The Penn State EcoCAR 2 team recently brought on a new graduate Technical GRA: Christopher Golecki, an alumnus of the school’s engineering program. Read on to hear Christopher tell his engineering story:
Since childhood, I loved to build and take things apart, put them back together, or make them work more efficiently. As I matured, this habit stuck with me; I loved to analyze how different pieces of an assembly interacted harmoniously to perform a task. By the time I turned 15 years old, I had graduated to bigger projects: building robots to act out simple tasks, or taking apart a motorcycle engine to follow the flow of energy from the gasoline, through the combustion process, to mechanically power the wheels. At 16 years old, I was enthused with a TV show in which contestants built motorcycles from the ground up. One day, I said to myself, “That can’t be that hard, I could build something like that.”
Within a few weeks, I had cut apart old motorcycles and bicycles and crafted them into a frame to start what would be my own motorcycle. After finding a dilapidated snow blower engine and a rudimentary gearing system, I had a completely customized motorcycle that was road-worthy. After completing this project, I knew that putting theory into practice was my calling. I knew mechanical engineering was for me.
To ensure that I would receive the training I needed, I applied to the best engineering schools, and was accepted at The Pennsylvania State University. I began my classes in the fall of 2008 and was immediately drawn to my studies. I was engrossed with math, chemistry and especially physics. It thrilled me to understand the theories that drive everyday life, but I still had questions. I was excited by the new prospects of sustainable energy and wanted to pursue my interests in that area.
During my sophomore year of college, I joined Engineers for a Sustainable World. This club was focused on alternate sources of energy. I quickly put my problem-solving skills to work on the “Power Lion” which captures solar energy and converts it into DC power in any location where sunshine is available. I also helped to design the gearbox of a mini wind turbine. These projects directly corresponded to my classes in statics, strength of materials, machine design and electronic measuring systems. I loved engineering but I still had not found what truly challenged me and wanted to find my niche.
My current interests stemmed from my Instrumentation, Measurement and Statistics class and my internship with Colgate-Palmolive. As the name suggests, Instrumentation, Measurement and Statistics class added a whole new facet to mechanical engineering for me. The thought of mechanical testing tools, sensors, regression analysis, measurement methodology, and statistics were areas I had, until then, overlooked. My interest was piqued. This area of engineering was new and exciting and I embraced all the material I could get my hands on. Little did I know that these methods would come in handy at my internship the following summer.
At Colgate, I was directly involved with control systems. I got to see first-hand these sensors, actuators, pumps, industrial equipment and ladder logic work together to perform fairly involved tasks. I found myself stopping by the control room whenever I could to help diagnose problems, change ladder logic code or identify faulty sensors. I thought it was amazing how this whole dynamic system was linked together.
As I became more aware of the complexity of the world, my interests changed. Through these experiences, my breadth of engineering knowledge has expanded and I feel I am informed enough at this point to know that control systems are in my future. I also know that Penn State can offer a challenging graduate education in control systems and mechatronics. In order to be competitive for a graduate program, I researched in the biomedical field with Dr. Jason Moore studying needle insertion. Thus far, I have helped to set up a six-axis test assembly to automatically insert brachytherapy and biopsy needles. Although the research deals with biomedical devices, the work I am doing is directly involved with mechanically and electronically controlling this system.
All of these experiences molded who I am today as a mechanical engineering student. Penn State has taught me so much about mechanical engineering and the world in general. I can’t wait to continue my work with engineering at Penn State by becoming the new Technical GRA!