“Why not just stay?” R&D Scientist on HappyValley’s Live-Work Sweet Spot

Written by Cara Aungst

September 14, 2021

SilcoTek R&D scientist Jesse Bischof with his daughter. 

A few weeks ago, I started interviewing Penn State alumni to find out how Penn State prepared them for their success in thriving local companies. Each of the people I interviewed said something very similar: Penn State gave them the foundation, but it was Happy Valley and its “special sauce” of tech opportunities combined with livability that has kept them here — enjoying thriving careers and fulfilling lives. 

“About a year before my wife and I graduated from Penn State, we started thinking about where we were going to end up,” says Jesse Bischof, R&D scientist for SilcoTek. 

“She wanted to teach at a large university and I wanted to go and work in industry somewhere. I distinctly remember sitting at the bar in the basement of Happy Valley Brewing saying, “What we should really look for is a town like State College… Large university? Check. Lots of industry jobs available? Check. And that’s sort of when the light clicked in our minds. Why not just stay? This is the perfect location.”

“As far as the livability and the benefits of living in Happy Valley…. We have a unique location and demographic that lives in Centre County,” he says. “There’s nearly anything you could ever want from a city. We have good restaurants, concerts, Arts Fest, Penn State sports, interesting shops for almost any hobby you can think of. Then you can travel 10-15 minutes away from campus and you’re in nature with hiking trails, rivers, lakes, mountains. You’re also surrounded by farmlands.”

Bischof was teaching high school chemistry when he applied at Penn State. “I wasn’t enjoying my job. I missed working in the lab trying to solve problems, rather than teach others what was already known and solved.”

“Perhaps I was in the minority of students at Penn State, but I had no idea that the area was packed with the number of tech opportunities there were here. It would be a good idea to host events with some of the student organizations to educate them about what’s available to them in the area… Typically, you have to pick one or the other. You can have it all here in Happy Valley.”

“I enjoyed how multidisciplinary the sciences were at Penn State,” he says. “When I was talking to professors and graduate students about their work, they would be chemistry graduate students talking about biomedical engineering, nanomaterials, physics, optics and so much more. The other thing that sold me was the materials characterization abilities at Penn State. We toured the old facility at Innovation Park as the Millennium Science Complex was just being built, but I knew right then and there that I wanted to get my hands on as many instruments as possible.”

He says that studying at Penn State was one of the best decisions he ever made. “Having access to the Materials Characterization Lab allowed me to get hands-on experience with tools that I hadn’t even heard of prior to coming to Penn State. Additionally, I got to work with physicists, chemists and biologists… I’m even an author on a paper about ash borer beetle traps because our group worked with an entomology group to try and determine what would make for the best decoy for the beetles to land on.”

He says that the strong collaboration was extremely valuable to his current position as R&D scientist at SilcoTek, a global leader in chemical vapor deposition coatings. In his role in R&D, he develops new coatings, improves existing coatings and finds new, interesting uses for the coatings.

“My current career is certainly not focused solely on chemistry. I have to be able to take a subject that I know nothing about and learn enough to be fluent in that subject in a short amount of time. Additionally, our company is a somewhat smaller company. We can’t afford to have our own SEM or nanofab, but we [can] come to Penn State and leverage several open access research laboratories. I already had the training on a number of instruments that I use weekly at my position at SilcoTek.

He calls Happy Valley the “perfect location” for he and his wife, but says that local industries need to do more to make themselves known to students who are here: “Perhaps I was in the minority of students at Penn State, but I had no idea that the area was packed with the number of tech opportunities there were here. It would be a good idea to host events with some of the student organizations to educate them about what’s available to them in the area.”

And what would he tell advanced degree students as they approach graduation? “Typically, you have to pick one or the other. You can have it all here in Happy Valley.”

What’s your story? Are you enjoying having it all here in Happy Valley, or living somewhere else wishing you were here (here’s a hint — check our job board)? Tell us in the comments.

Cara Aungst writes about industry, innovation and how Happy Valley ideas change the world. She can be reached with story ideas and comments at Cara@AffinityConnection.com

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