2016 Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award Recipients

Congratulations to our 12 alumni who received the Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award this year. They are proud representatives of more than a century-long tradition of excellence. They provide an ideal for the thousands of engineering students who will follow. Their expertise, accomplishments, and leadership provide testimony to the success of their alma mater as a premier engineering educational institution.

Ed Auslander

Ed Auslander
Mechanical Engineering, B.S. 1985
President and CEO, LORD Corporation

As an executive and leader of a global company, Ed Auslander says the most rewarding aspect of his career is coaching and mentoring employees. “I really enjoy seeing other people succeed.”

During his junior year at Penn State, Ed became particularly interested in vibration control. Professor Martin Trethewey, who taught courses on the topic, suggested he complete a co-op at LORD Corporation, a developer of adhesives and coatings, vibration and motion control, sensing, and magnetically responsive technologies, in Erie, PA.

Ed heeded his professor’s advice and the rest is history.

Following graduation, Ed began his professional career at LORD as a product design engineer. Over the next 31 years, he held numerous leadership roles across the company, including managerial positions in LORD’s aerospace, industrial, and chemical products groups. He also completed two overseas assignments, serving as LORD’s Industrial Products Sales Manager in France and Thermoset Products Sales Manager in England.

In 2007, Ed returned to the United States and held successive leadership positions, including Global Business Director, Elastomer Process Materials; Global Business Director, Aerospace Parts & Assemblies and Electromechanical Systems; and Vice President, Global Business Management.

He was named president and CEO of LORD in 2013.

Today, the company, which is now headquartered in Cary, NC, has a presence in 26 countries and annual revenues in excess of $840 million.

Reflecting on a career that has spanned more than three decades at LORD, Ed says he appreciates the many opportunities he has been given to take on new responsibilities. “Every three years I was in a different job, so even though I was at the same company I was constantly learning. It’s always been fun,” he explains.

Ed, who also earned an MBA from Penn State, credits the education he received at the University for shaping his career. “My four years as an undergraduate taught me a way of thinking to solve problems. The business program gave me new perspectives on finance, leadership, and global business. I’ve been able to apply everything I learned at Penn State to every new role I took on.”

He lives in Cary with his wife, Elaine (’85 Edu). They have four children: Anna, Eddie, Maria, and Maggie.

Jim Erickson

Jim Erickson
Bioengineering, M.S. 1987
CEO, Blue Mountain Quality Resources, Inc.

The artificial heart industry was picking up steam across the country at the same time Jim Erickson was working as a production engineer at medical device manufacturer Hoffrel Instruments. “I wanted to steer my career toward a field that would help people, so the excitement created a spark in me,” he says.

Acting on his passion, the Williamsville, NY, native enrolled at Penn State to earn a master’s degree in bioengineering.

Following graduation, Jim was hired as a biomedical engineer at Dymax Corporation, a developer of ultrasound products for the medical imaging industry, in Pittsburgh<.

Soon after joining the firm, he was involved in an FDA audit. Jim recalls, “The FDA told us we needed to calibrate our equipment on a regular basis, which we weren’t doing. We had to quickly put together a program using a Lotus spreadsheet. I thought, ‘there’s got to be a better way to do this!’”

Jim simplified the process by creating a database that allowed users to generate reports and forms in order to track compliance with FDA regulations. In the meantime, he also did some research and discovered that there were thousands of medical device manufacturing companies across the country. “I figured if a 30-person company like Dymax needed this software, the others probably did, too,” he says.

In 1989, Jim moved back to State College and co-founded Blue Mountain Quality Resources, Inc., a developer of industry standard asset management products and services that are designed exclusively for the life sciences industry.

Under his leadership, the company has grown to 50 employees and is on track to double its revenue since 2010.

As a result of its expansion, Blue Mountain Quality Resources will move into a new 10,000-square-foot office this July. “We’re excited because the space will be more open and collaborative,” Jim explains.

He says he is fortunate that Penn State is in Blue Mountain’s backyard, because it gives him access to a pipeline of well-educated employees. “We recruit engineering and IST interns and many remain with us after they graduate.”

Jim also holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Clarkson University.

He lives in State College with his wife, Linda (’00 M.Ed.), and their children, Jack and Carly.

John Johns

John Johns
Aerospace Engineering, B.S. 1982
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Maintenance), U.S. Department of Defense

John Johns’ father was a B-25 pilot in World War II; his cousin was a U.S. Marine Corps pilot; and an uncle flew a private plane for over 50 years. “I guess aviation is in my blood,” John says.

Wanting to follow in his family’s footsteps, John enrolled in Penn State’s aerospace engineering program.

Between his junior and senior years, John interned at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, where he worked in the F-16 Joint Test Group supporting senior flight test engineers.

Upon graduation John began his career at the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, PA, performing flying qualities analyses on U.S. Navy fleet aircraft. Though he never went on to become a pilot, the Pittsburgh, PA, native has spent almost 34 years serving three military departments in technology development, engineering, program management, and logistics positions.

John’s assignments with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command included Associate Director for Systems, Aviation Research, Development, and Engineering Center; Principal Assistant Deputy for Systems Acquisition; and Deputy Commander for Systems Support.

In August 2005, John joined the U.S. Navy as the Director of Industrial Operations and Deputy/Acting Commander of Fleet Readiness Centers. He was responsible for maintenance operations across eight subordinate commands, as well as managing 14,000 personnel and a $4 billion operating budget.

John was named to his current position with the Department of Defense (DoD) in 2008. In 2010 he served in Iraq as Director, Training and Advisory Mission, Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and Director, Iraqi Security Forces Logistics, and he deployed to Afghanistan in a similar role in 2013. In these assignments, he led an international coalition in development of foreign security forces.

Currently, John oversees the DoD’s $80 billion-per-year global military equipment maintenance program ensuring material readiness in support of our armed forces.

Throughout his career, John has appreciated the opportunities to hold a variety of leadership positions. “I really enjoy the challenge of working with others to achieve big things and the reward of being part of a team which does just that,” he says.

John also holds a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University.

He resides in Alexandria, VA.

Ganesh Kailasam

Ganesh Kailasam
Chemical Engineering, Ph.D. 1991
Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Dow Corning Corporation

Growing up surrounded by chemical engineers, Ganesh Kailasam decided that he, too, would like to pursue a career in the field. He recalls, “My dad worked at a large petrochemical complex, and I was intrigued by all the interesting things that chemical engineers do.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the A.C. College of Technology in Chennai, India, Ganesh came to Penn State for his graduate studies.

He began his career at GE in Schenectady, NY, as a researcher at the company’s Global Research Center and later became Global Technology Manager for high-performance polymers within GE Plastics.

During his 17 years at the company, Ganesh was involved with the world-scale commercialization of a revolutionary melt technology process to manufacture polycarbonate, and he led the team that created and commercialized a new patent-protected process for manufacturing polyetherimides.

In 2007, GE Plastics was sold to SABIC and soon afterwards Ganesh was offered an opportunity to join The Dow Chemical Company. He notes, “I call this the inflection point of my career, because if GE Plastics had never been sold, I might still be there.”

Ganesh subsequently became Vice President of R&D for performance materials at Dow Chemical. In this role, he oversaw R&D in polyurethanes and systems, automotive, industrial solutions, consumer solutions, epoxy, and chlorinated organics.

Currently, Ganesh serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Dow Corning. He is responsible for leading the firm’s efforts in research, process engineering, and product and application development. Ganesh explains, “The whole idea is to create wonderful materials and applications for our customers and to drive growth of the company through innovation.”

Throughout his career, Ganesh has been recognized with multiple awards and honors, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ 2011 Industry Leader Award and election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2013. He also holds 27 patents.

“Penn State taught me to understand the thoroughness with which to do R&D,” says Ganesh. “I learned how to be curious about things and think intuitively about solving problems by approaching them from different angles.”

Ganesh resides in Midland, MI, with his wife, Priya. They have one daughter, Harshita.

Miranda Keeney

Miranda Keeney
Industrial Engineering, M.S. 1991, Ph.D. 1996
Senior Fellow, LMI

Miranda Keeney is extremely proud of her 32-year government career. “There was such a sense of pride that I never considered leaving, even when I got my Ph.D.” she recalls.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in math from Missouri State University, the Kansas City, MO, native moved to Mechanicsburg, PA, to work as a mathematician for the Navy.

After 10 years Miranda was promoted to an operations research analyst working for the Army Logistics Innovation Agency (LIA). While on a temporary assignment at the Pentagon, she was offered an opportunity that she says changed her life. She got a phone call offering her to go back to school to get her master’s degree. “The Army paid for me to attend Penn State and earn a dual master’s degree in operations research and industrial engineering,” she explains. Miranda ultimately went back to Penn State to earn a Ph.D. in industrial engineering.

At LIA Miranda was the Chief of the Logistics Domain Division and a senior policy advisor to the LIA director. She oversaw more than 50 Department of Defense civilians and contractors, and provided technical and analytical expertise to the LIA director.

Throughout her last decade at LIA, Miranda led the Common Logistics Operating Environment (CLOE), a program that transformed Army logistics into a fully integrated joint logistics information environment that improves the readiness and sustainment of combat units on a global scale. She explains, “It was like putting OnStar technology on Army weapons platforms. It was really fun to run.” For her work with the CLOE program, Miranda received the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service award, the Secretary of the Army’s highest award.

When she retired from the Army in 2010, she was offered multiple jobs, including her current position as senior fellow at LMI, a nonprofit that brings together management and technical employees to address issues across government.

Since joining LMI, Miranda has led several initiatives including documenting the Army’s logistics architecture, developing a framework for a comprehensive inventory and characterization of the Defense Sustainment Industrial Base and a Fleet Management (FM) Roadmap that optimizes Army management practices to deliver FM capabilities.

She is also a graduate of the Army War College.

Miranda lives in Mechanicsburg with her husband, Philip (’85 Agr).

Jean Lydon-Rodgers

Jean Lydon-Rodgers
Electrical Engineering, B.S. 1985
President and CEO, Military Systems, GE Aviation

For Jean Lydon-Rodgers, nothing compares to the excitement of a big project coming together. “You look around the room at the people who worked long nights and put in considerable effort, and you celebrate success in that moment.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree, the Princeton, NJ, native was accepted into GE’s two-year Operations Management Leadership Program (OMLP).

Jean spent her first year in Pittsfield, MA, working in GE’s Aerospace business unit and her second year in Evendale, OH, in the Aviation business unit.

“When I completed the OMLP, I decided I really wanted to remain in the Aviation division,” says Jean.

Over the next 15 years, she supported the development and certification of GE Aviation commercial engines; became certified in the use of Six Sigma tools and processes; and progressed to positions of increasing responsibility in GE Aviation’s Services division, including technology upgrades manager, and manager of overhaul and platform strategy marketing.

In 2002, Jean joined the Military Systems division as the manager of F136 supply chain programs. She eventually became the first female vice president of the F136 engine project and the first female president of the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team.

Jean was named president and CEO of Military Systems in 2009. In this role, she is responsible for GE Aviation’s military operations serving the U.S. Department of Defense and numerous international military customers for aircraft, helicopter and marine engines. She oversees more than 600 employees and $4 billion in annual sales.

In 2013, Jean was recognized for her accomplishments with the GE Chairman’s Award for expertise.

During her three decades with GE, Jean has appreciated various opportunities to be challenged with new projects and initiatives, and celebrate many successes.

However, she notes the shortage of females in leadership roles across the industry. “Throughout my career, I’ve worked in the aviation sector and with the U.S. military, which is predominantly male, so I tended to stand out. But women should not feel like they stand out because they are a woman; they should stand out because of their capabilities. My message to other women is: ‘Have the confidence to convert those capabilities to leadership.’”

Jean also holds an MBA from Xavier University.

She resides in Mason, OH, with her husband, John. They have two children, John and Lexi.

Samuel L. McLaughlin

Samuel L. McLaughlin
Agricultural Engineering, B.S. 1980, M.S. 1983
External Research Manager, Volvo Group

One of the best decisions Sam McLaughlin ever made was returning to Penn State to earn his master’s degree. “My research in renewable fuels and engines was relevant then, and it is still relevant 32 years later. The experience I gained producing that master’s thesis has been part of my whole career.”

A few months before graduation, he accepted a position at a tractor company in the Midwest. “I had just taken my last final when I found out my job offer was rescinded due to the economy,” Sam recalls. “I went from thinking I was done with college to wondering ‘what am I going to do now?’”

As the saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. Shortly after going home, Sam learned of a research opportunity to study duel fuels in diesel engines, and he returned to campus to work on his master’s degree.

Sam began his career as a design engineer at Caterpillar in Peoria, IL, followed by performing engine test work at Navistar in Melrose Park, IL.

In 1988, he returned to Caterpillar as a senior design engineer, analyzing and developing engine components for a new engine model.

Grove Worldwide, a crane manufacturer in Shady Grove, PA, hired Sam in 1995 as a senior project engineer responsible for new product design and extensive driveline analysis. “It was good timing because my wife and I wanted to move closer to Pennsylvania before our kids started school,” he explains.

Sam joined Volvo in Hagerstown, MD, in 2003 as a project manager, working on emissions regulations for diesel truck engines. He was promoted in 2009 to Volvo’s Advanced Technology & Research group.

In his current role, Sam coordinates Volvo Group’s research collaborations across the United States, including the Department of Energy’s $40M SuperTruck initiative.

He also leads Volvo Group’s Academic Partner Program, which helps recruit Penn State students into Volvo’s co-op program. “It’s really fulfilling to work with students and show them what’s important to companies. And of course it’s nice to visit campus on a regular basis.”

Sam resides in Mercersburg, PA, with his wife, Jan. They have two daughters, Dr. Elizabeth McLaughlin and Marcy McLaughlin, Esq. (’15 Law).

Don Moul

Don Moul
Nuclear Engineering, B.S. 1987
Senior Vice President, Fossil Operations and Environmental, FirstEnergy

“When you spend over two decades of your career running power plants, it really gets into your blood,” says Don Moul.

The Pittsburgh, PA, native enrolled in Penn State’s nuclear engineering program because he was intrigued by its combination of a strong curriculum and a nuclear reactor on campus.

Following graduation, Don joined GPU Nuclear Corporation and was involved in transient analysis projects for the Three Mile Island and Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Stations. He went on to serve 15 years in various management roles at Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, PA; Salem Nuclear Generating Station in Hancocks Bridge, NJ; and Cook Nuclear Power Plant in Bridgman, MI.

“Many of those plants had been shut down by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” recalls Don. “Helping to restart them gave me opportunities to move up and branch out to try new things.”

In 2004, Don joined FirstEnergy as operations superintendent at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, OH. Over the next decade, he held several management positions, including vice president, Nuclear Support, for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company; regional president of Ohio Edison and Penn Power; and vice president of Commodity Operations for FirstEnergy Solutions.

While working at Davis-Besse, Don completed the executive MBA program at the University of Notre Dame. “I had acquired enough technical expertise to run a power plant, but I didn’t know how to run a business. The MBA was the next logical step to advance my career,” he explains.

Last September, Don was named to his current position as senior vice president of Fossil Operations and Environmental at FirstEnergy. He oversees the company’s non-nuclear energy generation, environmental compliance and controls, and central maintenance group.

Don credits Penn State’s nuclear engineering faculty with giving him a solid educational foundation to succeed in the nuclear industry. “My professors were very connected to people working in the field. They made it easy for me to understand that what I was learning in the classroom would directly translate to my career.’

Don and his wife, Julie (’89 Lib), reside in Akron, OH. They have two sons, Connor and Jordan.

John E. Onufrak

John E. Onufrak
Civil Engineering, B.S. 1971
Founding Partner (Retired), National Development

Early in his career, John Onufrak realized he had a passion for creating collaborative teams in construction. Those skills served him well as he became a founding partner in a real estate firm in Boston.

A Forest City, PA, native, he was enamored with structural analysis during his undergraduate years. After graduation, John pivoted and took a job as a field engineer for a general contractor in upstate New York, building many educational buildings across northern Pennsylvania.

In 1978, seeking more control of his destiny, he returned to Penn State when the College of Engineering began offering an MSCE in cooperation with Smeal College of Business. He had a great year enjoying the classes in finance; venture management; marketing; and organizational behavior along with construction law and management.

John then joined a large general contractor/developer in Pittsburgh. As a project manager he learned how to use innovative building designs from all over the east coast on a variety of big projects.

In 1987, John moved to Boston to work for a Pittsburgh-based innovative developer as a vice president of their construction arm and built hundreds of properties. “The company was fully integrated with a tremendous structure for developing cost effective buildings in a faster time frame than most other methods of delivery,” he explains.

Five years later, after a financing downturn hit, the Pittsburgh owners wanted to close their satellite operations. John and three others took a chance, obtained start-up capital, and began their own real estate businesses.

After a decade of building millions of square feet of commercial property, John retired and got involved in volunteering his skills to ventures that could not afford them otherwise.

John’s curiosity and interest in the development process continue to keep him busy. He spends much time reading about strategies to develop his skills as he pursues his interest in renewing cities and mentoring young people as they try to find their American Dream. “My connections at Penn State have been an invaluable part of this journey,” he says.

John resides in Dartmouth, MA, with his wife, Marsha (’73 Edu), and has two daughters, Julie and Michelle.

Russ Sykes

Russ Sykes
Architectural Engineering, B.A.E. 1985
Managing Partner, SmithGroupJJR, Inc.

During his 30-year career at SmithGroupJJR, Russ Sykes has seen many changes in the building design industry. He explains, “Information flow—the amount of information we can analyze and how quickly we can exchange it—is the single biggest thing that has affected us.”

Following graduation, Russ joined SmithGroupJJR as an electrical engineer. Since then, he has held various positions within the firm including Science & Technology Studio Leader, Director of Operations, and Office Director for the Detroit office.

In 2013, Russ was instrumental in establishing a SmithGroupJJR office in Shanghai, China, and served as Director of China Operations.

He is currently a Managing Partner of SmithGroupJJR, one of the nation’s top architecture, engineering, and planning firms and a leader in sustainable design. Russ explains, “As an integrated firm, with architects, engineers, and planners all under one roof, we are well positioned to bring diverse and innovative perspectives to the buildings and places we design. Part of my role is creating the culture and establishing the systems that enable SmithGroupJJR to continue its legacy of success.”

Russ shares that two recent SmithGroupJJR projects are among his favorites. One, which was designed in partnership with First Automotive Works, is a 5 million-square-foot R&D center in northern China. He recalls, “We finished the initial concept and schematic design in three months and completed the center in two years. That’s an extremely efficient timeline for a project of that size.”

The other is the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), a $730 million Department of Energy-funded user facility for nuclear science, currently being constructed at Michigan State University. The FRIB, he notes, will be “the top facility of its kind in the world.”

Russ says making the transition to industry after graduating from Penn State was practically seamless, thanks to his experiences in the AE program. “Students and faculty were tightly knit because they worked together on so many projects. Two faculty members in particular—Moses Ling and Kevin Parfitt—did an amazing job of helping me understand how what I learned in school would be applied in industry.”

Russ and his wife, Allison, live in Royal Oak, MI, and have two children, Madison and Russell.

Howard Witham

Howard Witham
Electrical Engineering, B.S. 1985; Engineering Science, M.S. 1988; Engineering Science and Mechanics, Ph.D. 1993
Vice President of Texas Operations, Qorvo

“Computers were all the rage when I came to Penn State,” recalls Howard Witham. “My dream job was to work at IBM.”

Howard was bitten by the “microchip bug” and progressed through his educational career at the University doing research in microelectronics, device physics, and materials science.

By the time he graduated with his doctoral degree, Howard realized that IBM would not be a good fit after all. “They were starting to downsize their chip and hardware business and moving toward software,” he explains.

Instead, Howard accepted a position at STMicroelectronics near Dallas, TX, as a process and development engineer. One of his first assignments was to help with the process development and manufacturing transfer of the inkjet chip for HP.

Howard spent the next 17 years at STMicroelectronics in various engineering and operations management positions, including plant manager of the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ottawa, Canada, and Phoenix, AZ. “At age 36, I was the youngest plant manager in the company. No one wanted to go freeze in Canada,” he jokes.

During those years he was also responsible for the facilities operations of eight STMicroelectronics factories in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

In 2009, STMicroelectronics decided to transfer its chip manufacturing business to Europe and Howard decided it was time to move on. That year, he joined TriQuint Semiconductor (now Qorvo), a global leader in scalable and dynamic RF solutions for mobile, infrastructure, and defense applications, as Vice President for Texas Operations. In this capacity, Howard is responsible for the safety, quality, and financial performance of the company’s wafer fabrication facility in Richardson, TX, which specializes in building chips for major smartphone and defense systems manufacturers and employs more than 1,200 people.

A native of State College, PA, Howard says he is a “poster child” for the way Penn State prepares students for success in their careers. “The engineering science and mechanics department was small enough that the professors knew me and cared about me. That meant a lot and gave me the confidence to go out and succeed in the technical world.”

He lives in Coppell, TX, with his wife, Barbara. They have two kids, Tim and Leah.

Wilson Xu

Wilson Xu
Computer Science and Engineering, M.S. 1999
Executive Vice President, Engineering, Palo Alto Networks

Studying computer science was an easy decision for Wilson Xu. He recalls, “In the 1990s, it was one of the most cutting-edge engineering programs. I wanted to become an expert in the field.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in computer science from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, Wilson enrolled at Penn State to earn a graduate degree.

Originally, he hoped to one day pursue a career in academia. However, an internship at Cadence Design Systems in San Jose, CA, made him think differently. “I flew to Silicon Valley, where a lot of computer networking companies were booming. There, I realized what I would like most is to innovate the industry.”

Wilson completed his master’s degree in 1999 and spent the first five years of his career as a software engineer at Network Associates and NetScreen Technologies.

In early 2004, NetScreen was acquired by Juniper Networks, a multinational corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA, that develops and markets networking products.

Wilson was soon named engineering manager, a position he held for two years. While he appreciated the opportunity to manage other engineers at Juniper, Wilson also missed the hands-on engineering work.

He transitioned back into an engineer role in 2006 when he joined Palo Alto Networks, a network and enterprise security startup in Silicon Valley that was cofounded by engineers from NetScreen.

At Palo Alto Networks, Wilson has held various manager and director roles, and was named head of engineering in 2014. Today, he oversees 400 engineers who are developing multiple product lines, from network security to a threat intelligence cloud.

“Practically all of society depends on a connected infrastructure. Our cars—and even our homes—are connected. Network security is critical to this infrastructure and to our everyday lives,” says Wilson.

He adds that the network security industry has been mostly segmented, with many companies specializing in solving one problem. “What is unique about Palo Alto Networks is that we recognized this trend early on, and we offer an innovative and effective security platform that works seamlessly.”

Wilson resides in Hillsborough, CA, with his wife, Rita (’99 Ph.D. CSE), and their daughters, Marie-Anne and Audrey.