Early career award

2022 Early Career Award Cohort

Julia Balla

Julia Balla

Bachelor of science in aerospace engineering, 2017

Julia Balla is a principal systems engineer at Northrop Grumman Corporation. After graduating from Penn State in 2017 with a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering, Balla began working as a systems engineer at Orbital ATK. 

Her career at Orbital ATK started with mission operations development on commercial satellite programs. Over the years, Orbital ATK was acquired by Northrop Grumman, and Balla has grown in her career by working on a variety of different satellite missions.

She contributed to "Defining Possible" with Northrop Grumman, by working on the first-of-its-kind program, the Mission Extension Vehicle, as well as leading a team of engineers through mission operations development and on-orbit mission operations, for the first ESPAStar platform program.

Through Balla's time at Penn State, she learned the meaning of teamwork and collaboration. This, along with her investment in her technical and professional growth, has allowed her to be recognized by her leadership, peers, and customer counterparts, both formally and informally, for her contributions to the projects she is a part of.

Jason Beebe

Jason Beebe

Bachelor of science in mechanical and nuclear engineering, 2005; master of science in nuclear engineering, 2008

Jason Beebe, senior director of the Global Transformation Office for Westinghouse Electric Company, is a high-energy leader with a proven history of driving growth, efficiencies, and serving as a staunch advocate for the benefits of nuclear technology across the globe.  

After graduating from Penn State with his bachelor of science in mechanical and nuclear engineering in 2005, Beebe joined Westinghouse electric company as a core designer. In 2008, he received his master of science in nuclear engineering from Penn State. Beebe earned his M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013.   

His career at Westinghouse started in a technical role, culminating in support of the development of the AP1000 technology through 2008. Beebe transitioned into Westinghouse’s leadership development program, taking a two-year assignment of running lean Six Sigma improvement projects across the portfolio, winning multiple Westinghouse company awards along the way.  

During his professional career, Beebe was responsible for setting the manufacturing strategy for nuclear fuel, leading a team of lean six sigma professionals to drive efficiencies across the company, developing the product strategy for engineering analysis associated with nuclear fuel, and leading facilities and real estate for Westinghouse.  

In 2018, Beebe joined the Penn State Nuclear Engineering Society as its vice president to help further the mission of ensuring students are prepared to make meaningful difference in their careers throughout the nuclear industry.    

Beebe lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Mabry; daughter, Addison; and son, Jackson.

Brady Bonsted

Brady Bonsted

Bachelor of science in civil engineering, 2006

Brady Bonsted, M.B.A., is a project director at ENTACT, LLC. 

Bonsted graduated from Penn State in 2006 with a bachelor of science in civil engineering and a minor in environmental engineering. Upon graduation, he joined ENTACT, LLC, an environmental remediation and geotechnical construction firm, as an onsite field engineer. After quickly gaining experience and increased responsibilities on projects nationwide, Bonsted was promoted to project manager, and oversaw one of the largest multi-year remediation projects in New Jersey. This led to him opening an ENTACT office location in Jersey City, New Jersey where he managed several other challenging projects regionally. 

After the successful completion of numerous high-profile projects, Bonsted earned the title of project director, and continues to tackle large environmental remediation sites nationwide. To date, he has completed projects in twelve states and Canada. Bonsted has become a trusted source in the remediation industry, offering constructability and methodology reviews to clients and consultants. His work eliminates environmental impacts and contaminants of concern, and as a result, positively affects local communities and the surrounding environment.  

In 2020, Bonsted opened ENTACT’s office in Saratoga Springs, New York, continuing to secure and successfully manage remediation projects from coast to coast. He currently resides in Saratoga Spring with his wife, Kaileigh, and two young children. As an advocate for Penn State College of Engineering students at ENTACT, Bonsted now has numerous Penn State alumni among his project teams. 

Bonsted is a member of the Penn State Alumni Association–Capital Region Chapter in Albany, New York and a supporter of Penn State THON and other charities including the local American Society of Civil Engineers chapter. 

Birgitt Boschitsch

Birgitt Boschitsch

Doctor of philosophy in mechanical engineering, 2018

Dr. Birgitt Boschitsch is co-founder and CEO of spotLESS Materials Inc., a startup spinning out Penn State technology and dedicated to commercializing anti-fouling coating technologies to consumers and across various industries.   

Dr . Boschitsch received her doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State in 2018, where her research focused on bio-inspired self-healing membranes and materials. She received her bachelor of science in engineering degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 2013, where she conducted research in bio-inspired propulsion.  

Dr. Boschitsch has published ten peer-reviewed publications in leading scientific journals including Science Advances, Nature Communications, ACS Nano, Advanced Materials, PNAS, the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, and Physics of Fluids. She has also published a book chapter on wetting science and nature inspired surface design and currently holds several issued and pending United States and international patents.  

She is a recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, Materials Research Society (MRS) Graduate Student Gold Award, MRS Nowick Graduate Student Award, the Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award and Distinguished Doctoral Scholar Medal, and the Penn State Mechanical Engineering Society Early Career Award.   

As a co-founder of spotLESS Materials, Dr. Boschitsch serves as the principal investigator of Small Business Innovation Research Phase I and Phase II grants from NSF, was co-principal investigator on a contract with the Office of Naval Research and leads several commercial R&D and business efforts. She is a Y Combinator alumna and was recognized as a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science.  

Dr. Boschitsch co-founded spotLESS Materials to transform technology with great potential into technology with great impact, aiming to fulfill her personal goal of addressing pressing global needs through technology. 

Siefu Chonde

Seifu Chonde

Doctor of philosophy in industrial engineering and operations research, 2016

Dr. Seifu Chonde graduated from the Penn State Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial Engineering with a dual-title doctoral degree in industrial engineering and operations research in 2016. Dr. Chonde focuses on the intersection of optimization, machine learning, and social media. His work has been supported by Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and National Institutes of Health. 

Since graduation, Dr. Chonde has worked as a research consultant for the RAND Corporation and as an analytics manager at Meta. While at RAND, his research applied machine learning to improve United States military operations and explored the future societal effects of rapid technological advancement for the U.S. in 2040. His work appears in peer-reviewed journal articles and in other media such as TEDx. While at Meta, Dr. Chonde’s work has improved content moderation across a 50k+ person global workforce to keep the virtual community safe. He currently leads an analytics team that forecasts optimal workforce allocation.  

Dr. Chonde is an avid diversity and inclusion leader and ally. Prior to joining Penn State, he traveled volunteered in Adama, Ethiopia, educating more than 100 students. While at Penn State, he co-founded, found sponsorship for, and grew the Multicultural Engineering Graduate Association after identifying a gap in the College of Engineering. Additionally, in 2014 he took time away from his doctoral studies and traveled to Ghana, Africa to volunteer as a lecturer as part of the STDIO Ghana course. This course was a two-week, intensive program to provide practical software engineering experience to undergraduate and graduate students, with specific emphasis on addressing scientific and engineering research software projects in sub-Saharan Africa. In the professional world, Dr. Chonde has continued to mentor junior researchers, data scientists, and engineers from underrepresented minority groups and held positions in corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

RT Custer

R.T. Custer

Bachelor of science in industrial engineering, 2014

R.T. Custer, co-founder and CEO of Vortic Watch Company, is a great example of what the College of Engineering at Penn State can produce. Graduating in 2014 with a degree in industrial engineering and minors in engineering leadership development and engineering entrepreneurship, Custer left school and immediately began working for the world's largest retailer in his favorite subject, logistics. His career with Walmart’s logistics was shortened by his fervor for entrepreneurship.  

After graduating, Custer, along with his now business partner Tyler Wolfe, also a Penn State graduate, launched Vortic Watch Company on Kickstarter. Since 2014, Vortic has become internationally recognized in the American manufacturing community because they make one of the only truly “Made in USA” wristwatches.  

Vortic has also become famous in some regards due to the massive, six-year-long federal lawsuit where it became the ultimate David v.s. Goliath story in the upcycling industry. Custer personally led that endeavor, taking on the world's largest watch conglomerate in court. He has been featured in countless news articles including a spread in Entrepreneur Magazine.  

Custer is the father of two little boys, Sawyer and Wesley, and enjoys his new home of Colorado very much, taking every chance he can get to be outside in the great outdoors.  

With several other companies under his management including Vortic Watch Company, Carter & Custer Advertising Agency, the Products Worth Talking About show, and a real estate and investment portfolio, Custer enjoys living a busy lifestyle while constantly creating and supporting more American jobs.

Feng Guo

Feng Guo

Doctor of philosophy in engineering science and mechanics, 2015

Dr. Feng Guo is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering at Indiana University Bloomington.  

After graduating from Penn State with his doctorate in engineering science and mechanics at in 2015, he received his postdoctoral training at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Guo joined Indiana University Bloomington in 2017.  

Dr. Guo is a recipient of the National Institutes of Health’s Director's New Innovator Award, the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute Grants Linking University-wide Expertise Award, the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award at Indiana University, the Dean Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford School of Medicine, and more. 

During his academic career, Dr. Guo’s research focuses on the development of intelligent biomedical devices and systems for translational medicine.  

With more than five years of teaching experience, Dr. Guo advised and mentored four graduate students, four postdoctoral researchers, and more than twenty undergraduate students.  

Prashant Khare

Prashant Khare

Master of science in mechanical engineering, 2009

Dr. Prashant Khare is a scientist, educator, and technical leader. After graduating from Penn State with his master of science in mechanical engineering in 2009, Dr. Khare earned his doctorate from Georgia Tech in aerospace engineering in 2014. Following two years as a research fellow at Georgia Tech, he joined the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati (UC) as an assistant professor of aerospace engineering in 2017. Dr. Khare leads a cutting-edge research program focused on enhancing the fundamental understanding and engineering practice of fluid dynamic and thermochemical non-equilibrium processes relevant to high-speed propulsion technology.   

He is a recipient of several awards including the Penn State College of Engineering’s Early Career Award, Penn State Mechanical Engineering Society's Early Career Award, Sigma Xi Young Investigator Award, UC Faculty Excellence Award, UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science Research Award for Early Career Faculty, the W.R. Marshall Award from Institute for Liquid Atomization and Spray Systems, and several other best paper/presentation awards from American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).  In addition to several invited talks, Dr. Khare has delivered two keynote lectures at reputed international conferences. He is also a lifetime member of the Penn State Alumni Association. 

Dr. Khare is a prolific teacher and a research mentor. He is a recipient of several teaching awards, including the Neil Wandmacher Teaching Award for Early Career Faculty, Professor of the Semester, Master Educator, and AEEM Excellence in Teaching awards. Dr. Khare’s research mentees have received fourteen awards/fellowships in the past few years.  

Dr. Khare is the co-founder and the visionary leader of the National Science Foundation-supported Advanced Research Computing Center at UC, which serves the research and training needs of more than 10,000 faculty and staff and 46,000 students across the campus.  He serves as an associate editor of Frontiers in Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Khare is a senior member of AIAA, where he serves on the Publications Standing Committee. He also leads the Data-Driven and Machine Learning for Multiphase Flows track in the ASME Multiphase Fluid Dynamics Technical Committee.  In addition, he is currently developing two new centers at UC, one on hypersonics and the other on quantum computing. 

Chloe Mehring

Chloe Abraczinskas Mehring

Bachelor of science in aerospace engineering, 2008

Chloe Mehring graduated in from Penn State in 2008, earning a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering. During her time as a student, she was active in the Women in Engineering Program office as well as a co-operative education student at NASA Johnson Space Center.  

Mehring started her full time NASA career in 2008 in the Flight Operations’ propulsion systems group and supported eleven space shuttle missions. She served as propulsion support officer for Exploration Flight Test-1, the first test flight of the Orion spacecraft that will be used for Artemis missions to the Moon. Mehring was a lead NASA propulsion officer for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and served as backup lead for the Boeing Starliner spacecraft. In this role, she supported the Boeing Pad Abort Test and was the ascent/entry propulsion officer for Starliner’s first test flight, Orbital Flight Test-1. On the SpaceX side, she was the lead NASA propulsion officer for the In-Flight Abort Test, as well as the Demo-1 and Demo-2 test flights.  

Mehring was selected as a flight director with the Class of 2021. After completing a year-long training program, she worked her first shift as a certified International Space Station (ISS) Flight Director in February 2022. Her call sign is “Lion Flight.” She oversees mission control during ISS real-time operations and is an orbit flight director for the Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2 mission, launching in May 2022.  

She originally is from Mifflinville, Pennsylvania. She currently resides outside of Houston with her husband, Chris, and son, Lincoln.  

Justin Mulhollan

Justin Mulhollan

Integrated bachelor/master of architectural engineering in architectural engineering, 2006

As a graduate of the Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering program and a licensed mechanical engineer, Justin Mulhollan focuses on sustainable design and energy conservation as well as achieving the most efficient operation of building systems. After graduating in 2006 with an integrated bachelor/master of architectural engineering in architectural engineering, Mulhollan moved to Florida to begin his career as a mechanical engineer with EXP. 

In 2012, Mulhollan joined TLC Engineering Solutions, a national high-performance engineering design firm, bringing with him seven years of experience focused predominately on designing and managing complex themed entertainment projects for clients like Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative. He quickly distinguished himself within the firm and was promoted to associate in 2014. In 2016, he was invited to become a shareholder in the firm. Mulhollan currently serves as a principal and senior project engineer for TLC in the Melbourne, Florida office. He earned his success through long hours, dedicated client support, and leadership within TLC. Mulhollan has served as a non-voting member of the TLC board since 2019, advising and shaping the firm’s future. 

Mulhollan has furthered his education beyond his college years by pursuing additional accreditations and participating in various professional organizations. He is an active member of the U.S. Green Building Council. He became a LEED Accredited Professional in 2014, a Certified Energy Manager in 2015, and a certified WELL Accredited Professional in 2017.    

With more than seventeen years engineering experience, Mulhollan has been instrumental in the successful delivery of hundreds of projects that span the globe. When he is not designing high performance facilities, he can be found coaching sports teams for his children, as well as maintaining a work/life balance with a demanding professional, participation in multiple industry organizations and his family, which includes three children.

Abhradeep Guha Thakurta

Abhradeep Guha Thakurta

Doctor of philosophy in computer science, 2013

Abhradeep Guha Thakurta is a staff research scientist at Google Research, Brain Team. 

His primary research interest is at the intersection of data privacy and machine learning. He focuses on demonstrating, both theoretically and in practice, that it is possible to design differentially private learning algorithms that can scale to industrial workloads. 

Before working at Google, Thakurta was a faculty member at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His previous positions also include serving as a research scientist at Apple and Yahoo Labs. 

Thakurta received his doctorate in computer science from Penn State in 2013. Upon graduating, he completed postdoctoral appointments at Stanford University and the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Campus. Thakurta has more than forty academic publications and at least five granted United States patents. He served as the principal investigator of a $600,000 National Science Foundation Tripods+X research project award.  

Thakurta received the Yahoo Key Scientific Challenges fellowship for data privacy in 2011 and the Early Career Award from the Penn State School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2016.