Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Alumni News

Apr

Apr
24
2019

Entrepreneurial Engineer Brings Creative Spirit and Connections to Campus, Honda

MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Posted with permission. Read the original post at Pittwire. The tagline on Sean O’Brien’s Instagram bio reads “Dedicated to leaving an impact.” But over the course of his five years at Pitt, O’Brien is known more for making, not merely leaving, an impact — through his work at the Pitt Makerspace. O’Brien, president of the Pitt Makerspace, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a certificate in innovation, product design and entrepreneurship from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, as well as a resume that includes autonomous vehicle research made possible through several co-op rotations at Nissan. In May, he’ll start work as an innovation engineer at a brand-new Honda facility in Michigan, after fielding job offers from several auto manufacturers. He’s mapped his own career path — and paved the way for other students — admittedly not through a turbocharged grade point average, he said, but by his passion for hands-on learning, willingness to make connections and desire to solve problems. All simply “to make things work,” said O’Brien. O’Brien joined the Pitt Makerspace team early on as its sponsorship and outreach lead, a role in which he secured thousands of dollars in financial support and helped develop events designed to connect students with potential employers. “I have the ability to sell what I’m passionate about,” he said. Boosted by connections made at the Stanford University-based national University Innovation Fellows program, he has helped grow the Makerspace from a basement space with little more than a few benches and sofas, a 3D printer and some tools into a vibrant hub for creating, innovating and, importantly, for networking. O’Brien launched his own MakerHUB podcast, which has drawn notable guests — including Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher — to the Makerspace sofas for a conversation. The Pitt Makerspace served more than 1,000 students last year; a team of 30 keeps it running day to day. The suite has become a regular stop on prospective students’ campus tours, and now hosts alumni gatherings and events sponsored by industry partners. O’Brien also has made a commitment to give back as a member of Pitt’s first cohort of Panthers Forward graduates. The new Pitt program pays up to $5,000 of each student’s federal loan debt. In exchange, upon graduation, participants are asked to pay it forward in support of future Panthers Forward students. A passion in the making O’Brien knew from the time he started high school that he wanted to be an engineer. As a teen, he persuaded his parents to let him build a table large enough to seat his extended family so they could dine together rather than in separate rooms at holidays. It took 200 hours of work, but the result is a massive 11-foot-long table that is the focal point in his family’s dining room in Reading, Pennsylvania. “I realized what I could make with the proper resources and the proper help,” he said of the experience. In his senior year at Muhlenberg High School, he launched his own small business, SO’s Bows, all because he couldn’t find a bow tie in the appropriate shade of blue to match his prom date’s dress. He designed his own, then stitched it himself on a home economics class sewing machine. After perfecting the process, he began selling ties made to order. His interest in entrepreneurship led him to Pitt’s student innovation programming. He met Babs Carryer, director of Pitt’s Big Idea Center within the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute at a Startup Blitz event. He soon began working in her office — analyzing participation data in an effort to create strategies to engage students from all disciplines in Innovation Institute programming. “When students come to Pitt, they don’t necessarily know what they want to do, but they figure it out,” Carryer said. “He’s a great example of an engineering student who discovers innovation and entrepreneurship as a result of being at Pitt. It is lifechanging. He is going to be wildly successful, whatever he chooses to do.” Intrapreneurship — entrepreneurship in a company setting — suits O’Brien, Carryer said. “He wants to merge creativity and entrepreneurship with engineering,” she said, commending his motivation and skill set. “This is the dream job,” O’Brien said as he prepares for his new position in Michigan that will include creating a makerspace where his group can prototype concepts to bring to the overall organization. “I’m honored to have this opportunity. It’s a blank slate to decide what this facility means to Honda moving forward.” And the wheels already are turning in his mind: “Ultimately I’d like to create an internship program between this Honda facility and the Pitt Makerspace,” he said. “Providing value is the currency that leverages your next opportunity,” O’Brien said. “The return doesn’t need to be immediate. What I’m leaving behind is a platform for people to succeed.” Leaving an impact? Those who know his work best say O’Brien is making it happen.
Kimberly K. Barlow
Apr
5
2019

For Those Too Tired to Brush

Chemical & Petroleum, Diversity, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Reposted with permission from Pittwire. Emily Siegel, a Pitt senior majoring in chemical engineering and biological sciences, admits she’s part of a generation of ever busy, on-the-go multitaskers. Like many people her age, she’s fallen into bed after a long day of classes and late night of studying without even brushing her teeth, too drained to get up. The exhausting experience has propelled Siegel’s entrepreneurial path. In a product design class last fall, chemical engineering professor and veteran innovator-entrepreneur Eric Beckman gave an assignment: “He challenged us to think of a problem and come up with a product to solve it,” she said. The memory of those multiple late nights sparked her idea. “If I had something on my nightstand that I could use right then…” she thought. Her solution: Trek, a biodegradable chewing gum that kills bacteria and removes and prevents plaque, marketed initially toward busy young adults. Siegel’s attention-grabbing pitch cites a study by insurer Delta Dental that leaves little doubt that there’s a real problem for Trek to solve: The research found that 37 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 have gone two or more days without brushing their teeth. Siegel pitches Trek as better than what’s on the market today: It removes and prevents plaque, something ordinary gum can’t do, she said. “And it’s better for the environment because it creates no plastic waste, unlike disposable single-use toothbrushes. It’s 100% biodegradable.” Siegel envisions that this product not only will benefit busy millennials, but also will appeal to travelers, members of the military and people in places where clean water is difficult to come by. It’s a winning idea that’s being advanced through the Big Idea Center, the Pitt Innovation Institute’s hub for student entrepreneurship programming. Trek took the top prize in the most recent Big Idea Blitz, a 24-hour event in which student innovators recruit fellow students to their teams and work with Innovation Institute entrepreneurs-in-residence to develop their ideas, understand the market need and hone their pitches. More big ideas The Randall Family Big Idea competition, coordinated by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute, is open to all Pitt students from first-year through postdoc. Established in 2009 by Pitt alumnus Bob Randall (A&S ’65) and family, the competition is the region’s largest student innovation and entrepreneurship program. The annual competition kicks off in February, and culminates in a final round in March, in which 50 teams vie for a total of $100,000 in prize money. That’s where the product became Trek, as Siegel — with only five minutes left to complete her pitch — hurriedly searched for synonyms for “on-the-go” and found the short and sweet name that connotes being on the move. In March, Siegel paired up with Lauren Yocum, a biology major, as Team Trek to compete in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition. They finished first among 50 finalists. Sam Bunke, a chemical engineering major, who, like Siegel and Yocum will graduate in December, has joined the team to further advance the product. Trek’s prize money — $1,500 from the Big Idea Blitz and the $25,000 Randall Family Big Idea Competition grand prize — are going toward further development of this idea around which Siegel intends to create a company and an entrepreneurial career. Her summer plans include participating in Pitt’s Blast Furnace student accelerator. Babs Carryer, director of the Big Idea Center, said, “We offer award money to teams like Trek to encourage and support them in their innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors. I have high hopes for Trek being one of the Big Idea Center’s latest student startups.” Siegel’s drive and desire to take this product to market were key factors in the Big Idea Center’s decision to send Trek to represent Pitt in the ACC InVenture Prize competition set for April 16-17 at North Carolina State University. The choice was made before the Randall Family Big Idea Competition winners were selected. “The Randall judges’ agreement is added confirmation that Trek is a strong competitor,” Carryer said. In 2018, Pitt’s Four Growers team, which is developing a robotic tomato harvesting system, placed second in the ACC competition after winning the Randall Family Big Idea competition. The company recently moved into offices on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. The ACC InVenture Prize is an innovation competition in which teams of undergraduates representing Atlantic Coast Conference universities pitch their inventions or businesses to a panel of judges in front of a live audience. Five finalists will compete for a total of $30,000 in prizes. Innovation Institute entrepreneur-in-residence Don Morrison, who mentored Trek through the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, is helping the team hone its pitch and business model in anticipation of this next challenge. Morrison, former CEO of American Eagle Outfitters, is committed to helping young entrepreneurs by being the mentor he never had. “I had great business mentors who helped me understand retail, but I didn’t have an entrepreneurial mentor. Throughout my career I developed innovations that solved real problems for my companies. My solutions could have been taken to market to solve the same problem for other retailers. That’s why I’m passionate about paying it forward through entrepreneurial mentorship,” Morrison said. “The Trek team is very coachable and passionate about what they’re doing. Their idea solves a real problem. These are key ingredients for success,” he said. “I think that Trek really is a big idea.” The Randall Family Big Idea competition, coordinated by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute, is open to all Pitt students from first-year through postdoc. ### Established in 2009 by Pitt alumnus Bob Randall (A&S ’65) and family, the competition is the region’s largest student innovation and entrepreneurship program. The annual competition kicks off in February, and culminates in a final round in March, in which 50 teams vie for a total of $100,000 in prize money. Read more about this year’s winning teams on the Innovation Institute blog, or take a peek at the finalists’ pitch videos.
Kimberly K. Barlow, University Communications

Mar

Mar
22
2019

SSOE Associate Dean for Diversity and MEMS Associate Professor Receives Award

MEMS, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Sylvanus Wosu, associate dean for diversity and MEMS associate professor, was the recipient of this year’s DuPont Minorities in Engineering Award given by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).  The award is intended to recognize the outstanding performance of an engineering educator for their efforts in increasing student diversity within engineering and engineering technology programs. The award consists of a $1500 honorarium, a $500 grant for travel expenses to the ASEE Annual Conference and a certificate.

Mar
1
2019

Shifting Into High Gear

Industrial, MEMS, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

David Kitch holds two degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, but his connection to the Pitt community extends far beyond that. Kitch earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (1968) and a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering (1981). Kitch first became aware of the University of Pittsburgh at a young age, working in his father’s automobile repair shop, Kitch’s Auto Service, located in Slickville, PA, 30 miles east of Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County. It was here that he gained an interest in engineering through rebuilding engines, transmissions, carburetors and more when he was just 10 years old. Kitch would often talk about his engineering interest to the shop’s customers, which included UPMC doctors and University of Pittsburgh instructors. They all encouraged Kitch to consider Pitt when the time came to apply to college. While Kitch originally intended to apply for a scholarship to the US Naval Academy, tuition benefits and other perks for the Westmoreland County native led him to attend the University of Pittsburgh Greensburg, which offered a pre-engineering curriculum. Kitch attended Pitt Greensburg for two years and then transferred to the Oakland campus in 1966. When he got to Oakland, Kitch joined the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) as a student member. Kitch fondly remembers attending classes in Engineering Hall and eating brown bag lunches with other commuter students. Because of his interest in energy conversion and turbomachinery, he especially enjoyed his thermo-fluids classes. Kitch says his most influential instructors were Dr. Blaine Leidy who taught Thermodynamics 1 and 2 and Dr. Joel Peterson who taught Fluid Mechanics.  Kitch continued to work at his father’s repair shop throughout his undergraduate career. While the formal co-op program had not yet been created at the time, Kitch considers Kitch’s Auto Service to be one of the first co-op sponsors and he gives much credit to his work there in helping him achieve his degree.  When Kitch graduated in 1968, the job market for engineers was thriving. He recalls being frequently contacted by company recruiters. He took interviews with four companies, but his love for the Pittsburgh region ultimately influenced him to stay local and he accepted a position at Elliott Co. in Jeannette, PA. In the early ‘70s, the nuclear power field gained traction and was led by local company, Westinghouse Electric Co. Several Elliott engineers were recruited by Westinghouse, including Kitch, who was hired in 1973. Kitch spent the next 25 years working for Westinghouse in a variety of positions including; principal design engineer, marketing engineer, nuclear safety, and project engineering.  These positions afforded Kitch the opportunity to publish numerous technical papers and travel the world visiting suppliers and nuclear plants where Westinghouse equipment was installed. In the late 70s, Kitch began attending night school in pursuit of his master’s in Engineering Management. He notes, “I was most influenced by Dr. David Cleland, my project management professor who was also well known for his publications on the subject. Dr. Cleland asked me if would critique one of his books and I did.  I reviewed the many papers submitted by authors and picked the best, to which I was mentioned in his book and received three credits toward my degree.” Kitch was also named to the IE National Honor Society in 1981. In a long and prosperous engineering tenure, Kitch is able to identify many highlights. One highlight that particularly stands out to Kitch was when his position at Westinghouse was to mentor three young engineering new hires to work on the AP-1000 plant design. One of the three hires was a Pitt Mechanical Engineering graduate named Kyle Noel. “Kyle and I formed the pump design team for the AP-1000 and we traveled to Europe, California, and throughout the US for four years. When I retired from this job, Kyle assumed command and we have remained close friends today.”During Kitch’s time as a design engineer for Westinghouse, he stayed in touch with two of his Pitt classmates, Bernard "Bernie" Fedak and Wilson Farmerie. These men recruited Kitch to serve on the then Mechanical Engineering Department Visiting Committee, an important service the three of them still do today, 25 years later. In October 2016, Kitch received from Dean Holder a MEMS Department Service Award for his impactful and dedicated commitment to the Department and the Swanson School of Engineering in general.Currently, Kitch is an engineering consultant working for Vinoski and Assoc. Inc., and McNally LLC. “My work consists of expert witness testimony support, failure and root cause analyses, reliability/design audits, and project management.” Kitch never lost his passion for cars. He supports the Pitt FSAE team as a booster, spectator and fan. He serves as a judge for the National Corvette Restorer’s Society.  He has also restored several Corvettes and currently owns three, which he keeps in a garage he calls Dave’s Corvette Corner.
Author: Meagan Lenze, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Jan

Jan
31
2019

Lasting Impact

All SSoE News, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

The sophomore engineering student was exhausted and overwhelmed. At 3 that morning, when she finally left Benedum Hall after a long study session, her brain felt scrambled and her emotions seemed out of control. She always knew that earning a degree in mechanical engineering would be hard, but now she worried she was incapable of keeping up with the rigorous workload. In tears, she called her parents in eastern Pennsylvania. Just come home, her father said. The idea was tempting, but she had worked so hard to get to Pitt. She was the first in her family to attend college; could she really give up? So, SaLisa Berrien went to someone she knew would help. In the office of Associate Professor of Engineering Karl Lewis, the young woman poured out her heart. Lewis listened, then he gave Berrien a talk that she says transformed her outlook. “He said, ‘what you want is achievable,’” she recalls. “He talked me through what I needed to do and told me that everyone goes through these pressures, but that it is how you deal with them that matters most. It seemed like he believed in me more than I believed in myself.” Read the full article at Pitt Magazine.
Mark Nootbaar, Senior Writer and Editor, Institutional Advancement