For nearly 25 years, PLTW has offered transformative classroom and learning experiences for PreK-12 students. Now, many of those students are professionals in STEM fields. We recently reached out to several PLTW alumni to learn more about their educational and career journeys and find out what advice they have for current PLTW students. If you are a PLTW alumnus interested in sharing your story, we’d love to hear from you here.
Gil Shoaf lives in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, and works as a Product Engineer for John Deere. In high school, he completed Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Digital Electronics, Engineering Design and Development courses in the PLTW Engineering program.
In what grades did you participate in PLTW? What were some of your most memorable experiences from PLTW?
I participated in PLTW courses every year from 9th-12th grade. Going into high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue as a career path. I took Introduction to Engineering in 9th grade. After learning about the engineering design process and the basics of 3D modeling, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.
I vividly remember working with my team on the capstone project for Engineering Design and Development. At this point, everyone that was still taking PLTW classes had all been in the classes together for four years, and we were able to have a lot of fun with our projects. We selected to design a more effective method of shipping very fragile objects. Being able to go through the entire design process with a team and come up with a viable product solution was one of the most rewarding things I accomplished in high school.
What did your journey look like to get to where you are today?
After completing the PLTW curriculum in high school, I attended North Carolina State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and a minor in graphic communication. While in school, I expanded my skillset in computer programming to compliment my mechanical engineering studies and became a lab instructor in the programming class required for all engineering majors.
Starting the summer before my junior year of school, I started a co-op program with Moen. That summer, I worked as a project manager at a manufacturing plant in Sanford, North Carolina, planning and tracking new product projects going through the factory. Then, I alternated semesters of going to school and going back to work for Moen for a total of three different co-op assignments. For my 2nd assignment, I worked as a design engineer at Moen’s corporate headquarters in North Olmsted, Ohio. In this role, I designed and analyzed parts going into new products in their wholesale products group. I finished my time with Moen as a manufacturing engineer at their plant in New Bern, North Carolina. While at this location, I participated in Kaizen continuous improvement projects to support the automation of a current assembly line.
During my final summer before graduating, I had the opportunity to be a maintenance engineering intern with John Deere at the Drivetrain Operations factory in Waterloo, Iowa. I had to solve the problem - iron and bacteria buildup in water cooled machines inside the factory - and developed a project proposal to install a specified chemical treatment to prevent the problem from occurring.
Following my graduation from North Carolina State University, I participated in John Deere’s Engineering Development Program. This program allowed me to work full time in up to three different roles across the company. Each rotation lasted eight months so I learned a lot more than a standard internship. In my 1st rotation, I worked on a prototype vehicle design in our John Deere Turf division. Following that, I completed a rotation in the lab testing group. In this role, I worked to design and develop various lab tests to validate the various new design and improvements for our turf products.
What is your current role within your company? What are your responsibilities in this position?
Currently I work as a product engineer for John Deere’s golf equipment. Specifically, I work on the design team for our riding greens mower product line. These machines mow the greens and surrounding areas on a golf course. I’m directly responsible for the design of the structural components of our new products in this group, including our 2700/2750 Triplex Mower that we launched in 2019. In addition to structural design, I’ve also been able to leverage my programming experience to help our group increase our data analysis capabilities, and better utilize data we acquire from testing to improve our design criteria for ongoing projects. In addition to working on new products, I also provide support for our continuous improvement programs to constantly improve our products to better meet our customers’ needs. In this role, I can utilize my engineering and communication skills to collaborate with the many different cross-functional teams it takes to develop the best products possible for our customers.
What did you learn in PLTW that still helps you today?
The most valuable thing I learned in my PLTW classwork was the engineering design process. The basic steps of the engineering design process are fundamental to any project. Every project that any company completes can follow the basic steps of research, design, build, test, and improve. Getting into a habit of thinking through problems and projects in terms of these steps was very helpful for me early on in my career. During my PLTW classwork, it was easy to get carried away focusing on the design and build portions of our projects; however, many times we could have prevented or avoided mistakes if we had given more attention to the research and testing steps of the process.
Do you have any advice for current PLTW students?
I would advise current PLTW students to always seek to understand “why.” Don’t just try to memorize how to use the various physics equations to help solve your engineering problems. Try to understand “how” and “why” those equations work and reflect real-life phenomena. If you can focus on developing this deeper level of understanding of topics, you can apply this knowledge in new and unique ways. Applying your knowledge this way will help you become successful at anything you do in life.