Gala recognizes past to celebrate the future of mechanical engineering

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
April 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On April 7, the past, present and future distinguished voices of Penn State Mechanical Engineering gathered at the Nittany Lion Inn for a celebratory evening.

“By celebrating a stand-alone Department of Mechanical Engineering, we are recognizing this opportunity to continue innovating our research, undergraduate and graduate programs with a renewed, distinct focus,” said Karen Thole, distinguished professor and department head of mechanical engineering.

The department boasts a strong, successful history in research innovations and academic impact. First introduced at Penn State in 1881, the mechanical engineering graduate and undergraduate programs are now considered one of the best in the United States, ranked 14th and 16th respectively by U.S. News and World Report. With 54 faculty members, more than 330 graduate students and 750 undergraduate students, and more than 11,000 alumni, Penn State mechanical engineers pioneer new ways to impact society's health, happiness and safety.

This impact was apparent at the gala — emceed by current undergraduate students Annie Orth and Evan Diewald —

where alumni and department heads representing each decade since the 1950s spoke to the crowd,

A common thread woven through the speeches was the growing female representation in the department. Invoking the Mechanical Engineering Reimagined overarching theme, alumnus Brian T. Olsavsky, senior vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) of, said, “Let’s reimagine a world where the career track is equal between men and women. It will not only make the workplace and world better, but it will bring everyone to a better economic place that an education in engineering can provide.”

He added, “What is the role of mechanical engineering in the future? Here, we are going to reimagine it. Our graduates will be those problem-solvers we need in the world.”

The department merged with nuclear engineering in 1997 by David N. Wormley, then-Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering, and Richard C. Benson, then-department head of mechanical engineering and now president of the University of Texas at Dallas. 

Returning for the event, Benson said, “I’m so thrilled to be here. I am always inspired by the energy and potential of Penn State mechanical engineers.”

Also speaking at the event were alumni Robert Swope, class of 1959; Clyde Shuman, class of 1967; Shyam Lal, class of 1980; Heather Quedenfeld, class of 1991; and Mimi Overbaugh, class of 2015.

Before the evening concluded, Thole returned to the stage to share her great appreciation for the faculty, staff and students whose ambition and hard work propel the department to success.

"We also have extremely passionate alumni and we couldn’t be more proud," she said. "It’s been an honor to serve this department and at this pivotal point, we are ready to move forward with great opportunities ahead of us!”

Photos from the event can be found on Flickr.

Last Updated April 10, 2019