Penn State’s applied growth opportunities for students are nurturing exceptional talent


By Greg Woodman

One of the best parts of my adjunct role in the College of Engineering teaching Engineering 310 (Entrepreneurial Leadership)—which I’ve had since 2006—is watching a new group of students grow over the semester-long course. Even as we run articles on the nationwide talent shortage, I’m encouraged to see how students gain new perspectives on themselves and new perspectives on business and industry, then put their knowledge and experience to work solving real-world problems. These students are the next generation of top talent, and I’m glad to report they are ambitious and bright. All the seniors in my fall semester course have accepted job offers for summer 2024.

This dynamic was on full display at the Learning Factory’s Fall 2023 Capstone Project Showcase at the BJC. The College of Engineering’s Learning Factory provides a University-Industry partnership where students complete design projects that benefit real-life industrial sponsors, who donate a $4,000 sponsorship to participate. The companies interact with students and faculty for the projects, giving students hands-on experience that enhances their classroom learning. The program is part of what makes engineering education at Penn State stand out as exceptional.

In my experience, when students really understand that the goal of any business is to solve a problem, they shine at surfacing problems and creating potential solutions. In my class, students separate into teams for various problem-solving assignments. They see problems everywhere and are experts at identifying gaps in the markets designed to serve them.

In one project, they identify a problem within an existing company and pitch the company to hire them as consultants to solve it. From Ticketmaster’s lack of student ticket exchange to poorly made apps for public transportation, from the lack of clarity around NIL to the lack of awareness about some of Penn State’s coolest majors, they created insightful and impressive solutions.

They also raised the challenging and stressful obstacles international students face seeking sponsored internships and employment and the lack of convenient healthy food options (this one has made the list all 17 years that I’ve been teaching!).

“This class taught me more about myself, those around me, the world of business and entrepreneurship, critical thinking, real-world problem solving, life planning, team leadership, and even psychology. I learned how to work better in a team, publicly speak, gain confidence, as well as a myriad of technical entrepreneurial skills,” one of my students said in their semester survey.

As the teacher, I learn just as much, or more. One of my students won five contests (two class case studies and 2 pitch contests and website competition)—earning $1,000.  She credits her success to using her Ai ChatGPT skills for about 70% of her presentations. Her secret, she shared, is prompt engineering—writing the most effective prompts. Prompt engineers are in demand and she’s mastered the ability to create clear yet creative prompts that generate insightful and interesting content.

For industry, she says, “Precision in crafting prompts ensures AI-generated content aligns seamlessly with messaging, enhancing customer satisfaction and optimizing efficiency. In the age of personalized content, prompt engineering emerges as a game-changer, offering substantial returns on investment.”    I think even that answer when I asked her came from Chat GPT !

After graduation, she’s off and running to give a fortunate business a substantial return on their investment. If you’re a Happy Valley business owner, I encourage you to explore opportunities to partner with Penn State students and faculty—like the Learning Factory or courses like mine, Engineering 310—that benefit students and your company.

Learning Factory Capstone Showcase Winners

First Place – Lockheed Martin Best Project Award

  • 3D – printed carbon fiber and elastomer bike saddle (PSU Learning Factory)
  • Aluminum Extrusion Kit and Playbook for STEM Education 1 (Aluminum Extruders Council)

Second Place – Best Project Award

  • Designed of Improved GE Healthcare Medical Device Cover for Sanitation and Sterilization Process (GE Healthcare Medical Technology LLC)
  • Shunt Flow Measurement System for Treating Hydrocephalus Patients (PSU College of Medicine)

Third Place – Best Project Award

  • Hydrogel-based Transpiration Cooling (Applied Physics Laboratory – Johns Hopkins University)
  • STAR Trainer for Constellation Energy (CMPEN 482W: Team PJ2A) (Constellation Energy)

People’s Choice Awards

  • BP People’s Choice Award
    • Optimize Cooler Restocking (Sheetz)

Greg Woodman is the CEO of Affinity Connection, publisher of HappyValley Industry and has been teaching Engineering 310 at Penn State since 2006.

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To get more involved checkout this link Submit a Project | Penn State Engineering (


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  1. Thanks for sharing! I enjoy the showcases each semester. Seeing what the students produce and talking with them about the process is very interesting.

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