New year will bring new leadership to the Learning Factory

On Jan. 1, 2016, Maggie Slattery will take over as director of the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In December, engineering seniors will celebrate the end of the semester by demonstrating their capstone projects at the Penn State College of Engineering Design Showcase.

That celebration will be bittersweet for Mary Frecker, who has announced it will be her final showcase as director of the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory.

“Directing the Learning Factory has been a wonderful experience. I’ve really enjoyed working together with industry representatives, faculty, staff and students to make the program a success,” said Frecker.

Maggie Slattery, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will succeed Frecker; her tenure as Learning Factory director begins Jan. 1, 2016.

“Maggie has been involved in some of the most important conversations regarding curriculum across the University. She heads the Faculty Senate’s curriculum committee and has been a leader in the college in providing students with experiential learning,” said Peter Butler, associate dean for education in the College of Engineering. “With her experience and dedication to student learning, she will be instrumental in leading the Learning Factory in new directions and in providing opportunities for engagement by even more students.”

Frecker has served as director of the Learning Factory since 2013.

During her tenure, the Learning Factory engaged more than 100 new industry sponsors to meet the increased demand for projects and sponsorships, while building upon the successful relationships with many longtime industry sponsors.  

Frecker helped secure a gift from civil engineering alumnus Andrew Kartalis and his wife, Katherine, to support a new Learning Factory Director’s leadership fund and a future facility expansion.

She also significantly enhanced the 3D printing capabilities in the Learning Factory facility — an accomplishment Frecker says is especially exciting. “There is a lot of interest from students in this technology, but the Learning Factory’s capabilities have facilitated increased interest in the technology from industry. We are now doing capstone projects specifically aimed at understanding 3D printing processes for a particular company’s products.”

Frecker said Slattery is a great fit for the position because she already has experience with many aspects of the Learning Factory, including teaching the capstone course in biomedical engineering, recruiting projects, sponsoring projects and directly interacting with sponsors. “Her experience with curriculum improvement will also enhance the Learning Factory’s ability to form multidisciplinary capstone teams, which our industry partners desire,” said Frecker.

Although she doesn’t officially take over as director until January, Slattery is already preparing to take on her new leadership role. “I started having meetings with Mary, to learn about projects and work flow in the Learning Factory. I will soon meet with Learning Factory staff and strategic partners to get a better perspective for what they need from me and what initiatives to focus on in the near future,” she said.

Slattery said she is excited to build upon the success of the Learning Factory, further integrating it in the fabric of the college, expanding its collaborations with industry and faculty across the University, and enhancing all students’ experiences with solving real-world problems.

A Penn State faculty member since 2007, Slattery currently serves as the undergraduate program coordinator for the biomedical engineering department. She is a member of the Penn State Faculty Senate’s Special Committee on Implementation of the General Education Reform, and she served as co-chair for the Penn State General Education Task Force.

The Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory is as much a concept as it is a physical space on the University Park campus. For 20 years, it has connected industry with student capstone design projects in a number of engineering majors and has provided students with a way to have real-world hands-on experience in applying their engineering training.  

Last Updated December 15, 2015