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Grand Valley State University
Padnos College of Engineering & Computing Newsletter
Dr. Paul Plotkowski, Dean
Padnos College of Engineering
and Computing

Dean's Message:

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

In the Padnos College, we began the 2022 year with hope, anticipation, reflection, and remembrance. We mourned the loss of two wonderful souls, Esther Padnos and Paul Jorgensen, over the winter break. 

Esther Padnos is the namesake of our college. Her significant contributions made it possible for us to provide high quality experiential learning opportunities for our students. Paul Jorgensen helped build the School of Computing into the innovative unit it is today. As we approach this new year, we intend to continue their legacy through our commitment to student success and preparation of the next generation of STEM professionals. 

We are preparing for an exciting semester with many upcoming opportunities to engage in STEM education. We hope you will join us at the Roger That! Public Symposium in February, and make use of the FIRST Robotics Rapid React practice field in the GVSU Innovation Design Center (see below for details).

As always, I enjoy hearing from you. If you have questions or comments, follow this link to Connect with the Dean.


PCEC's Top 10 Stories of 2021

The new year provides opportunities for reflection and celebration. Join us as we move into 2022 by taking a moment to review the top 10 news stories of the past year.
Esther Padnos
Esther Padnos

GVSU Remembers Philanthropist and Supporter Esther Padnos

Grand Valley State University joins West Michigan in mourning the death of Esther Padnos, who died December 19.

Padnos was a committed supporter of education and the environment. She was preceded in death by her husband, Seymour K. Padnos. 

Esther and Seymour were longtime Grand Valley supporters whose generosity created a major impact on the university community and in West Michigan. Together, they played a key role in the development and expansion of Grand Valley’s sciences, mathematics and engineering programs, helping to greatly boost the regional talent pipeline in these professions.

In 1996, to honor the couple's commitment to creating an environment where students and faculty can reach their full potential in these fields, Grand Valley dedicated the Seymour and Esther Padnos Hall of Science on the Allendale Campus. Their generosity and leadership were also recognized with the naming of the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. 

“Esther’s loyal support for Grand Valley students for more than 30 years has changed the lives of thousands of students," said President Philomena V. Mantella. "She will be remembered as a significant part of our history, with a legacy that will stretch far into the future. She will be missed.”

Esther was passionate about addressing the national shortage of nurses and its impact on health care in the region. In 2007, to help students overcome financial barriers to completing their degrees, Esther and her husband established the Esther R. Padnos Nursing Scholarship to support and inspire students in the accelerated nursing program. 

“Esther’s gentle and compassionate nature, and her sincere interest in helping students and others in West Michigan, have marked her as one of the area’s philanthropic leaders. We will always remember her with gratitude,” said Arend D. Lubbers, president emeritus.

Both Esther and Seymour received honorary doctorates of humane letters from Grand Valley in 1996. In 2011, they received the Grand Steward award at the annual Enrichment Dinner for their significant leadership, service and financial support of Grand Valley and its students. 

Dr. Paul Jorgensen
Dr. Paul Jorgensen

Padnos College Mourns Loss of Professor Emeritus Paul Jorgensen

School of Computing Professor Emeritus Paul Jorgensen, age 79, passed away at his home on Wednesday, December 15, 2021.

Dr. Jorgensen was a professor in the School of Computing for 29 years before retiring in 2017. Prior to joining the School of Computing, he had a successful 20-year career working for GTE. He authored nine software engineering textbooks. One of the first faculty in the masters in CIS program, Paul mentored countless graduate students’ projects and theses during his years at Grand Valley.

His passions included sailing and volunteering at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Several colleagues joined Paul in delivering reclaimed computers for schools on the reservation. Paul will be remembered for his jokes, stories, and sense of humor.

A private celebration of life will take place for Paul's close family and friends at a later time. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Michigan (989 Spaulding Ave. SE, Ada, MI 49301).

PCEC Gears Up for FIRST Robotics Competitions

On Saturday, January 8, GVSU hosted the FIRST Robotics Kick-off at the Innovation Design Center. The Kick-off consisted of the broadcasting of the 2022 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) game reveal, Rapid React, and kit distribution. Team members from 45 local teams participated in the Kick-off event. 

Up next for GVSU is the building of a full-size Rapid React practice field by students and staff. The full-size practice field will host a Robot in Three Days (Ri3D) Competition on February 12. Ri3D challenges teams to build a legal FIRST Robotics Competition robot within 72 hours.

The practice field will become available to local high school teams for practice and scrimmaging the week of February 14, 2022. The field will be open for up to four teams at a time, and will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The field will be open:
  • Monday - Friday: 5 PM - 9 PM
  • Saturday: 9 AM - 9 PM
  • Sunday: 9 AM - 5 PM
To reserve the practice field, or for more information, contact Sara Maas, PCEC K-12 & Community Outreach Coordinator, at
Colonel Eileen Collins
Colonel Eileen Collins

Plan to Attend the Sixth Annual Roger That! Public Symposium on Space Exploration

Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) are proud to present the sixth annual Roger That! public symposium on space exploration on the weekend of February 18-19, 2022. 
The Roger That! symposium is named in honor of Roger Chaffee, a native Grand Rapidian who lost his life in the Apollo 1 fire.
A wide variety of activities are included in this two-day event – there’s enough space for everyone! The 2022 event has a theme of “Women and Space” and will be presented in a hybrid format, beginning with virtual speakers Friday morning and transitioning to in-person events around 4pm Friday afternoon, with the remainder of the symposium in person.

The 2022 keynote, Colonel Eileen Collins, will speak at GVSU’s Loosemore Auditorium on Friday evening at 6:30 PM and again at 11:00 AM on Saturday morning at GRPM.

Her presentation, “Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars,” is appropriate for all ages. Col. Collins became the first female to pilot a U.S. spacecraft with the Discovery shuttle flight in 1995, and the first female commander on the 1999 Columbia shuttle flight.  Her talk is open to the public free of charge, and there will be a public reception preceding the GVSU talk in the Hager Exhibition Space on Friday 5:30 - 6:30 PM. A flyer suitable for sharing with students is available by contacting Dr. Karen Gipson (
Visit the Roger That! website for a full listing of activities and engagement opportunities including free STEM kits, STEAM activities at the GRPM, keynote speakers, and the Design That! competition for 4th - 8th grade students.

Corinne Farleigh
Corinne Farleigh

Occupational Safety & Health Alum Featured by Association for Women in Science

GVSU Occupational Safety & Health Alum, Corinne Farleigh, was featured by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). Farleigh works at Tesla as a Senior Environment, Health, Safety & Security (EHSS) Specialist, and has been a member of AWIS since 2016. Excerpts from her AWIS interview are below.
Describe your work as a STEM professional.

My main work is a mix of environmental protection, sustainability, behavioral safety, mechanical and electrical engineering, occupational health, and industrial hygiene. We wear many hats in the EHSS field with the main goal of keeping our environment protected and our people safe.

What do you aspire to accomplish in your career and why?

I want to find a niche that fulfills my heart, not just my pocketbook or letters after my name. I want to make an impact on the world, even if small, that will outlast my lifetime.

GVSU Graduates Working on Next Generation of Vehicles

Grand Valley graduates are playing a part in developing the future of transportation, working at companies developing electric vehicles and autonomous, self-driving platforms for vehicles.

Companies like electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian and autonomous tech developer Argo AI are at the forefront of automotive industries which will shape the future of transportation.

Daniel Heibel, a 2020 mechanical engineering graduate, works for Rivian, which began delivering its vehicles to the public in October. Heibel began his career with Rivian first as an intern, then three co-op rotations.

“There was always a drive to work for a company who was doing something bigger than myself, and that ended up being Rivian,” said Heibel. “I thought, ‘How can I take my degree and make an impact?’ Rivian is a good way to do that. My internships helped me for sure with knowing and understanding what I was getting myself into.”

While Tesla may be the company most people associate with electric vehicles, Rivian has a different approach to attract customers, said Heibel. “Tesla makes high-end, luxury sedans, and they do a really good job of that,” said Heibel. “We’re making off-road, adventure vehicles.”

Heibel isn’t the only Rivian employee with GVSU engineering roots. Adam Duke, a 2021 mechanical engineering graduate, was president of the Solar Racing team where the two connected over Rivian. 

After three co-op stints with Rivian, Duke will join the company in January working in computer-aided design to construct the vehicle’s outer panels. “I always knew I wanted to work in renewable energy and the green side of engineering,” said Duke. “The cars we’re building have a huge place in the world today. What we’re doing is going to have a huge impact on the environment, and how we transport ourselves.”

Like Heibel and Duke, Bret Dorman, ’07, said he was looking for a career which would make a difference. After 10 years in the Air Force in aircraft maintenance and overseeing 300 mechanics and 25-30 aircraft, the opportunity to work at Argo AI was too good to pass for him. “I need to have an intrinsic motivator, that internal fire to want to go do something,” said Dorman. “It’s a worthwhile way to spend my energy.”

His position as fleet operations manager at Argo’s facility in Allen Park is very similar to his Air Force career. At Argo, he’s resp
onsible for maintaining a fleet of Ford vehicles and guiding its team of safety drivers.

View the full story.

Visit the GVSU School of Engineering website.
Dr. Bill Pickard
Dr. Bill Pickard

Gift from Former Trustee Supports Students from HBCU / HSI Pipeline and Michigan

Former Grand Valley Board of Trustees member William "Bill" Pickard has initiated two funds designed to support students and help diversify West Michigan's talent pool.

Pickard's $800,000 gift helped create the Dr. William F. Pickard Pathway to Education Fund and the Lubbers and Pickard Endowment, providing short- and long-term help for students who are part of the HBCU / HSI Pipeline Consortium, and students from Genesee, Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties. The fund will be distributed annually, and the endowment will be invested for future generations of students.

Pickard has a deep commitment to ensuring success and educational attainment for students from Genesee, Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties. He was instrumental in helping Grand Valley partner with Fort Valley State University as GVSU established the pipeline consortium. Seven FVSU students are now enrolled in Grand Valley master's degree programs. Since that agreement, a second HBCU (Saint Augustine’s University) has joined the consortium.  

President Philomena V. Mantella expressed her appreciation. “Dr. Pickard’s gift allows the university to enroll and graduate an increasingly diverse group of talented and deserving learners from underrepresented backgrounds, fueling our vision of an inclusive and equitable community that fosters and sustains a sense of belonging, and promotes diversity and respect,” Mantella said.

B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, said Pickard is making a colossal impact on the lives of students of color and underrepresented students. 

“These funds are critical to helping students achieve their best potential at Grand Valley,” Truss said. “Knowing we have their backs with these scholarships and initiatives will not only encourage students to attend Grand Valley, but allow them to move confidently toward graduation, and beyond, to becoming a Laker for a lifetime.”

View the full story.

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