Pratt & Whitney Engineers Develop Tomorrow's Engineers

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Pratt & Whitney's talented group of engineers not only create the most innovative products for their customers, they also use their many talents to improve the lives of those in the communities in which they live and work.

A number of engineers across the company volunteer their time in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), sharing what they've learned and the skills they use at work every day.

Project STEM, East Hartford, Connecticut

Lauren Brumbaugh, currently in Materials and Processing Engineering in the Engineering Development Program in East Hartford, Connecticut, has been with the company for only one and a half years, but started Project STEM soon after arriving.

"I was part of a Pratt-funded program called Engineering Ambassadors while studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that focused on introducing engineering to local schools," she said. "When I joined Pratt, I saw there was a need for a similar program here. We began with 10 members and became a Pratt & Whitney-sponsored group last June. We now have a distribution list of more than 75 employees."

Project STEM participated in 15 events last year – from career days, to judging at science fairs, to school visits. Brumbaugh said they hope to have a similar number of events this year, the largest being a statewide STEM Field Day to be held at the University of Connecticut. Last year's event drew more than 70 Pratt & Whitney volunteers.

While the field day is Project STEM's biggest event, the visits to local middle and high schools are the organization's bread and butter. "Students receive a brief presentation on a technology topic, followed by an activity, usually to build something like a bridge or a solar-powered car," Brumbaugh said. "Our goal is show the students that STEM can be fun and creative."

Brumbaugh noted that Pratt & Whitney sponsors Engineering Ambassadors programs at RPI, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Penn State and UConn. "It's a way to invest in students and help them build their presentation skills, while allowing them to perform significant community outreach," she said. "And, if students from those schools wind up at Pratt, they can continue their outreach experiences through Project STEM."

"The need and the want for the program is here," she added. "What we provide is the opportunity."

Real World Design Challenge, East Hartford, Connecticut

Joe McIlrath, team leader, Hot Section Engineering Production, heads up Pratt & Whitney's participation in the Real World Design Challenge, an annual competition that provides high school students with the opportunity to work on real world engineering challenges in a team environment. About 30 Pratt & Whitney employees from across Engineering and Operations in Connecticut take part. This is the third year the company has been involved and both Pratt & Whitney and Pratt & Whitney Canada are corporate partners of the Real World Design Challenge.

Pratt & Whitney provides mentors for the nine state teams that participate in the competition. "I was a school mentor last year for the first time and my team, Amity High School in Woodbridge, won the state competition and went to the national challenge in Washington, D.C., and did quite well," McIlrath said. "That's why I wanted to be Pratt's chair."

Each year, student teams are asked to address a challenge that confronts the country's leading industries. Students utilize professional engineering software to develop solutions and create presentations that demonstrate the value of their solutions. Each student on the national winning team receives a $50,000 scholarship from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

"Unlike many national engineering or science competitions, Real World Design Challenge is geared toward solving real aerospace engineering problems and teaching students the practical issues around designing engineering systems," McIlrath said. "With the help of professional mentors, students manage multi-dimensional and multi-variable systems and come up with a solution – just like we do at Pratt when building a new engine. The competition allows us to engage with students interested in going into engineering fields, and to give them a good impression of our company and our people. If we can make a favorable impression and build that relationship, then they might consider Pratt when it comes time to put their skills to use in business."

Asked why engineers seem to gravitate toward community programs that "spread the word," McIlrath said, "Engineers naturally dedicate themselves to the companies they work for. It's part of their nature to create a legacy. Products like the engines we produce at Pratt don't come and go, they last a lifetime. I believe engineers at Pratt like to share their knowledge with the newer generations to ensure that their legacy continues."

FIRST Robotics, North Berwick, Maine

Todd LaPierre, a senior design engineer at Pratt & Whitney's North Berwick, Maine facility, is in his first year mentoring a local FIRST Robotics high school team. "A friend of mine is a teacher at Kingswood Regional High School and asked me if I'd help out," he said. "I'm the team's engineering mentor. This is my first time working directly with students, although I also serve on my local school board. My biggest surprise has been to see how innovative the students are."

Almost everyone has heard of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Founded in 1989 by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kaman, the Robotics program features teams of 25 students or more who are challenged to raise funds, design a brand, develop teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. United Technologies has been a corporate sponsor of the FIRST Robotics competition since 1995, contributing more than $3 million over that time.

Despite being new to the program, LaPierre recognizes how engineers are well-suited to the task. "When it comes to FIRST, I believe engineers are compatible because of the high pace and high technical content of the tasks," he said. "We're trained to collect data, analyze it and make data-driven decisions. For the robotics competition, this is critical given the strict six-week, design-and-build schedule. I get to use all my skills in mentoring the students – from brainstorming ideas, to concept development, to down select, to detailed design, to manufacturing and assembly. My biggest satisfaction has been to see how much fun these kids are having when learning."

Palm Beach State College Curriculum Development, West Palm Beach, Florida

Bruce Fowler, manager of Design & Product Definition for Compression Systems Engineering at Pratt & Whitney's West Palm Beach, Florida, facility, is donating his time to make sure the Pratt & Whitney employees of tomorrow have the most advanced skills and education when they join the work force.

Working primarily with Palm Beach State College, Fowler is helping to develop engineering and product definition (drafting) curriculum to meet critical industry needs. "Palm Beach State College approached us just as we were reaching out to them to help offer a solid curriculum that will benefit not only the students, but Pratt as well as we build a first-class employee base," he said.

"Working with the schools benefits me as well as the company," said Fowler, who has also been on the board of directors of a local charter school for three years, making use of his industry/technology focus. "A number of people helped me when I was growing up and now I'm giving back," he added. "That's what people do."

Fowler noted that, as a whole, engineers are passionate about what they work on. "We have a passion for STEM and we love to spread that passion around and share our knowledge," he said. "That's our way of giving back."

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