UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Driven by a passion to fuse creativity and technical skills, Amanda Hildenbrand, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, knew that she could find her niche at Penn State.
Hildenbrand, encouraged by her sister Christine, a 2015 mechanical engineering alumna, became an Engineering Ambassador in 2019. Engineering Ambassadors are students who develop leadership and communication skills to share their passion for engineering, with an emphasis on reaching and inspiring underrepresented groups.
“I wanted to get involved at Penn State and share my own story,” she said. “I loved my entire experience with the Engineering Ambassadors.”
The program, founded in 2009 by Karen A. Thole, distinguished professor and mechanical engineering department head, and Michael Alley, teaching professor of mechanical engineering, aims to empower the next generation of engineers through targeted K-12 recruiting and outreach.
“Using fun devices, we can convey to students as young as first grade what engineers are able to do,” Hildenbrand said.
Her favorite activity was demonstrating electrical circuits using a kit created by Makey Makey. Using the natural electricity found in everyday objects, Hildenbrand and her fellow ambassadors were able to teach the basics of circuits by using a simple music synthesizer powered by fruits.
“We also meet with high school students, answering their questions and helping them on their path,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to get them excited about engineering.”
Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer and subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, is a corporate partner of Penn State and one of the most significant champions of the Engineering Ambassadors program. Thanks to longstanding philanthropic support of Raytheon Technologies and other organizations, the program was able to expand beyond Penn State.
Raytheon Technologies’ support of the Engineering Ambassadors program advances a mutual interest in K-12 outreach, provides an opportunity to engage top-tier talent, and is an integral part of the holistic relationship between the company and Penn State.
“The support of Raytheon Technologies makes our Engineering Ambassadors program possible,” said Lori Miraldi, director of the Engineering Ambassadors program. “Early on in the growth of our program, they recognized how impressive the Engineering Ambassadors are and what an impact the Engineering Ambassadors were having on K-12 students.”
Miraldi and Raytheon Technologies have worked closely with the Penn State Corporate Engagement Center to navigate the logistics of creating a seamless and mutually beneficial relationship.
Thanks to the strong partnership forged between the Engineering Ambassadors and Pratt & Whitney, Hildenbrand was able to develop her network and secured an internship with the company in the summer of 2020. She previously worked with the company and returned with an increased skill set, thanks to the Engineering Ambassadors training.
“The Engineering Ambassadors program teaches a lot of valuable skills, like communication and teamwork,” she said. “Companies like Pratt & Whitney recognize that.”
In the summer of 2020, she translated the experience to the Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START) Lab, a research facility led by Thole and supported by Pratt & Whitney and the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, that pursues innovations for gas turbine engines.
“As with many Engineering Ambassadors, Amanda’s communication and leadership skills are outstanding. She has the confidence to approach complex problems and doesn’t ever give up!” Thole said. “She continues to have a wide view on the importance of what she is doing and the importance of encouraging a diverse next generation of engineering students.”
Hildenbrand explained all these experiences propelled her on her career path and she feels confident in her ability to make an impact.
“These two experiences definitely helped me develop what I wanted to do as an engineer,” she said. “They also helped me become confident in my skills and I enjoyed every second.”
After graduation, she will join Lockheed Martin full time in a leadership development program. Hildenbrand also explained that she plans to be a representative of the Engineering Ambassadors throughout her entire career.
“Penn State has a great support system for women and other underrepresented groups in engineering,” she said. “In my career, I’m excited to look for the same kind of mentorship and do my own outreach to simulate the environment at Penn State. The number of women in the engineering field is only growing and I take pride in being a part of that.”
Graduating into a world unexpectedly transformed by the pandemic, Hildenbrand remains confident in her future.
“If I can bring together my creativity and technical skills, I can make a difference in the world,” she said. “The Engineering Ambassadors helped me harness that knowledge.”
Corporate partnerships advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.
About the Corporate Engagement Center
The Corporate Engagement Center connects industry partners to strategic opportunities at Penn State for research and development, philanthropy and talent recruitment.
About Raytheon Technologies
Raytheon Technologies is an aerospace and defense company that provides advanced systems and services for commercial, military and government customers worldwide. The company was formed in 2020 through the combination of Raytheon Company and the United Technologies Corporation aerospace businesses and is headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts.