Undergraduate research helps Abington student ‘scope’ out career options

Abington engineering major

Nicholas Lynch in front of the Green Bank Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — A Penn State Abington sophomore spent the last few months immersed in an undergraduate research project that led him to discover a new option for his engineering career.

Nicholas Lynch, who plans to major in engineering science, enrolled in Abington Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA) in the spring and quickly jumped into a project that included research at the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia. 

The telescope is part of the National Science Foundation's National Radio Astronomy Observatory, one of the premier study locations in the world for astronomers. The GBT and other radio telescopes enable researchers such as Lynch to detect and study objects in space that give off little visible light but emit naturally occurring radio waves from objects such as pulsars, gas clouds and distant galaxies.

Lynch approached Ann Schmiedekamp, professor of physics, in the spring about undergraduate research. She suggested he train with online tutorials and Zoom sessions to understand how to identify pulsars, types of neutron stars, from data made available from the GBT. 

Nicholas served as a university mentor this summer at a weeklong camp for high school students through the Pulsar Search Collaboratory. In the process, he identified additional research to pursue this year. 

Schmiedekamp said Lynch wasn't clear on his career goals before his research experiences.

"Nicholas told me the time at Green Bank showed him that he wants to tie his engineering career to support those doing science like the astronomers at Green Bank," she said. 

“Undergraduate research can help students discern their career goals, and I was delighted to hear that this helped Nicholas,” Schmiedekamp continued. “The Pulsar Search Collaboratory also gave Nicholas a chance to experience service learning.”

Several weeks ago, Lynch shared his research with incoming Abington freshmen enrolled in the Engineering Ahead program. Schmiedekamp wants the freshmen, who intend to major in engineering, to consider ACURA as an aid to their learning and as a way of exploring career options.

Penn State Abington, formerly the Ogontz campus, offers baccalaureate degrees in 18 majors at its suburban location just north of Philadelphia. Nearly half of our 4,000 students complete all four years at Abington, with opportunities in undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more. Students can start the first two years of more than 160 Penn State majors at Abington and complete their degrees at University Park or another campus. Lions Gate, our first residence hall, will open in August.