Student marshal explores ultrasonics and economics to become better engineer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eric Woelkers, a mechanical engineering and Schreyer’s Honors College student, has been named the Penn State College of Engineering's student marshal for the summer 2018 commencement ceremony.

Originally from Moscow, Pennsylvania, Woelkers hails from a family of proud Penn Staters. His older brother Michael graduated in 2012 and his younger sister, Jane, is currently a second-year student. When he arrived at University Park, Woelkers knew engineering was where he should devote his talents.

“As a mechanical engineer, I knew I could get a broad set of skills and have opportunities in so many positions and industries,” he said.

Through his honors thesis project, “Analyzing the Third Harmonic of the Fundamental Shear Horizontal Ultrasonic Guided Wave Mode for Early Damage Detection,” Woelkers explored nonlinear ultrasonic guided waves. As signals that can move through objects, they are often used for finding imperfections or cracks deep within objects, far from where a human eye can observe.

“The most common ultrasonics are able to detect flaws only a millimeter or bigger,” he said. “So in some ways, the damage is already done.”

His work, which is being conducted with Cliff Lissenden, professor of engineering science and mechanics and acoustics, who is serving as Woelkers’ faculty marshal, uses ultrasonic waves to discover these defects on an even smaller scale.

“We want to be able to find changes in the material as soon as possible,” Woelkers said.

With this technology, the engineering philosophy can shift from simply replacing parts to better analyzing and managing the life cycle of a machine.

“A common application for this would be airplane wings, to be able to monitor the overall health of the structure,” Woelkers said.

This aptitude for problem-solving also helped him succeed in other disciplines. After taking an economics class — ECON 102 — required in the mechanical engineering curriculum, Woelkers’ interest was piqued.

“I found myself really interested in the business applications and real-world analysis in the class,” he said. “It was a refreshing course that was different from the hard core math and science in the engineering curriculum.”

His interest eventually led him to minor in economics, which shaped not only his education but his outlook as an engineer.

“The professors really emphasized having an economic mindset,” he explained. “That is going to be something I bring to the field when I’m thinking of how to solve a problem, that business and financial mentality.” 

As the recipient of the President’s Freshman Award, President Sparks Award, and the Evan Pugh Scholar Junior and Senior Award, Woelkers is equipped to make his mark on the world.

“Eric was an absolutely incredible student,” said Jacqueline O’Connor, assistant professor and Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor of mechanical engineering. “He was an enthusiastic student and researcher, and I think he’ll go far after graduation.”

Heading to Ohio to begin work for GKN Driveline, an automotive components manufacturing firm, Woelkers is excited to keep using his education and outlook to create technological solutions.

“I went into mechanical engineering because of how versatile it is,” he said. “Now with these skills, just like with economics, I have a different mindset and learning approach. You take it and you can go solve problems in any different number of ways.”

Last Updated August 06, 2018