Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Incredible Alumni: Amber Palmer

After graduating in 2012 with a degree in engineering with electrical concentration, Amber Palmer began her career at Texas Instruments, a global semiconductor design and manufacturing company. She spends her days as a Lead Validation Engineer putting new products to the test in the lab.

What does an average day look like for you? 
I am responsible for making sure our new integrated circuit chip works both on a functional level and on a data sheet parametric level. I spend the majority of my time in the lab working with bench equipment very similar to that found in the EE labs at LeTourneau. I am tasked with trying to catch all bugs and reporting them back to the silicon designers. There are tests that I run that intentionally let out the magic smoke, which helps our team understand the absolute limits of our device. My job is to break it before the customer does. I want to catch every potential weakness as the parts I work on are the motor drivers for power steering and power breaking in newer automobiles.

What's a high point in your career since graduating from LETU?
For my first two years at Texas Instruments, I was a part of a rotational program. I received a new job assignment every six months that exposed me to a different function within the semi-conductor industry. I was able to work as a product/test engineer, an engineer within a wafer fab, a design engineer, and they even sent me on an international assignment! I spent six months working at one of TI's assembly test sites in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had always dreamed of working internationally as an engineer, and TI provided that opportunity for me.

Why did you choose to study electrical engineering?
Honestly, I had no exposure to engineering as a child. During my junior year of high school, my chemistry teacher pulled me aside after class and asked me what I wanted to major in. I said I didn't know. He laughed and told me to become an Electrical Engineer. Naively, I said ok! I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into at the time, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey.

How has your education benefited your position at Texas Instruments?
The LeTourneau engineering department places a strong emphasis on team projects and hands-on learning. Professors don't just teach theory, they expect you to be able to apply it in an actual practical and useful way. This has given me a tremendous advantage when I started in my role as Lead Validation Engineer. I walked into my lab and went, "Oh hey. Look. I'm back in Elab 3. I've got this!"

What's your favorite memory of your time at LeTourneau? 
Before I left LeTourneau, I was determined to paint a mural for my brother floor, the D2 Lions. My RD gave her approval, with one caveat: I had to have it completed before the freshman class arrived that year. Not counting the time it took for the paint to dry, the D2 mural was completed in 19.7 hours. Basically every D2 guy who was a part of Impact helped me finish that mural on time. The mural still stands in D2, and it is one of my favorite things I left behind for future students.

Was there a particular person who was influential during your time at LETU?
I don't think I can pick just one person that was very influential during my time at LeTourneau. Each and every professor I had helped me become the Engineer that I am today.

What advice do you have for a current LETU electrical engineering student or someone considering electrical engineering?
Current Students: Get to know your professors. They truly care about you. Do not be afraid to strike up a conversation with them. Go to their office during their office hours. Ask them questions. They want to see you succeed. I might be biased, but I truly believe that the EE department hands down has some of the best faculty within the entire university.

Future Students: Are you considering becoming an Electrical Engineer? Do it. Electrical Engineering is such a broad field that you are bound to find your little niche that you enjoy. It's also ok if you don't know exactly what you want to focus on quite yet. Just take the first step and proceed through the open doors.

Friday, December 4, 2015

From LeTourneau to the Tank

When JD Claridge was a student at LeTourneau University 15 years ago, he probably didn’t expect that he would one day present his own company to five of the country’s top business professionals. He probably didn’t think he would own a company that would be valued at $6 million. And he probably didn’t expect to pitch a business on national television. Yet, this fall, that’s exactly what happened.

Claridge, co-founder of drone startup xCraft, invented a different kind of drone. In a now saturated market, he used his innovative spirit—one that LETU students are known for—to create a product that has made America stop and take notice.

PhoneDrone Ethos
xCraft offers two revolutionary drone models. The X PlusOne is a professional, commercial drone that combines hovering capabilities and speed. The average drone has hovering capacity only. This, on the other hand, has the capacity to fly up to 60 miles per hour while climbing to 10,000 feet.

The second of the two xCraft drone models lives up to its name, PhoneDrone Ethos, by giving flight to your own smartphone. Far less expensive than a typical drone, it provides consumers easy access to aerial footage using their smartphone cameras. 

This fall, Claridge and his business partner, Charles Manning, pitched xCraft on ABC’s hit television show “Shark Tank.” The show gives entrepreneurs the chance to present their businesses to the Sharks­­—self-made millionaire and billionaire business moguls—who then decide if they want to invest in the entrepreneur’s company. Claridge and Manning originally requested $500,000 for a 20% stake in their company. After several sharks tried to outdo each other with higher offers—in a “shark fight,” as it’s called in the Tank—all five investors banded together to offer xCraft $1.5 million for a 25% stake. As a result, Claridge is now in business with Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Damon John. 

This extensive, all-sharks-in partnership signaled a remarkably high vote of confidence in Claridge’s company. Kevin O’Leary himself said that this kind of deal was “very rare in the Shark Tank.”

Before his turn in the Tank, Claridge graduated from LETU in 2001 with an aeronautical science electronic systems degree and we’re extraordinarily proud to be his alma mater. His work embodies LeTourneau’s vision of graduating professionals of ingenuity. While his schedule is packed these days creating innovative products and now working hard to take full advantage of such an entrepreneurial windfall, he took a moment to share how LETU helped him get where he is today:

“Attending LeTourneau was an incredible experience that not only taught me the skills I needed for my career but also challenged me to learn in a way I had not experienced before.  I often say that LeTourneau is where I learned how to learn.” 

Claridge credits faculty, and one professor in particular, as having a lasting effect on his life. 

“There were several faculty members who guided me along the way, but the standout is Lauren Bitikofer. While I attended LeTourneau, he and his wife, Kathy, took me under their wing. They fed me, mentored me, and even let me live at their house one summer. Ever since attending, Lauren and I have stayed in touch. We talk on a regular basis about radio control modeling and flying—two of our common passions. I have appreciated his guidance and friendship so much. He has truly had a profound impact in my life, both professionally and spiritually. Thank you, Mr. B!”

Claridge adds that LETU wasn’t strictly an academic experience for him. He shared that one of his most memorable accomplishments was being part of residence life:

“I would say what I am most proud of was the mentoring I was able to provide during my time as an RA on Flooders. So many great relationships were forged. Many of them are still strong today.”

While his business booms, Claridge still holds on to his time at LETU, both academically and relationally. He hopes that current LETU students will take advantage of the full college experience that makes up LeTourneau.

“I would say that LeTourneau has so much more to offer than a stellar education—the friendships you make, the experiences you have, the mentorship you give and receive. Make sure you take advantage of it all while you are there. Those few years at LeTourneau are formative for the rest of your life. My time at LeTourneau is something I'll never forget.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Incredible Alumni: Dustin Masters

After graduating from LETU in 2012 with a computer science degree, Dustin Masters took his skills to Faithlife Corporation, a leading developer of Bible study software. He now spends his days using his technical skills to help people better understand the Bible. Find out what life after LETU is like for Dustin as a development lead at Faithlife:
Dustin Masters, 2012 computer science grad

What does an average day look like for you?
As a dev lead, it’s my job to lead a team of developers by guiding technical decisions, writing code, and reviewing others’ work. Right now, I am leading the team. I conduct weekly one-on-one meetings with everyone working on my team to invest in them and help them accomplish the goals they’ve set. On an average day, I grab a double-shot CaffĂ© Americano, head upstairs for the team’s daily scrum (a quick status update), triage new bug reports, implement some new cool features, and ship to our public beta site! We ship multiple times a day and encourage everyone to use the beta site and give us feedback before we ship to the main site. This allows us to catch bugs and design flaws much sooner. 

What's a high point in your career since graduating from LETU?
The launch of Logos 6 was a pretty significant event in my career. Before working on, I worked on the Documents Team, which was responsible for storing and sharing user documents. We all worked really hard to write several new web services that would support some of the new features in Logos 6. Logos 5 supported syncing notes, but the service was not originally designed to handle notes with multiple attachment points. We had to come up with an algorithm that would handle upgrading a user from Logos 5 to Logos 6 without losing any of their notes, while allowing them to share notes with users that were still using Logos 5. Since the Logos 6 engine wasn't free yet, it was important not to break sharing for users still on the older Logos 5 engine. After a few months of testing, we were able to roll it out to everyone and had a smooth launch of this new service. The commitment to a great user experience without forcing people to upgrade is one of the many reasons I love working here.

Why did you choose to study computer science? 
I’ve always been interested in computers. I have been programming since before I began high school, so I'd known I wanted to study computer science at a university for a long time. I chose LeTourneau because some of my parents’ colleagues graduated from there, and there was a lot of diversity in the states and countries students came from. I knew I’d have a good chance of finding friends.

How has your education benefitted your position at Faithlife?
My education gave me a great foundation on which to build my career. The computer science courses were well designed and gave me plenty of opportunity to learn to think critically. When I was attending, Dr. Baas, Dr. Tevis, and Dr. Rouse were the three professors I spent the most time with. Concepts I learned from classes like Analysis of Algorithms and Operating Systems helped provide a great foundation for understanding modern computing and writing great software.

Was there a particular person who was influential during your time at LETU?
Dr. Baas is one of the professors who made a significant impact on me during my time there. His commitment to helping students learn in the style that works best for them made such a difference in my education. For example, I had the chance to do a self-study iPhone development course with him when I was there. Within a semester, I wrote and shipped an app to help other students find their way around campus and check the campus schedule for upcoming events. I probably wouldn’t have had that chance if it wasn’t for professors like Dr. Baas who are dedicated to helping computer science students in their pursuits.

What advice do you have for a current LETU computer science student or someone considering computer science? 
Current students: Apply now for software development internships; don’t wait! We have summer internships at Faithlife - message me on Twitter (@dustinsoftware) or send me an email ( if you’re interested. Also, come up with an idea for a software project you can do on your own and show off your work! Programming is a lot of fun - share your creations with others and learn from them.

Future students: Now is a great time to become a CS major. If you are at all interested in computers and are unsure about the CS major, take an intro-level programming course! Even if you don’t become a major, you’ll have a good understanding for what powers more and more of our world today. 

How did your time at LETU affect your spiritual growth? 
A lot of my spiritual growth was through talking with the school staff and getting to know my peers. Also, having little restrictions with how I could spend my evening and weekend time meant that I had to be intentional about devotions, going to church, and prayer. 

Do you have a favorite memory of friendships that you made during your time at LETU?
There are too many to count - the friendships I’ve made from living on campus continue to this day. One of my favorites was when enough snow appeared in February of 2011 that class was cancelled. A giant snowball fight ensued in front of my dorm, Mabee 1, the best dorm ever. I ended up building a snowman and using CD’s for the eyes. That was also the first date I went on with my wife, so that’s a special memory for me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Incredible Alumni: Ian Reed

At LeTourneau, we take great pride in our outstanding alumni. They're on the front lines of technological innovation. They provide healing and wellness in healthcare facilities all over the world. They're educating future generations with excellence. They transport thousands daily at 35,000 feet with the utmost skill and safety. The scope of the work to which LETU alumni have committed their lives is vast, and we have countless reasons to be proud.

Take Ian Reed; he's a 2013 mechanical engineering graduate who's current working at SpaceX, one of the world's most cutting-edge manufacturers and transporters of rockets and spacecraft. Find out, in his own words, what his life is like post-LETU.

What's a high point in your career since graduating from LETU?
I felt a sort of mini-euphoria the first time we launched a rocket that I had been inside and helped put together. It's amazing to know the work I had done in the previous months were pieces of the puzzle that ended up with a satellite high above the earth in the geosynchronous orbit.

Ian Reed, on the job at SpaceX
Why did you choose to study mechanical engineering? 
I have always been a builder and experimenter. Mechanical Engineering is the ultimate set of knowledge and skills that enable me to build and experiment with as much of the world as possible.

Was there a particular person who was influential during your time at LETU?
Although I didn't fully appreciate him until after I graduated, Dr. Gary DeBoer showed me it's possible to be fully both a person of faith and science. If you're under the impression that your faith is in contradiction with science, it is your duty as a person of science to approach the contradiction analytically, and either uncover new scientific evidence to support your faith, or alter your faith to match reality. You must strive for truth in all things.

What advice do you have for a current LETU mechanical engineering student or someone considering mechanical engineering? 
1. Communication skills count for more than 50% of your ability to be effective in the work force – oral, written, body language, presentations. Become a master now or suffer later when you don't get that interview or promotion.
2. Once you pass a 3.6 GPA, your holistic engineering experience becomes much more important for your candidacy at an engineering firm.
3. It isn't enough to be a part of a project, you have to own a piece of it and prove that your involvement was necessary for the project's success.

Well done, Ian! Your accomplishments are exemplary and LETU is grateful to call you an alumnus.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Sisters Who Became Research Partners

What do soap and sweet potatoes have in common? Not much; but both did lead sisters Melinda and Carolyn Hoyt to study chemistry at LETU.

The two out of ten siblings from Ackley, Iowa, didn’t always plan on attending college together, but after discovering the combination of LETU’s serious academics and faith focus, they both felt it was the place for each of them.

Melinda, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry in May, and Carolyn Hoyt, who will be a junior chemistry major this fall, eventually ended up not only choosing the same major, but also joining the same research team.
Melinda (left) and Carolyn Hoyt

Their mutual interest in chemistry began long before their shared time at LETU.

“This may seem like a strange story,” Carolyn said, “But I initially was drawn to chemistry because of soap. When I was taking high school chemistry, I learned that soap works to remove stains and dirt because it has a hydrophobic end (attracted to the stain) and a hydrophilic end (attracted to water). Around that time I had an article of clothing that had a stain. I wanted to remove it, but we had no stain-remover in the house. I simply applied a concentrated amount of soap to the affected area and, lo and behold, the stain was completely removed!

“I was so fascinated by this proof of chemistry that I decided I wanted to pursue it in college. I wanted to learn more about why things work the way they do and felt chemistry could best answer my questions.”

Melinda credits her interest in chemistry to an early inventor and his work with crops:

I read a biography on George Washington Carver and was astonished that he was able to create over a hundred products from the peanut and sweet potato through chemistry. I loved the idea of creating entirely new materials or household goods that everyone buys. The knowledge of chemistry allows you to make such new materials from the ground up, or from molecular scale to final product.”

At LETU, they’ve worked side-by-side for the past two summers on Dr. Vivian Fernand’s research project, optimizing sensors, testing reagents, and earning valuable research credit – a rarity in the undergraduate world. The sisters are still far from ending their research days.

Carolyn will continue to research while pursuing her chemistry degree. Melinda’s preparing to begin classes for Iowa State’s Ph.D program in Materials Science and Engineering this fall, which she credits in part to having done research during her time at LETU.

My undergraduate research experience built a solid recommendation to being accepted into grad school. I’m pretty determined I want to do it full-time,” Melinda said. “That’s why I chose to pursue a Ph.D. Ultimately, I'd like to work at a company like IBM or Apple and design new computer-chip or circuitry materials to improve their electronic devices.”

Most sisters don’t get to attend college together, but Melinda and Carolyn recommend it.

“It's been a great time to grow closer together. Since we were both in the same major we could, of course, talk about classes. But more than that, we simply spent more time together. Carolyn's been a great help in taking pauses to look at happenings in life and laugh, in between intervals of hard studying,” Melinda said.

“I have enjoyed getting to spend more time with my sister here at school,” Carolyn added. “We didn't really do much together when we were in high school, but here we've been able to do more. We've participated in research together, been on long road-trips together, talked chemistry together. I value the time I've been able to spend with Melinda here very highly. I've gotten to know her better and have been privileged to learn from her. I hope to be like her in many respects some day.”

For the first time in years, they’re attending different schools, but they’ll always share a sisterly bond, scientific interest, and alma mater. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Where Science Meets Engineering: Dr. Vivian Fernand's Research Team

It’s summer break on LeTourneau University’s campus, but that doesn’t mean the work comes to a halt. Labs are still put to good use on a daily basis, and they’ve even been the workplace for several LETU students.

Assembled by chemistry professor Dr. Vivian Fernand, an LETU team of two chemistry, one biology, and three biomedical engineering students are pioneering new types of sensors that will be used for detecting harmful chemicals.

Dr. Vivian Fernand
The sensors, which resemble small squares of paper, will be an easy method to detect chemicals harmful to the body. Placed on a surface in question, they will turn certain colors that indicate whether a dangerous substance is present.

 The final product will be especially useful for law enforcement investigating crime scenes and cleaning crews in situations where hazardous materials may be a concern.

Funded by a $25,000 departmental grant from The Welch Foundation, these scientists- and engineers-in-training are being paid to develop valuable skills that they’ll one day use in professional laboratories in addition to receiving research credit for the project.

“The nice thing is, everyone can get a degree, especially in science and engineering, but how you want to distinguish yourself is through research,” Fernand, the project’s faculty advisor said. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to participate in research at the undergraduate level.”

“Research during undergrad is not that common,” she added. “If a student graduates with research experience along with a published paper, they are directly accepted into graduate or medical school. Research is a big plus, but the maximum plus is a published paper. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with these students. Many of them are starting to write their own papers on this project.”

Each student was also required to present their work at the end of every week to perfect their presentation skills. “Because of that, whenever they present in a professional setting, they’re really confident,” Fernand said.

After the project is completed, each student will have the opportunity to present their findings at seminars and conferences.

The research team
The experience will also benefit the students should they decide to enter the workforce directly after they complete their undergraduate degrees. They’re establishing the same skills used universally in labs: safety, working individually and
in a group, developing and analyzing new ideas, and problem solving.

The strength in her team, as Fernand points out, lies in its variance of areas of study among the students.

“I believe every one of us has different gifts and capabilities. That’s why I’m trying to utilize both engineering and science students,” she said. “Whenever you have diversity in your team, you come up with better ideas as a whole.”

Developing the sensors – and students’ lab skills – is an ongoing project. The team grows in number every year, moving forward with LETU’s mission to develop competency in the workforce and commitment to effective hands-on experience.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Nothing is Out of Reach": LETU Women Pilots Make School History

It began in 1929, when Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilot pioneers started the First Women’s Air Derby, America’s inaugural women-only air race.

Today, LeTourneau University takes part in this now 86-year-old tradition with its own pioneering female pilots.  Recent LETU aviation graduates Rebecca Davidson and Jovita Perez-Segovia are currently flying across the country in today’s premier female-only air race, the Air Race Classic—and are LETU’s first pilots to do so.

The First Women’s Air Derby later became the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race until 1977, when the Air Race Classic interceded to become America’s leading female air race.
Entry in the Air Race Classic isn’t easy. There are only 55 spots available, and the race is open to pilots worldwide. Davidson and Perez-Segovia were accepted, meeting all race requirements, which stipulates that both participants have 500 pilot-in-command hours or 100 hours plus an instrument rating. They also diligently fundraised the registration fee on their own. Thus, their team, named “Texas Tailwinds,” was born.

Starting in Virginia, the race takes them to eight other states and covers nearly 2,500 miles. However, it’s about more than who finishes first. Pilots must strategize and execute what Air Race Classic officials refer to as a “perfect cross-country flight.” 

Jovita Perez-Segovia (left) and Rebecca
“LeTourneau University competing in the Air Race Classic sets a historic precedent for the School of Aviation,” LETU Director of Flight Operations Laura Laster said. “No students have done this before, so we’re learning a lot along the way! I hope that future female aviators in our program will continue competing in this race.”

According to the FAA, only six percent of professional pilots are women. LeTourneau University’s School of Aviation challenges this stat, since more than double that number of LETU aviation students are female. The school hopes to encourage even more women to enter the field. They’re accomplishing that goal, as proven by the Texas Tailwinds—who serve to inspire young women that, in the words of Davidson, “nothing is out of reach.”