Penn State engineering student broadens horizons with GE Aviation
Schreyer Scholar helped the jet engine manufacturer streamline its assembly line during a summer internship
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Carolyn Riegel spent the first day of her summer internship this May walking through the floor of the GE Aviation plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. The assembly lines carried engines for Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.
“My mouth was wide open,” Riegel recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Is this real life?’”
At that point, the Penn State industrial engineering student and Schreyer Scholar knew nothing about engines or airplanes. By the time her 10-week internship ended, though, Riegel could not only explain how those massive engines operated, she had saved General Electric money by streamlining the way those engines were assembled.
“I definitely took hold of all the opportunities there,” Riegel said, “and that’s something I definitely learned here, that Schreyer instilled in me right from the beginning, just to put myself out there and get involved in what I can, just to enhance my experience.”
Riegel initially hadn’t even expected to have an internship following her freshman year at Penn State, but during a student panel at a Women in Engineering Program (WEP) meeting last fall, she had met another Penn State student, Cayla Castells, who had interned with GE Transportation after her freshman year. Castells advised Riegel to go to the career fair and get practice speaking with employers.
“I really hadn’t even planned to talk with GE,” Riegel said. “Their booth was right on my way out and there wasn’t a line, so I figured I’d go.”
Riegel wound up talking to a pair of GE recruiters for more than an hour. She applied online, had an interview the next week, and received an offer in October.
By mid-May, she was helping inventory the various tools, all of which needed to be calibrated and regulated through the government, used to make military-grade engines. In doing so, she realized not all of them were needed.
“I went in and looked for all these tools and was able to cut down on the amount that were being used because they weren’t being used,” Riegel said. “I was able to take them off the floor and save GE money and organize all that.”
Working under the supervision of quality manager Ron Doyle, Riegel talked to workers who had been at the Lynn plant, the manufacturer’s second-largest site, for several decades. She asked lots of questions and wrote the answers down in a notebook. She watched weekly inspections of engines, and texted her family when she discovered they included those for the same type of Apache helicopter that her sister’s friend was flying for the U.S. Army.
“I bet he’s happy you’re making sure he’s safe,” Riegel’s mother, Tracy, texted back.
Another project involved Riegel troubleshooting an online database containing secure files that had included the wrong retention year when the data was initially entered. She figured out a solution that saved GE 19,500 years of storage time that it would have otherwise had to pay for.
Riegel also volunteered for a ceremony when GE Aviation qualified one of its military engines this summer, and it was there she met Jean Lydon-Rodgers, a 1985 Penn State graduate who is the vice president and general manager of GE’s military systems operation.
“It was really cool just to see how someone I can relate to, being a female in engineering, especially at Penn State, can be so successful,” Riegel said.
Riegel has since traded emails with Lydon-Rodgers, but she has engineering role models closer to home. Her oldest sister, Lauren, is a 2014 Penn State industrial engineering graduate who works as a business and systems integration analyst at Accenture. Another sister, Meghan, is working on her master's in computer engineering through Schreyer’s integrated undergraduate/graduate program and is on schedule to graduate this coming spring.
Riegel, who also plays for Penn State’s women’s club lacrosse team, is an Engineering Ambassador and involved in the Society of Women Engineers and WEP, likes the problem-solving opportunities within the engineering field. She said she would love to work for GE again but also has a desire to take on another challenge that would expand her knowledge and network.
“I think I’d really like to work in a different part of engineering only to see what else exists out there and what else I could do with my career,” she said. “That way I gain all of these different experiences so when it comes time to graduate, and have a full-time job, I can make an educated decision about what I most enjoy and what I really want to do.”
Schreyer Honors College