot rocket in blue and orange Hope colors
David Hallock ’22 and Owen Donahoe ’20 with the HOPE rocket.

On Saturday, October 19, over 100 spectators from Hope and the Holland area crowded outside of the launch pad radius. Eyes turned to the sky as the three launches of the day all successfully lifted off the pad for a combined total altitude of 7100ft.  Engines ranged from 1.35 pounds thrust to a 31.5 pound thrust, high power engine that lifted a 5 foot 1 inch tall HOPE rocket 3400ft into the clear sky at over 500 miles per hour (see launch sequence below). This feat, however, was undermined by a rogue southwesterly wind that carried the rocket into a thick forested area adjacent to the airport where it has yet to be found or recovered.

Despite the loss, the launch was an astounding success, and the members of HARPA are excited to make improvements for future launches in the spring.  Contact HARPA if you would like more information about how to get involved or would like to be on their mailing list.

Alumni Highlights: Mark Panaggio ’09

outdoor headshot of Mark Panaggio

Mark Panaggio ’09 graduated from Hope with a double major in engineering (electrical concentration) and mathematics. Upon graduation, he entered a Ph.D. program in Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics at Northwestern University. After completing his Ph.D., he spent six years teaching math as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an Assistant Professor at Hillsdale College. In 2020, Mark joined the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) where he works as a data scientist. His work includes both applied analytics and research related to mathematical and statistical modeling and artificial intelligence. He is particularly interested in the health domain and how models can be used for inference, data fusion and forecasting in order to inform decision making. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Mark.

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

At APL, I get to spend my time analyzing data and building models for government sponsors. I enjoy the fact that every day brings new challenges and opportunities to come up with creative solutions to pressing problems. For example, during the pandemic I worked on a model to forecast COVID-19 hospital admissions a couple of weeks in advance in order to give public health officials time to prepare. I find it especially rewarding when I get to see the tools and products we create being used to inform decisions and save lives.

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

I had a blast as an undergraduate at Hope. When I wasn’t studying or working in the math lab, I played on the ultimate (Frisbee) team and played on every intramural sports team I could. I also spent three summers working with Dr. Veldman on a project that involved investigating the pressure waves generated by explosives. Being involved in research as an undergraduate was great preparation for graduate school, but more importantly it helped me to realize that I had a passion for research and to appreciate how the concepts I was learning about in class came together in a real-world setting. When I started at Hope, I did not have a clear sense of what I wanted to do when I graduated, but those hands-on experiences helped me figure out what I was really interested in: exploring the computational tools used in engineering and science. Ultimately, this convinced me to pursue graduate studies in applied mathematics and got me started on the path I am on today.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

In hindsight, a couple of things about my liberal arts education stand out: 1. Although the technical knowledge from math and science classes is certainly important, being able to write clearly and communicate effectively are just as vital. Although I may not always have enjoyed it at the time, the writing and presentations I did for my general liberal arts classes made me a better teacher and were great preparation for writing papers and giving talks about my research. 2. Developing and clarifying one’s life-view is an essential part of a liberal arts education. I would encourage students to dig deeper into their faith and to seek the truth. At Hope, I was challenged to wrestle with difficult questions about what life is all about, what I believed and why. I left Hope on a firmer foundation and with a clearer sense of purpose than when I arrived.

What advice would you give to current students?

Don’t forget that learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. If you can, get involved in a research project, extracurricular activities, or work as a lab assistant or grader. Often you will find that the time you spend on those activities will be just as valuable as the time you spent in class. Also, get to know your professors outside of class as much as you can! They can be a great resource and there is much you can learn from them even after class is over.