Electrical engineering major named College of Engineering's fall student marshal

Alissa Smith, electrical engineering student and College of Engineering student marshal, and Justin Schwartz, the Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering. Credit: Penn State College of Engineering / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alissa Smith, a Penn State senior majoring in electrical engineering and physics, has been named the College of Engineering’s student marshal for the fall 2019 commencement ceremony, which will be held on Saturday, Dec. 21.

College of Engineering student marshals are selected for their outstanding academic achievement and contributions to engineering student life. For the fall semester, only one student is selected as student marshal to represent the entire college.

During her time at Penn State, Smith held an internship with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, where she developed ground station software for a CubeSat satellite. She also interned at Lockheed Martin, where she designed and constructed a power distribution system for an unmanned aerial vehicle. Smith also participated in a co-op, completing four rotations in various hardware, firmware and software roles.

Smith works as a lab assistant in the course Electrical Engineering 210, and previously she worked as a learning assistant for the Physics 211 and 250 courses. She was involved in the Penn State dance company Volé, the Student Space Programs Lab (SSPL), and the Advanced Vehicle Team.

Smith’s advice on how to balance such a full schedule with two difficult majors is to think long term and to find a field that seems particularly interesting.

“If you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s going to be easier to get through all those long nights and weekends of studying and work,” she said.

Adding to the multiple jobs, extracurricular activities and difficult course load, Smith had an additional opportunity to test her mettle when she suffered a dance-related concussion during the first semester of her sophomore year.

“That was probably my toughest semester, trying to keep on track in all my classes and with my job and volunteer work,” she said.

But she continued to work diligently throughout the semester and focused on the overall objective in order to overcome the challenges of that semester.

“I think keeping the end goal in sight and knowing why I’m doing it has been important,” she said.

Of her many activities and responsibilities, Smith said that her involvement with SSPL was one of the most impactful.

“That was probably the most valuable experience of my undergraduate career, and that’s why I recommend that other students go out and get extracurriculars and lab experience,” she said. “We were working on a CubeSat satellite, and you learn so much working on a project like that. I feel like as sophomore, I had a lot of responsibility on that project. When you’re in the workplace, there is a huge team of people that builds something like that, whereas here, it’s just a couple college students trying to learn how to do it as they’re doing it. It was really enjoyable, and I learned a lot.”

Her involvement with SSPL played such a significant role in her college experience that she selected one of the club’s advisers, Sven Bilén, professor and head of the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs, to be her faculty escort for the commencement ceremony.

Smith credits her involvement in SSPL to a willingness to go a little outside of her comfort zone as a first-year student.

“There are a lot of clubs on campus that you might not think are specifically related to your major, but they may be more related than you think,” she said. “My capstone course is actually a mechanical engineering course. It’s part of Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Team. I had never heard of it, and when I did hear of it, it sounded like more of a mechanical engineering thing, but they actually need electrical engineers and computer engineers as well. I would just say anything that you hear about that you’re interested in, try it.”

Smith has been the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the William J. Madden and Ethel Harer Madden Memorial Scholarship in Engineering; the Robert C. Kieffer Memorial Scholarship in Electrical Engineering; the Donald and Nancy Devorris Scholarship in Electrical Engineering; the Bert Elsbach Scholarship in Physics; and the Lockheed Martin Scholarship. She also received the Evan Pugh Scholar Award both her junior and senior years and the President’s Freshman Award. She is a member of the Eta Kappa Nu Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Honor Society and the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honor Society.

Last Updated November 26, 2019