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Metalcasting Career Path to Academia

Pam Lechner

FEF schools are not only educating future industry personnel; future educators are also being trained at those FEF schools. Joe Licavolia is one such educator track example. But his journey is not one of a straight line. 

Upon graduating from Michigan Tech in 2006 with a B.S. in materials science, Licavolia went to work at Chrysler. During his time there, his rotations included working on diesel engine programs, stamping procedures and vehicle lightweighting. Following his employment at Chrysler, Licavolia worked at Sandvik Hard Materials and at Alcoa Howmet as a casting process engineer. Ultimately, he returned to Michigan Tech to pursue his advanced degree.

As Licavolia returned to Michigan Tech, he was placed as Dr. Paul Sanders’ (FEF Key Professor) first Ph.D student and “senior” member of his research group. Together with Dr. Sanders’ MSE staff, they rebuilt several lab spaces and increased the amount of castings/metallurgically-based research. 
Following graduation as a Ph.D student in 2013, Licavolia took a position at National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). While at this lab, he volunteered to help create an exhibit on the reactive metals industry (Ti, Zr, Mg). Licavolia made presentations to high school and middle school students covering the basics of materials science and some of the more entertaining developmental failures related to zirconium production. (They once started a zirconium metal fire that they didn’t know how to put out.) It was at this time that he started to gravitate toward more educational-focused career goals.

In the summer of 2016, Licavolia accepted a position as a research engineer in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Michigan Tech and began work on several research projects. 

“It was a lot of fun to reconnect with undergraduate students, improve the foundry facilities, and apply some of the knowledge I had gained at the national lab,” he said.

Licavolia’s current responsibilities at Michigan Tech include working on projects for industrial and government sponsors, teaching the metal casting course, working with the current foundry manager to update the curriculum, and conducting lab activities to teach more industrially relevant skill sets.
His goal: “I hope to be here long term, helping to guide students into metal castings and help expand Michigan Tech’s research capabilities by being a flexible and versatile engineer and scientist.”

It’s critical that FEF schools produce both industry-minded and academia-minded graduates. The importance of being ready to fill upcoming professor retirements is as necessary as those looming manufacturing facility retirements. Thank you for your continued support of FEF and our network of schools. Whether it’s a financial gift, a donation of materials, or serving on an advisory committee, your participation is essential and appreciated.