Student marshal explores ultrasonics and economics to become better engineer

August 6, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Eric Woelkers, a mechanical engineering and Schreyer’s Honors College student, has been named the Penn State College of Engineering student marshal for the summer of 2018.

Originally from Moscow, Pennsylvania, Woelkers hails from a family of proud Penn Staters. His older brother Michael graduated in 2012 and his younger sister, Jane, is currently a second-year student. When he arrived to University Park, Woelkers knew engineering is where he should devote his talents.

“As a mechanical engineer, I knew I could get a broad set of skills and have opportunities in so many positions and industries,” he said.

Through his honors thesis project, “Analyzing the Third Harmonic of the Fundamental Shear Horizontal Ultrasonic Guided Wave Mode for Early Damage Detection”, Woelkers explored non-linear ultrasonic guided waves. As signals that can move through objects, they are often used for finding imperfections or cracks deep within objects, far from where a human eye can observe. He said, “The most common ultrasonics are able to detect flaws only a millimeter or bigger. So in some ways, the damage is already done.”

His work was in using ultrasonic waves to discover these defects on even a smaller scale. Through working with Cliff Lissenden, professor of engineering science and mechanics and acoustics, who is also serving as Woelkers’ faculty marshal, the student explained, “We want to be able to find changes in the material as soon as possible.”

With this technology, the engineering philosophy can shift from simply replacing parts to better analyzing and managing the life cycle of a machine. “A common application for this would be airplane wings, to be able to monitor the overall health of the structure,” he said.

This aptitude for problem-solving also helped him succeed in other disciplines. After taking an economics class required in the mechanical engineering curriculum, ECON 102 Woelkers’ interest was piqued. “I found myself really interested in the business applications and real world analysis in the class,” he said. “It was a refreshing course that was different from the hard core math and science in the engineering curriculum.”

His interest eventually led him to minor in economics, which shaped not only his education but his outlook as an engineer. “The professors really emphasized having an economic mindset,” he explained. “That is going to be something I bring to the field when I’m thinking of how to solve a problem, that business and financial mentality.” 

As the recipient of the President’s Freshman Award, President Sparks Award, and the Evan Pugh Scholar Junior and Senior Award, Woelkers is equipped to make his mark on the world. “Eric was an absolutely incredible student,” Jacqueline O’Connor, assistant professor and Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor of mechanical engineering, said. “He was an enthusiastic student and researcher and I think he’ll go far after graduation.”

Heading to Ohio to begin work for GKN Driveline, an automotive components manufacturing firm, Woelkers is excited to keep using his education and outlook to create technological solutions. “I went into mechanical engineering because of how versatile it is,” he said. “Now with these skills, just like with economics, I have a different mindset and learning approach. You take it and you can go solve problems in any different number of ways.”


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Erin Cassidy Hendrick



With more than 60 faculty members, 330 graduate students, and 800 undergraduate students, the Department of Mechanical Engineering is innovating today what will impact tomorrow’s solutions to meeting our energy needs, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems. We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S., M.Eng.) graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

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