Co-op Student Develops Automotive Technologies in France - A Childhood Dream

12/3/2012

As a youngster in Brazil fascinated with cars, Stevens student Patrick Penna ‘14 dreamed of contributing to research and development in the automotive industry. Approximately one decade, five standardized tests and two continents later, he is now realizing his dream as an intern helping to develop dual-clutch transmission technology at S.T.A., a production subsidiary of Renault, the French vehicle manufacturer.

Penna is a Cooperative Education (Co-op) student and Mechanical Engineering major. S.T.A., which specializes in automatic transmissions, is his first co-op assignment. For the entire fall semester, he has been an integral part of the testing and after-sales team in the S.T.A. engineering department.

The assignment has exposed Penna to highly technical engineering and manufacturing work and challenged him to take on long-term project management and technical communications responsibilities.

“I feel very fortunate to have already had the chance to work in the automotive industry and to have such an enriching, challenging and motivating experience,” said Penna.

In addition to his professional work, Penna simultaneously had to learn conversational French language skills and uncover the social and cultural values of a foreign country.

“This international experience has turned me into a more flexible, communicative, well-rounded and globally concerned engineer,” he said.

Penna, who was already fluent in three languages before picking up French at S.T.A., grew up in Brazil and attended a German international high school in Rio de Janeiro. Always passionate about automobiles and harboring an innate curiosity for engineering principles, he had his heart set on pursuing his higher education in the United States.

“Brazil is a country which is still under development,” Penna said. “Although it is starting to become known for R&D, and many automotive companies have their factories in Brazil, most automotive R&D centers are headquartered in the U.S. and Europe.”

At Stevens – Penna’s university of choice based on its academic reputation, honor system, location and campus community – he developed a dual interest in sustainability and its related scientific disciplines.

“Engineers can no longer develop and build with no conscience of ecological principles,” he said. “With global population and production growth, ecosystems are becoming saturated. It is critical for mechanical engineering systems to integrate environmental engineering principles from the first sketch.”

Therefore, Penna has developed a specific set of career aspirations: allying automotive R&D with the development of sustainable, low-energy consumption systems – i.e. developing electric and hybrid powertrains and hydrogen fuel cells, enabling performance optimization of combustion engine components, and contributing to other similar innovations.

“The recent chapter of the automotive industry clearly calls for the pursuit of pollution and environmental impacts reduction,” Penna said. “I share the philosophy of Stevens for 142 years –we should always look to innovation to improve the society in which we live.”

Penna hopes to do a second Co-op assignment at a German automotive company, perhaps pursue further field specialization with a master’s or doctoral degree in automotive engineering or sustainable and renewable energies, and eventually work in the U.S. at a top automotive corporation.

“I’m going to continue my dream which I first developed when I was ten years old,” he said. 

Meanwhile, he plans to enjoy his time back on the Stevens campus – a vibrant community which he characterizes as “welcoming” and “priceless.” An active member of both the Stevens soccer club and the Stevens SAE club – which builds racecars for competitions – Penna encourages all students get involved in the many activities and organizations on campus, which let students share memories and exchange knowledge and goodwill. He even plans to start a Brazilian club to introduce Brazilian culture and unite the international and domestic undergraduate and graduate communities.

“The Stevens community – from the Co-op program to the hands-on faculty research to the clubs and associations to the wonderful campus – all stand out for me,” Penna said. “However, they could never be possible without the solid structure of academics, research and administration which all share the same objective of continuing the Stevens tradition as ‘The Innovation University.’”