Pratt Connection Led Two Undergrads to Internship in Sweden

Two Pratt sophomores were the first to benefit from a budding collaboration between Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Also known as KTH (short for Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan), the institute is one of the largest engineering schools in Europe.

Ryan Pitera, a mechanical engineering major from the Cape Cod area, and Mengju Wu, a biomedical engineering major who has lived in China, Texas and Idaho, spent last summer at KTH gaining engineering experience and soaking up Scandinavian culture. The internship opportunity grew out of a connection between the European institute and Robert Kielb, a senior research scientist in Pratt's mechanical engineering and material sciences department who recently became an affiliated professor at KTH.

“It’s a large engineering school and students get the added benefit of international experience,” Kielb said.

Pitera first brushed up on his knowledge of basic aeroelastic principles. He then worked with KTH researchers to create web pages describing their areas of study and recent advances.

“It was my first experience with research,” Pitera said. “I didn’t know anything about aerospace engineering going into it, but it’s an area I might now want to pursue.”

Wu developed a chapter on geothermal energy for a computerized educational platform known as CompEdu. The online textbook offers a low-cost gateway for study of heat and power technology, for use as a self-study tool or as part of university courses on the topic.

“It was an amazing learning experience,” said Wu, who was particularly struck by Swedish office culture.

“There is a lot of bonding time,” she said. “They have required coffee breaks at 10 and 3 and events every Friday where people bring cake or fruit and everybody eats.”

Wu and Pitera took every opportunity on the weekends to explore Stockholm and the capital cities of neighboring countries, including Finland, Norway and Denmark.

Their experience is the first of many yet to come for Pratt students, Kielb said. Although the details have not yet been finalized, he said that a memorandum of understanding is being negotiated and is expected to encourage “significant cooperation" between KTH and Pratt in the future, including student and faculty exchanges and research collaborations.

KTH is offering the Duke internship again next summer, Kielb said. Students who are selected for the internship will have a choice between projects in residential energy, computerized education or structural dynamics in the areas of turbomachinery dynamics and aeroelasticity.

It’s an opportunity that Pitera wholeheartedly recommends.

“My internship experience taught me a great deal about aeromechanics, the real-life work environment, and the Swedish lifestyle,” Pitera said. “I had time to travel around Stockholm, and even to Helsinki, Oslo and Copenhagen. I loved my time in Scandinavia.”

For additional details about the KTH internship, contact Kielb at rkielb@duke.edu