Senior makes most of materials science opportunities to land aerospace job

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Emma Vetland comes from a long line of nautical experts, but she’s charting a different course for her future.

The Penn State senior majoring in materials science and engineering became the first member of her family to go to college rather than continuing her family’s generations-long path as tugboat operators on the Hudson River.

“Everyone in my family has always worked on tugboats,” said Vetland, referring to the tradition her grandfather carried across the Atlantic from Norway. “It’s a hard job. You’re on the boat for weeks at a time, and then you’re home for weeks at a time.”

So she set off on an academic path, making a stop as a history major before landing in materials science and engineering with a minor in geography at Penn State.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I decided to attend a school that had a lot of options that were all good,” said Vetland. “Some schools are really great at one thing but they’re not great at a lot of things, and Penn State is great at a lot of things.”

The William and Estelle Turney Scholarship in Ceramic Science and Engineering recipient said her senior year is a little less stressful now that she’s secured a job with GKN Aerospace, beginning with a three-year rotational program. There, she will work in three areas before choosing her long-term position.

At GKN, she’ll oversee a manufacturing line that produces plane parts. But first she’ll work on the production line because the company wants their engineers to understand the entire process.

She said her experience working with McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets while interning with Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) helped her earn the full-time position that she found through one of the University’s career fairs.

Her undergraduate research focused on polymers, which are increasingly used in airplane manufacturing due to their lighter weight and similar strength as aluminum. At Penn State, Vetland worked in the lab of Michael Hickner, associate professor of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering and chemistry, conducting 3-D printing research. Hickner is also a Corning Faculty Fellow in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

“Because of my research I could show companies I was an investment in their future as well as the present,” said Vetland. “I am learning these new technologies that will one day be really industrially significant. I think it’s going to be really huge for large-scale manufacturing.”

Vetland knows a thing or two about refining a process, even if it comes from outside of classroom.

At Pollock Dining Commons, she manages a team of 38 students and recently merged the a la carte and cafeteria teams in order to improve efficiency. She started working in the dining hall during her first year of college and rose through the ranks to become a culinary team leader, where she oversees scheduling, training and day-to-day operations.

Vetland said the management experience really helped her secure a job. So did her background in materials science and engineering.

“A college education is huge. No one in my family has ever had that before. There are so many opportunities here that you wouldn't find in a smaller school or if you didn’t go to college at all, said Vetland. “The fact that I can go into a world-class lab and work on a variety of research projects and work with all these materials science and engineering professors at one of the top-ranked research schools in the world really adds to my worth for employers.”

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Last Updated February 14, 2017