WYOMISSING, Pa. -- Two Penn State Berks students took first place in the fourth Women in Engineering Design Competition at Penn State Altoona, April 15–16, 2023. Lillie Mohn, a mechanical engineering major, and Jenicy Strong, a computer engineering major, received a cash prize of $3,000 for their efforts.
This year's theme was the "Horseshoe Curve," in collaboration with the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum. The competition had three rounds. The first was a quiz on all aspects of engineering and its impact on society, economics, and politics, along with questions about the Horseshoe Curve, a national historic railroad landmark in Altoona. The second round was the research design portion, in which participants studied the major engineering aspects, design, and construction of the Horseshoe Curve. In the final round, students were tasked with designing the track alignment for the area before the Horseshoe Curve was built.
Mohn, who is a member of the Society of Women Engineers student club at Penn State Berks, received an email about the competition and immediately thought Strong, her suite-mate in the Berks residence halls, would be the perfect partner. They traveled to Penn State Altoona with their faculty mentor, Cesar Martínez-Garza, associate professor of mathematics at Penn State Berks.
The two-day event began with a presentation on the challenge and a visit to world-famous Horseshoe Curve. Then the competitors returned to campus and began working on their design on Saturday night, completing it on Sunday.
Strong explained that their approach was different from the other teams, as they spent Saturday planning and making calculations before tackling the design on Sunday. They agreed that it was a great experience and that they felt supported by their partner.
Four teams presented to and fielded questions from a judge's panel that included Penn State Altoona faculty and rail transportation engineering students, as well as railroad industry representatives. They had to validate their design, estimate costs, construct a model of their design on a pre-cast topographical model, and present their results through a PowerPoint presentation.
Hosted by Penn State Altoona's Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) program, the purpose of this competition is to expose and broaden women engineering students' perspectives and interests in engineering and challenge critical engineering skills. Eight first- and second-year students from four Penn State campuses participated. Norfolk Southern and Penn State sponsored the competition, and prizes included a total of $6,500 in scholarship money. The James R. Meehl Innovation Commons at Penn State Behrend assisted in making the 3D-printed plastic molds for use in the final round of the competition.
Martínez-Garza summarized the experience, stating, “First of all, I am very grateful to both Penn State Altoona and Norfolk Southern for making such an enriching opportunity available to all female first- and second-year students at Penn State. This type of high-impact activity is fundamental in the formation of future professionals. All the teams participating in the final segment of the competition had innovative solutions to a well-crafted engineering problem. Jenicy and Lillie just spent more effort on the analytical aspects of their solution which translated into a more thorough model.”
In addition to Mohn and Strong taking first-place honors and $3,000 in prize money, Jasmin Khan and Sabiha Kermalli from Lehigh Valley took second place with $2,000, and Lauren Stich and Myah Massiah from Penn State Altoona took third with $1,500.
Information about the history of the Horseshoe Curve is available on the Railroaders Memorial Museum website.