Leonhard Center speakers practice the art and science of audience engagement

February 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In today's visual, audible, engaged world, engineering is not a behind-the-scenes profession. Engineers are increasingly personally presenting their work and ideas across mediums and engaging a broad spectrum of audiences.

In support of that reality, six of Penn State's best undergraduate speakers squared off and gave their most engaging 10-minute presentations February 2 during the ninth iteration of the bi-annual Leonhard Center Speaking Contest.

Aimed at raising the level of engineering presentations, the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education initiated the contest for engineering students from Penn State's College of Engineering. The contest provides young engineers with an opportunity to present engineering solutions to societal issues. This year, topics ranged from new treatments for Parkinson’s disease to pavement that soaks up storm water to special no-stick adhesive bandages just for infants.

The contest was sponsored by the Naval Nuclear Laboratory, which is responsible for developing advanced naval nuclear propulsion technology and providing nuclear technical support to the U.S. Navy. Tom Sambolt, new design director for the Naval Nuclear Laboratory, served as judge and spoke on the laboratory’s behalf during the event.

The contest begins each semester with nearly 250 students enrolled in special engineering sections of the course CAS 100, Introduction to Speech Communication. Throughout the semester, students are taught strategies to successfully convey technical information, and after a round of semi-finals, six finalists are invited to participate in the contest.

“The Leonhard Center Speaking Contest highlights the six best presentations from more than 250 engineering students in a semester-long speech course,” said Michael Alley, professor of engineering and the contest’s creator. “Because the finals occur at the beginning of the next semester, the presentations serve as models to the next cohort of engineering students in the course.”

The contest is organized by students in the Undergraduate Teaching and Research Experiences in Engineering (Utree) organization at Penn State. The organization, advised by Alley, includes many former contest participants and exists to improve professional skills and research experiences for undergraduates in the College of Engineering. Utree mentors served as judges for the semifinals and provided speaker angels for the finalists. Industrial engineering senior Kate Waskiw coordinated the contests, and along with mechanical engineering junior Kate Ferster, served as Emcee.

Top prize for 2017 went to mechanical engineering student Evan DiBiase, for his presentation about a robotic suit to help people walk.

"Having the opportunity to compete in the Leonhard Center Speaking contest was incredible,” DiBiase said. “Public speaking is something I've never been particularly fond of doing, but everyone from my CAS professor, Peter Miraldi, to Utree, to the other finalists, made it an extremely enjoyable experience.  Watching the other finalists give their amazing presentations was inspiring, and it made winning the event even more satisfying."

Additional stand-outs in the competition included second place winner Steven Von Veuren, whose talk focused on a liquid armor for soldiers; and audience choice award winner Steven Weber, who discussed the potential for autonomous vehicles to reduce city traffic.

This year’s contestants were:

First place: Evan DiBiase – mechanical engineering

Second place: Steven Von Veuren – industrial and manufacturing engineering

Audience Choice Winner: Steven Weber – computer science

Other finalists:

Margo Blake – chemical engineering

Casey Mrazik – civil and environmental engineering

Victoria Scutti – chemical engineering


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Chris Hennessey


From left are spring 2017 Leonhard Center Speaking Contest finalists Evan Dibiase, Margo Blake, Steven Von Veuren, Casey Mrazik, Steven Weber and Victoria Scutti. Photo by Audrey Thole

“The Leonhard Center Speaking Contest highlights the six best presentations from more than 250 engineering students in a semester-long speech course.”

— Michael Alley, professor of engineering and the contest’s creator.



The Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the nation’s largest and most successful engineering departments. We serve more than 1,000 undergraduate students and more than 330 graduate students

We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S., M.Eng.) graduate degrees in nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering. MNE's strength is in offering hands-on experience in highly relevant research areas, such as energy, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems.

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The Pennsylvania State University

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Phone: 814-865-2519