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Alumni Stories – Jody Christoff

2013 Engineering Technology alumna Jody Christoff
 
“South Hills and the Engineering Technology program were some of the best things that happened in my life!”
 
Q: Why did you choose South Hills?

Jody Christoff: I learned about South Hills when the factory I was working in shut down due to foreign competition and I lost my job. I was a single mom of two with a house payment, some military experience, and no post-secondary education. When I learned that I qualified for some government funding to further my education, I decided to schedule a visit to the State College Main Campus of South Hills.

At first, I thought I was interested in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS) program and a few others. The Admissions Team Representative, Vickey Warshaw, met with me and gave me a tour of the school. During that initial visit, Vickey noticed that my high school transcripts showed I had strengths in math and sciences. Through our discussion about my interests and skills, (like the fact that wood shop was one of my favorite classes in high school and I liked working on cars) she suggested that I consider the Engineering Technology program. At first, I didn’t think I’d be interested; however, I did some research and learned more about what kinds of classes were included and the kinds of jobs the program could prepare me for. I liked that as an ET student, you have an opportunity to learn about three different paths, Civil, Architectural, and Mechanical Design.

During the admissions process, I met with South Hills’ Financial Aid Team. They were really supportive and helped me to sift through all the information about loans, grants, and scholarships. South Hills and the Engineering Technology program were some of the best things that happened in my life!

Q: Did you have any favorite South Hills classes or instructors?

Jody: When I first toured South Hills, ET Instructor and Program Coordinator, Karen Maynor, spoke with me about the program. She had a lot of experience in the field of Civil Engineering. She strongly encouraged me to consider applying for the program, especially as a woman, since she believes there are not nearly enough female engineers. The interaction with Karen was definitely a factor in my decision to choose enrolling in the Engineering Technology program.

Gary Powers, ET Instructor, had such a wealth of knowledge and real-world experience and he always had interesting and useful things to share. He was also very encouraging and gave a lot of individual attention and feedback. Because the class sizes were small, the instructors got to know us so well during our two years at South Hills. They saw us nearly every day and knew our personalities, strengths/weaknesses, interests, etc. and they gave feedback that helped us to grow and learn. Sometimes the instructors could point out things that really helped us to shape our futures. Like they may recognize a specific talent or strength you have and guide you toward choosing a job that would allow you to use that skill and fit with your personality.

As I mentioned, ET students are exposed to coursework in three tracks: Civil, Architectural, and Mechanical. I was immediately drawn to the Mechanical Engineering path. I absolutely loved the CNC class. I like using the CNC machine, the tools, and the measuring tools. All of these skills have helped me in my current position.

I also learned how to use several kinds of computer software that are essential for an engineering position. Believe it or not, I didn’t even know how to use a computer when I first came to South Hills…my children knew more than I did. Through the program, I learned how to use drawing and design software and CAD software. I learned to create and assemble components in the engineering software to see if the design would work before it is produced.

I also learned some of the Microsoft® Office software like Word, Excel, etc.

We had a Technical Writing course which gave me skills that have helped me in my current position. I have to create processes and procedures for manufacturing, inspection, and the end-users/customers. We learned these skills through the classes and the hands-on projects we did. I feel like they prepared me well to enter the field and start working. At Actuated Medical, writing skills are important as we’re involved with government projects, grant writing, patents, FDA-compliance, and more. The “paperwork” part of the job is as important as the engineering side of the job.

 
 
Q: Where did you do your South Hills Internship?
Note: Internships are a required part of all Specialized Associate Degree programs.

Jody: I did my South Hills Internship at Actuated Medical, Inc. (AMI), a company which provides research and development and engineering to improve medical devices. I started as a Quality Assurance Intern and I was fortunate enough to be offered a full-time position.

I’m currently a Quality Assurance Engineer. I don’t consider this a job, I consider this a career; and I have that career because I have a 2-year degree from South Hills.

AMI is a small company (<30 employees) and we all play different roles and wear different hats. We all work closely as a team and we collaborate and communicate continually. We participate on project teams and I’m involved through all stages of the product research and development from concept, to design, to production to quality assurance. Co-workers get along both at work and outside of work.

Everything I do is hands-on. I test, inspect, do technical writing, and problem-solve all the time. I take my job seriously, and I want to make sure the products that go out the door are perfect. We all feel that way here and try to build in quality from the very start of the design process. We constantly look for ways to learn and improve what we do. Because we produce medical devices, we have to comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and international standards. As part of my quality assurance role, I use Validation and Verification (V & V) processes to ensure we produce the highest-quality products.

AMI has a great relationship with South Hills. We are very community-oriented, and so is South Hills. In fact, I believe about 1/3 of our employees are South Hills grads from various programs like Information Technology, Engineering Technology, and even the Business Administration – Management & Marketing program.

Actuated Medical, Inc. is a certified, female-owned business, and about 1/3 of our employees are female.

 
 
Q: What was most valuable about the internship experience?

Jody: The environment at AMI is very supportive. AMI’s CEO and co-founder, Dr. Maureen L. Mulvihill, is very involved, as is co-founder and Director of Research and Development, Dr. Roger Bagwell. They foster a culture that helps people to learn and grow. She’s encouraging and open to questions. Everyone here “fits” and I love it here. In fact, I’m willing to drive an hour and a half each day to work because I enjoy what I do and the people I work. I hear so many people say they hate their jobs, and I’m grateful to be here. Every day is different and interesting.

Q: What advice do you have for current or prospective Engineering Technology students?

Jody: I recommend South Hills to everyone who is considering furthering their education.

I also think people should consider the Engineering Technology program. The field is broad and there are so many different directions you can go because engineering skills are used by nearly every industry.

If you have good math skills, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills, you should be considering the ET program. You have to be conscientious, detail-oriented, and be someone who enjoys constantly learning new things. It helps to be a solid writer too as you need to communicate clearly with co-workers and customers. It also helps to be creative, especially for architectural engineering.

Engineering is about seeing a void or a need and designing something to fill that need. In other words, it's about being inventive!

I would describe engineering as: cool, interesting, gratifying, at times, frustrating and headache-causing, but in the end it’s very gratifying and satisfying. I know the work I do at Actuated Medical can help to improve lives. Something can start out as just a thought or idea and, because of engineering, it can become a reality. How awesome is that?

And as far as advice to females considering entering the field, I graduated at the top of my class, and we only had two women in the class. Don’t hesitate to consider this program.

Q: What were the most important things you learned while attending South Hills?

Jody: Beyond the technical skills, I learned how to conduct a job search and Career Services helped me with everything from writing my resume to interviewing. These skills have come in handy as now I help to interview prospective employees here at Actuated Medical.

South Hills also helped me to learn critical thinking skills and developed my problem-solving skills. We worked both independent and as a team on projects. Learning to work together as a team is essential as many engineering jobs involve working with others.

Q: What South Hills campus activities/organizations were you involved with?

Jody: I was a tutor for math and statistics and helped other students who needed some extra support.

Q: What are your interests, Activities, Volunteer Activities, Hobbies, etc.?

Jody: I love hanging out with my dog on the porch and enjoy camping with friends. My engineering skills spill over into my personal life because I like fixing cars and working on electrical and plumbing projects at home.

 
 

Dr. Maureen Mulvihill, founder and CEO of Actuated Medical, Inc., graciously participated in the following interview with South Hills, which was conducted via email.

Q: Describe your experience with South Hills Internship program.

Dr. Maureen Mulvihill: Actuated Medical’s second employee was a South Hills grad from the Information Technology program. He has always had a good relationship with South Hills and makes sure that we look at good candidates for internships. AMI started taking South Hills’ ET interns in 2011. Since then we have had 10 Engineering Technology interns, 9 of which were hired full-time. We have also hired 3 other South Hills grads from the Business Administration - Management & Marketing program. Currently [as of May 2019], 27% of our team members are South Hills grads.

Q: What makes you want to hire South Hills grads and offer internships to South Hills students year after year?

Dr. Mulvihill: South Hills programs are very hands on. Graduates are able to get up to speed quickly and have strong work ethics.

Q: Do you have any comments about working with the Career Services team at South Hills?

Dr. Mulvihill: South Hills Career Services team members are are very attentive. When we are looking to hire a team member, we normally call them and describe the position. They then send several resumes to review. From that point, it is up to us to see if the intern/graduate fits our corporate culture.

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Kari Lynn Schlegel

March 4, 1992—December 15, 2016

Kari Schlegel was born in March 1992 and graduated from South Hills in September 2012.

The Kari Lynn Schlegel Memorial Gallery is named in memory of Kari Schlegel, a lifelong Bellefonte resident and 2012 graduate of the Graphic Arts program at South Hills.

Kari was often the exclamation point in any story about the Class of 2012. Her effervescent good mood, enthusiasm, and seemingly endless supply of optimism and positive spirit was infusive, lighting up the classroom.

Kari (right) is shown with her beloved sister, Mindy.

Her classmates still laugh at the memory of Kari wearing her bunny slippers on the Graphic Arts field trip to New York City. Groan-worthy puns and jokes? Kari had a volume of them. She delighted in sharing stories and photos of her four beloved cats as well as trivia and tales of Harry Potter and Disney World. She was a rare combination of innocence, maturity, trust, and hope. She was filled with a joy of life and an unconditional love for her friends, her family, her pets… and people she just met. That was Kari Schlegel.

Kari dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow for the South Hills “BooFest” Halloween party in 2012.

She loved her school, even coming back to audit several GA classes after graduating. Kari also particularly enjoyed returning to South Hills every summer to perform as part of the Music Picnic Series with the Bellefonte Community Band.

Kari died December 15, 2016, in a tragic automobile accident. It’s a loss everyone who knew her still feels. In the end, Kari truly lived her life with passion and joy, treating others as she wanted to be treated: with love, compassion, and respect.