Stay informed on the latest happenings in PCEC!
Stay informed on the latest happenings in PCEC!
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,

I am always amazed at the range of activities conducted by PCEC students, alumni, faculty, and staff, as you will see reflected in this newsletter. The PCEC community is involved in everything from extensive K-12 outreach and support to development of remarkable education experiences for our students, many of which happen in partnership with our industry and community partners and through our applied R&D centers.

The collective energy and impact of these programs is far beyond reasonable expectations. I'd like to express my sincere thanks to everyone reading who is involved in these remarkable programs.

If you are not yet involved with PCEC, we'd like to work with you! Please reach out so that we can connect you.

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


38 Teams to Compete in FIRST Robotics District Event at GVSU

Teams from 38 Michigan high schools — from Allendale to Iron Mountain to Zeeland — will converge at Grand Valley State University March 24-26 for the FIRST Robotics district event.

Students who compete in For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics are guided by teachers and industry mentors. Under strict rules, limited time and resources, teams are challenged to raise funds, design a brand, hone teamwork skills, and build and program competitive, industrial-size robots. 

All FIRST Robotics events will take place at GVSU's Fieldhouse Arena. Events are free and open to the public. Note: All students, volunteers and visitors must wear face masks, per GVSU and FIRST Robotics COVID-19 guidelines.

Winners from the West Michigan District event will advance to the state championship in Saginaw April 13-16. This marks the first in-person FIRST Robotics competition at GVSU since 2019.

Tournament schedule highlights:
  • Thursday, March 24: Pits open, inspections run from 5-10 p.m.
  • Friday, March 25: Opening ceremonies, 10:30 a.m.; matches run 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 26: Opening ceremonies, 9 a.m.; matches begin at 9:30 a.m., playoff rounds run 2-5 p.m.; awards ceremony, 5 p.m.
Brent Nowak, left, and President Philomena V. Mantella look at 3D pieces made at aMDI in this 2019 photo. John Hall, principal engineer and project manager, looks on.
Brent Nowak, left, and President Philomena V. Mantella look at 3D pieces made at aMDI in this 2019 photo. John Hall, principal engineer and project manager, looks on.

GVSU Receives $1 Million in Federal Funding to Expand applied Medical Device Institute

Grand Valley received $1 million in federal appropriations to expand its applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) and provide new technologies that will better serve the medical innovation industry while expanding West Michigan's economic footprint.

Brent Nowak, executive director of aMDI, said the funds will help aMDI take on more projects from medical device developers, who might have turned elsewhere, and “allow us to make a broader impact on medical device technology in West Michigan."

Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, said Grand Valley students will also benefit. “This funding will allow aMDI to expand both capabilities and capacity," Plotkowski said. "This will mean supporting more companies in broader areas of product design and launch. Through this, we will be able to enrich the education of many more students through internships, cooperative education and graduate assistantships.”

View the full story.

GVSU engineering alumni, Kyle Hanis, Allison Bolthouse, and Mike Ford
Allison Bolthouse, Kyle Hanis, and Mike Ford (left to right)

Three Engineering Graduates Employed with Stryker Reflect on their GVSU Education

GVSU engineering alumni, Kyle Hanis, Allison Bolthouse, and Mike Ford, connected when they found themselves employed at Stryker, a medical technology corporation based in Kalamazoo, Michigan that focuses on improving healthcare through innovative technology and evidence-based design for patient safety.
We caught up with them on their careers post-graduation and asked them why they want to stay engaged with GVSU as alumni, as well as their advice for current and prospective students.

All three alumni spoke highly of the co-op program in the School of Engineering. “The valuable skill sets that students obtain as part of the GVSU engineering co-op program benefit both the students and the companies involved,” explained Bolthouse. 

“GVSU graduates stand out in industry because of their experience from the co-op program,” Ford explained. “The project experience that GVSU students graduate with adds a lot of value.”
Chinaka Njoku talks with students who are helping develop software and technology for his company, Tasen Inc., through the Applied Computing Institute. The capstone class matches students with industry partners.
Chinaka Njoku talks with students who are helping develop software and technology for his company, Tasen Inc., through the Applied Computing Institute. The capstone class matches students with industry partners.

ACI Team Plays Key Role in Developing Technology to Assist International Students with Transcript Delivery

It’s technology Chinaka Njoku could have used more than a decade ago when he tried to enroll in college — and later, start the U.S. citizenship process — only to discover how difficult it was to get an official transcript.

Born in Nigeria, Njoku moved to the U.S. 20 years ago and eventually settled in the metro Detroit area. When a college registrar’s office requested his academic transcripts, Njoku learned his Nigerian school only had paper copies and did not have the resources to send him an electronic version. “The same thing happened again when I applied for financial aid,” he said. “I have heard similar stories from other people and started taking initiative to start the technology to solve this problem.”

Njoku earned a grant from the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, a SmartZone in Port Huron, to establish his business, Tasen Inc., located at the Velocity Center in Sterling Heights. Yet his startup needed software developers. He was referred to Grand Valley’s Applied Computer Institute and during the Fall 2021 semester had a team of three computer science students researching and developing a platform that can assist students from international schools with getting transcripts and other information to North American colleges and universities. The platform will benefit students and academic institutions in the United States and abroad, Njoku said.

Work on the platform has been steady, and Njoku said the GVSU student team did a great job to get it to a spot for future development. Jonathan Englesma, professor of computing and director of ACI, said it’s a perfect case study about why ACI was established and how it benefits industry partners like Njoku and students. 

View the full story.

Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan Technology Expo Held at GVSU

The Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan (AIAM) held their Aerospace Industry Technology Expo at Grand Valley State University on March 17, 2022. AIAM is a non-profit organization that provides a platform for aerospace leaders in the state to collaborate on initiatives that strengthen and grow the aerospace industry through talent attraction and new investment in Michigan.
The AIAM Technology Expo featured an exhibit hall and networking reception in the L.V. Eberhard Center on Grand Valley’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus that provided ample opportunity for interaction between participants. The event was sold-out and there was great energy in the room as participants discussed their work and demonstrated their technologies.
As part of the event, PCEC students had the opportunity to network with industry exhibitors and learn more about career pathways and opportunities available in the aerospace industry in Michigan.

PCEC Faculty Honored at Annual Awards Convocation

Please join us in congratulating the many PCEC faculty who were recognized during the annual awards convocation for their outstanding contributions and years of service to GVSU!
  • Heidi Jiao, professor of engineering, received the Outstanding Community Service Award
  • David Huizen, associate professor of occupational safety and health, received the Outstanding University Service Award
  • Wendy Reffeor, professor of engineering, received the Glenn A. Niemeyer Award
  • Agnieszka Szarecka, associate professor of cell and molecular biology, received the Pew Teaching Excellence Award
  • Sok Kean Khoo, associate professor of cell and molecular biology, received the Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award
  • Sanjivan Manoharan, assistant professor of engineering, received the Distinguished Early-career Scholar Award
  • Mark Staves, professor of cell and molecular biology and biology, was recognized for his 25 years of service
  • Paul Leidig, professor of computer science, was recognized for 30 years of service
  • Debbie Morrow, PCEC librarian, was recognized for 30 years of service
  • Paul Johnson, professor of electrical engineering, was recognized for 35 years of service

Roger That! Conference was Out-of-this-World

The Roger That! Conference celebrates the life and legacy of Roger B. Chaffee, a Grand Rapids born Navy pilot and astronaut. In 1967, Roger, Ed White, and Gus Grissom, the two other members of the NASA Apollo 1 crew, tragically lost their lives in a training exercise.
Roger That! has become an annual tradition in West Michigan through the combined efforts of the Grand Valley State University Padnos College of Engineering & Computing and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in partnership with the Grand Rapids Public Museum. This year, the 6th annual Roger That! conference was held on February 18 and 19 with a mixture of in-person and online events including academic presentations, STEM programming for school groups and the general public, and keynotes by former NASA astronaut, Colonel Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a U.S. space shuttle.

“We had such wonderful speakers and great sessions, and a completely packed room of parents and kids who came to the workshop on solar arrays hosted by Dr. Heidi Jiao (professor of engineering) on Friday,” shared Dr. Samhita Rhodes, professor of engineering and one of the conference coordinators.

As part of Roger That!, the Design That! Challenge featured projects on space-related topics by 4th – 8th grade students. “I saw the loveliest design projects from kids who created space suits for pets and elaborate machines to capture black holes,” said Dr. Rhodes.

The PCEC Student Services and Advising team participated in the Museum Celebration component of the Roger That! Conference. Families visiting the PCEC booth at the Grand Rapids Public Museum created “comet catcher” origami toys and parachuting astronauts. The parachuting astronauts could be tested in the Laker wind tunnel before going home with the kids.

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