PennTAP grant to foster College of Engineering-industry relationship

Stefanie Tomlinson
January 20, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP) has been awarded a two-year, $550,000 Discovered in Pennsylvania, Developed in Pennsylvania (D2PA) program grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED).

Grants are awarded to private and public sector groups whose mission includes economic development, and proposing new and innovative projects and/or programs that are designed to aggressively enhance the economic vitality of a region.

Richard Hudic, DCED executive deputy secretary, announced the grant at the Learning Factory kickoff on Jan. 16. He explained, "The collaborative program we are supporting today will help identify and support local businesses, providing them with the University resources needed to grow and hire new employees. The Corbett Administration is proud to support PennTAP’s initiative, and we look forward to continued collaboration in the future."

Anthony Atchley, associate dean for research and administration in the College of Engineering stated, "The college has long recognized that we have a responsibility to the Commonwealth's small and medium-sized industries to help them maintain or increase their competitiveness in the global marketplace by fostering collaboration between them and our faculty and students. The D2PA grant will provide critical resources to accelerate this mission."

Atchley added that an essential ingredient to the project's success is the college's partnership with Penn State Outreach and Online Education and PennTAP, both of which have a great deal of experience in working with industries around the state.

"Together we are able to provide the complementary resources necessary to be make real progress toward our vision," he said.

According to PennTAP Director Heather Fennessey, roughly half of the funding will be allocated toward industry projects. "PennTAP helps identify real-world problems the College of Engineering might help solve," Fennessey said. "We then collaborate with Sven Bilén, head of the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs, to identify which faculty member will work with the company. This is a great opportunity for businesses to get to know the college while they work together on innovation solutions." 

A portion of the product design and innovation will be completed at the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory. "Some of the grant may be used to offset the costs for small or medium-sized companies to collaborate with engineering students at the Learning Factory as part of their capstone design project," said Fennessey.

The remainder of the grant will be used to supplement engineering graduate students' travel and stipends, publicity and PennTAP and College of Engineering operating expenses.

Fennessey noted, "PennTAP project managers oversee budgets and communicate progress to companies, so engineering faculty members can focus on working with students to design and develop viable solutions." 

Aaron Fleishman, a 2009 chemical engineering graduate currently enrolled in graduate engineering design courses, was a design engineer on similar Integrated Design Solutions projects, such as developing an interface design and energy app for PaceControls LLC, a Pennsylvania-based company. He reflected on how his hands-on involvement enhanced his educational experience: "I learned new skills related to programming, electronic circuit design and analysis, mechanical design and rapid prototyping. Most of these are things that you briefly touch on during your coursework, but being in a lab gives you time to really develop these skills while working on applied research and sponsored projects."

Fleishman appreciated the opportunity to solve real-world problems. "I look at them a lot like puzzles. There is (likely) a solution out there, but it's going to take some time to research and implement. If it were easy, it would have already been done."

PennTAP continues to seek new companies to partner with the College of Engineering. "We're like matchmakers, and this grant will help PennTAP, the college and the companies be successful," said Fennessey.

Established in 1965, PennTAP helps Pennsylvania companies improve their competitiveness by providing technical assistance and information to help resolve specific technical questions or needs.

For more information about the DCED and its D2PA program, visit

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Last Updated January 20, 2014