Penn State's GridSTAR Center hosts immersive leadership program

Penn State students participating in interactive coursework through the summer work study program. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On May 19 a cadre of Penn State students began an Immersive Leadership Experience in Sustainable Energy and Business. This summer program combines hands-on coursework with internship experiences, and is hosted by GridSTAR Center, which is a smart grid educational and operational research center that is part of the Architectural Engineering Department at Penn State, located at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia.

These students represent a diverse cross section of the student body and come from several Penn State campuses including Abington, Brandywine, Berks, Hazleton and University Park. A sophomore energy engineering major, Jessica Scarpello, has found value in this diversity. As she pointed out, “We are all working towards the same goal which is energy independence. It is interesting to me how many different approaches we are all taking within the 17 of us. Our projects are definitely different but the same in terms of goals. We can really learn from each other when we talk about our projects.”

Students have begun attending interactive classes held at the GridSTAR Center. The class content and activities have centered around energy and sustainability including home energy assessments in Philadelphia communities, field trips to innovative local businesses and renewable technology workshops. Each student has also been paired with a regional firm focused on sustainable business, energy and research activities. These firms include CertainTeed, Solar Grid Storage, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), UMC-Power and various Penn State research entities. The coupling of coursework with internship experience enables students to apply concepts they learn in their Penn State coursework to their internship settings.

Brett Samocki, a junior at University Park, has found great overlap in the coursework and internship components stating, “As an energy, business and finance major, I was seeking an internship that provided experience relating to the relationships between energy, sustainability and business practices. My internship has me working on a project called Building Retuning, which trains maintenance personnel to find low and no-cost energy efficiency measures in commercial buildings. This is very similar to the class component of the program, where we performed energy assessments in residential homes to help save energy and money. Both of these have given me a larger perspective on energy and sustainability, and I feel that this program is a beneficial complement to my future plans in the energy sector.”

Senior energy engineering student Joe Ross has also found value in this work study structure. “Working with UMC has given me an in-depth perception of what happens behind the scenes when developing a solar PV (photovoltaics) system; everything from marketing and sales to engineering, design and installation. My coursework has broadened my understanding of what it means to be energy efficient. As an energy engineer I often think of ways of producing energy. This class has helped me understand ways to save energy. Often times saving a kW (kilowatt) of power is much better than producing a kW.”

As the summer continues, more cross pollination of student ideas, projects and growth is expected. With the unique learning environment of GridSTAR Center, The Navy Yard and the Philadelphia region, this program has sought to provide a dynamic experience to Penn State students. The program aims to send students back to their campuses energized about the possibility of sharing this learning environment with their colleagues.

Penn State Great Valley’s Director of Academic Affairs, James Nemes, said “The Navy Yard is an excellent venue for teaching and learning. In addition to its convenient location, the facilities and culture of sustainability are huge assets for students of all ages. We hope we are able to expand opportunities for students to study and learn at the Navy Yard.”

A student led sustainability event on Thursday, Aug. 7, will allow students to share their summer work products and experience with Penn State faculty and alumni at GridSTAR Center located in The Navy Yard in Philadelphia. For full event details, visit or contact Elizabeth Resenic at

About Penn State’s GridSTAR CenterCoordinated by the Department of Architectural Engineering at Penn State, the GridSTAR Center (Grid Smart Training and Application Resource Center) was created to develop and deliver responsive professional and skilled workforce educational programming that is aligned with the caliber and pace of emerging smart grid investments and markets.

About the Immersive Leadership ExperienceThe Immersive Leadership Experience is a pilot work study program engaging Penn State students representing multiple disciplines from several regional campuses. This program is made possible through funding from the Department of Energy, GridSTAR Center, the Reinvention Fund and a grant from the BNY Mellon Foundation. 

Last Updated July 23, 2018