December 11, 2023

Eurocean 2004

Life is an adventure

Pratt & Whitney Engineers, UConn Students Explore Disruptive Propulsion Concepts

While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Pratt & Whitney Engineering from hosting a summer internship program, employee volunteers wouldn’t let it stop them from providing opportunities for students to experience the aerospace industry at Pratt & Whitney.

Through the company’s partnership with the University of Connecticut, employees designed a remote summer program for 32 engineering students to work on projects focusing on three disruptive propulsion concepts: alternate heat cycles, nuclear power and hybrid electric.

UConn Senior Hannah Aseltine worked on the hybrid-electric urban air mobility vehicle – or, as she calls it – a “flying taxi.” She said the summer experience not only taught her more about engineering, it taught her teamwork, leadership skills and how to think from different perspectives.

“When you go into real engineering, you have to look at little things like air drag that you typically would never think about,” she said in an interview with Fox 61. “My Pratt & Whitney mentor, Eric Grover, made us think in ways we wouldn’t during our classes.”

 UConn senior Michael Fydenkevez worked on the nuclear propulsion team. Despite working on a project outside the realm of Pratt & Whitney’s areas of expertise, he had a similarly positive experience. 

“The Pratt & Whitney mentors were great in the sense that they knew the technical questions to ask to guide us in the right direction,” he said in an interview with WTIC 1080.  

Each six to seven-week project involved weekly tag-ups between teams and their respective coaches, interim status reports and final virtual presentations to a Pratt & Whitney technical leadership panel. While the teams couldn’t work together in person, they communicated every day through WebEx and a Slack messaging board – an environment program Pratt & Whitney chief engineer and UConn program executive champion Matthew Teicholz said the students found both collaborative and effective.

“Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 environment, we still wanted to engage these students in a meaningful way and give them something close to what they would have gotten in a normal summer,” he said. “Using collaboration technology and amazing Pratt & Whitney volunteers, we were able to give them that experience.”

The program also allowed students the opportunity to have real conversations with Engineering leadership. In the final weeks of the program, Engineering Senior Vice President Geoff Hunt hosted a virtual “Ask Me Anything” discussion about the aerospace industry with students, covering topics including culture, agility vs. risk tolerance, COVID-19 impacts and the job market for new engineers.

The students’ underlying sentiment? Passion and enthusiasm for the future of aerospace.

“One of my biggest fears as a young engineer was entering a workplace where I would be looked down upon for my initial lack of experience,” said Zoë Coleman, a senior assigned to the alternate heat cycles project. “I have found Pratt & Whitney is the exact opposite. It’s the kind of environment that encourages growth and problem solving, and I am so grateful to have been a part of that this summer.”

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