Alumni Spotlight: Alexander Shea

June 21, 2023

For more than a century, Penn Engineering has fostered the growth of innovators, equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities necessary to make remarkable contributions to the realms of science, technology, and engineering. From revolutionizing industries to spearheading groundbreaking research, Penn Engineering alumni have left an indelible mark on the world. 

Penn Engineering’s commitment to excellence and its nurturing environment has produced a diverse array of exceptional graduates, many of whom have gone on to achieve extraordinary feats in their respective fields. Alexander Shea is no exception. His story illuminates the transformative power of a Penn Engineering education and serves as an inspiration to aspiring engineers.

Alex received his undergraduate degree from Penn in 2018 in Materials Science and Engineering with a minor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM) before continuing his education to receive a master’s in MEAM while working full-time.

You spent a lot of time at Penn. Can you describe your experience? What did you like most about your program?

“The thing that stood out to me the most was that the professors were really good across the board in all of the classes that I took. They not only explained all the concepts really well but they were invested in making sure the students understood the material. They held regular office hours and stayed late to help you figure things out if you were having trouble. While working on my master’s, I took a class with Dr. Hu in computational mechanics, which was the most interesting course I took at Penn. It was challenging, but he took a lot of time to sit down with me and ensured I was getting the concepts. 

It was important to me to pair my classwork with something hands-on. So I joined the electric racing team. Between that, ADAPT, and other clubs, there are so many good opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in class. These clubs are the reason I’m in materials engineering, specifically composite materials.”

What advice would you give to prospective students hoping to become a Penn Engineer?

“You should try to apply what you’re learning to a project outside of class. One of the main points of feedback I received when I first started working full-time was that I was able to apply what I had learned during my time at Penn to make real things in my new position. Sometimes, there can be a bit of a gap between pure coursework and applying the formulas, equations, and techniques you learned in school to an actual product. I would advise graduate students to join the many clubs or research groups to learn–in addition to the hard technical skills– the ancillary skills that are needed to make a project successful.”

Why did you choose Penn for your graduate degree?

“A master’s degree affords you the opportunity to deep dive into different topics. If you really commit to working with the faculty, TAs, and your peers at Penn, you can learn way more than just the baseline coursework. There is a lot Penn has to offer in that regard. You’ll do way more than just read through the textbook in class.”

Where are you now in your career? Do you think Penn helped you achieve your goals?

“My first position after graduation was the Materials and Process Engineer for the developmental helicopter program at Boeing in Philadelphia. I dealt with material selection, mechanical testing, and development for airframe structures. For the past few months, I’ve been working with a Boeing subsidiary company called Aurora Flight Sciences on a few developmental programs. One of the programs is a NASA program called EPFD– Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstrator, which is a hybrid powertrain aircraft. 

It’s easy to brush off a lot of what you see in class and say, ‘Oh, I’m not really going to use that.’ But a lot of what I learned at Penn has come up at work when I least expected it. You find yourself saying, ‘I’m really glad I learned that and I know where I have the notes for it.’ I use my computational mechanics course quite a bit. There were a lot of things I learned at Penn that I’m still applying to my current role.”

The journeys of our remarkable alumni, driven by technical expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to bettering society, have reshaped industries and transformed lives. Join us as Penn Engineering continues to nurture and empower our students to produce the next generation of trailblazers who will shape the future of engineering and technology. Interested in sharing your story as a Penn Engineer? Reach out to us to be featured in our Alumni Spotlight series!