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.

How the Intro to Engineering Course led me to Lake Victoria, Kenya

For several years the Introduction to Engineering course (ENGS 100) has included a design project in order to familiarize students with the engineering design process.  Projects have ranged from a wheelchair lift system for a vehicle to an automated snack dispenser for a client with cerebral palsy. The 2018 class was tasked with designing an incubator system for the college’s Engineers Without Borders student chapter (EWB-Hope).  Key features from several designs were integrated together in the months following the course and a prototype was taken to Kenya in Spring 2019 for in-field testing. Chris Rexroth ‘22 (biomedical engineering student and current Project Lead of EWB-Hope) was a student who participated in this project from start to finish and shares his experience in this blog.  

In late August 2018, I walked into VanderWerf Hall for my first class at Hope College—Introduction to Engineering. For quite some time, I had been questioning what I wanted to study and I was unsure if the engineering major would be the right fit for me. By the end of the school year, however, I was elected to lead an Engineers Without Borders well installation project in a rural village in Kenya, and I was more sure of my major than ever. Here is my story.

I was first introduced to EWB-Hope through the EDGE Design Project in Intro to Engineering. In Hope College’s EDGE program, students, who are primarily freshmen, are introduced to a client with a design challenge and are tasked with deriving a viable solution. Last fall, EWB-Hope was the client and presented a need for a robust incubator that could be used to test for bacteria (total and E. coli coliforms) in water samples for their project in Kenya.  The design constraints were that it had to be relatively small in order to be easily transported to Kenya, it had to have low power consumption and run on batteries only, and it had to be easy to use. Throughout the first semester, 30 groups of three to four students collaborated with the client and multiple professors to develop unique designs.

Over the course of the semester, I also began attending EWB-Hope club meetings and getting involved in club fundraisers. In November 2018, I was selected to travel to Kenya to work on EWB-Hope’s ongoing project in Bondo, a rural village near Lake Victoria that lacks access to clean water. I joined the travel team, consisting of five students and two mentors, as the Water Quality Testing Lead; my main role on the trip was to test the water from wells previously installed by EWB-Hope for various contaminants. This also gave me the opportunity to continue working on the incubator after the Intro to Engineering course had ended.

In January 2019, I began working more closely with the Intro to Engineering instructor, Professor John Krupczak, to finalize an incubator design before the trip to Kenya in March.  We had 30 unique designs laid out in front of us, each meeting the design specifications in different ways. We sifted through all of the incubator prototypes and their accompanying Design Portfolios in search of interesting features that could contribute to the final design. With a new prototype pieced together, the next step was to test its battery life, as coliform tests require incubation for a minimum of 24 hours. For the test, we used a Raspberry Pi microcomputer and temperature sensor to periodically sample the internal temperature of the incubator.  If the temperature was below a threshold then the Raspberry Pi would turn on a heating element until the temperature rose above a secondary threshold. This cycle continued for a 24 hour period. We had several successful trials which verified that we had developed a reliable incubator, capable of balancing mobility, battery life, and user-friendliness. 

During spring break I traveled with the EWB-Hope team to Kenya. The incubator made the journey across the Atlantic in pieces, scattered throughout the luggage of our group. We spent the first few days of our trip meeting with the local community members, surveying the wells, and collecting water samples. On day 3 of 6 in the community, we set up the incubator on the undercarriage of a crooked table in our lodging called a “simba”, which is a simple home constructed of mud. Water samples from the two EWB-Hope wells were set up in the incubator and both produced negative results, indicating that there were no coliforms in the water. Additionally, eleven other tests, such as turbidity and nitrate detection, were executed to show that the well water met World Health Organization standards. This EDGE design project was highly beneficial to EWB-Hope as there had not been a method in the past to reliably test for the presence of coliforms in the field, arguably the most important water safety criteria. 

On one of our last nights in-country, our travel team took a long bus ride, and perhaps the bumpiest 3 hours of my life, to the coast of Lake Victoria. Before sunset, we hiked to a cliff on the furthest point of the peninsula. With feet hanging over a twenty-meter drop, I had the chance to reflect on just how far I was from home – a distance of 8,000 miles, surrounded by six friends who were strangers just months before, and engulfed in an incredible experience of engineering and philanthropy. 

EWB-Hope travel team at Lake Victoria in Kenya

Looking back at it all, the EDGE Design Project provided a unique learning experience with the opportunity to work in small groups, collaborate with a client, and follow the design process step-by-step. Most importantly, it helped me discover a new passion—a passion that transcends continents and cultural differences. The work on the wells is involved and rewarding for the soul, but more importantly, the Bondo Water Project serves as an example of how the Hope community can come together to empower underserved communities across the world. 

The incubator will continue to be used this school year when we return to Bondo to drill a new well in Spring 2020. If you are interested in learning more about EWB-Hope, please email or visit our website.

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.

Author Graham Gould 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 a concentration 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 a concentration 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.