Monday, August 28
By Mark Gokavi
For seven Colorado State University student-athletes who study engineering, their “what-I-did-last-summer” tale was an internship that provided financial support, work experience and an added sense of community through the CSU Energy Institute.
Todd Bandhauer, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and a former quarterback at Iowa State University, said he hopes the model he helped organize – partnering CSU and education-affiliated companies – spreads across campus.
“Today’s athletic environment is changing rapidly, and these high-performing student-athletes have choices,’ Bandhauer said. “We need to think holistically about how to support and retain them. A major challenge for student-athletes is that they need to be in Fort Collins over the summer to train, which severely limits internship opportunities compared to a normal student.
“With help from the folks at the Energy Institute, we were able to pilot this internship program to provide both mentoring and experiential learning, as well as direct financial support, to foster a connection to the university and the Northern Colorado community. There is an untapped well of people that would be willing to support high-achieving student-athletes like this.”
CSU helps athletes many ways, including through RAM Life, which encourages and prepares all Ram student-athletes for life after sports.
“When a student-athlete commits to Colorado State, not only are they going to get the opportunity to compete on one of the highest levels of college athletics, but also a five-star degree in a field they are interested in,” said Sierra Puente, RAM Life’s director. “Todd is doing exactly that with these engineering student-athletes that is not commonly seen at other universities and building the foundation for other opportunities across majors at Colorado State.”
Women’s basketball player Cali Clark worked directly with Elliott Boyd and women’s golfer Panchalika “Friendly” Arphamongkol worked directly with Nathan Averett, all at AtmosZero, Bandhauer’s startup company focused on decarbonizing process steam. Men’s track and field/cross country runner Lars Mitchel worked for Bandhauer’s CSU research lab.
Track and cross-country runner Ryan Birkmeier completed research and consulting work on utility-scale wind and solar projects at Solas Energy for Evelyn Carpenter
Football player Corey Lambert Jr. and track and cross-country runner Gavin Geer both worked for Erin Kelley managing the Powerhouse Energy Campus.
Track and cross-country athlete Tom Willems worked with Ryan Brouwer, Ethan Emerson, Anna Hodshire and Dan Zimmerle at METEC, or the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center.
Clark, a senior mechanical engineering major, worked on the construction of a steam heat pump. She liked the work experience but also “meeting other athletes, growing my circle and learning about all my mentors have to offer.”
Arphamongkol, also a senior mechanical engineering major from Thailand, worked on instrumentation and simulation on the same project as Clark. Arphamongkol hopes to combine her passions if a pro golf career does not materialize. “I would love to go into a golf club company like Ping,” she said. “That would be awesome.”
Mitchel, a mechanical engineering masters student, led the air delivery system for a fuel cell that may increase efficiency. He hopes to have a career in the sustainable energy sector and says he would pitch his experience as a Ram to high school seniors. “I’ve had a great experience here,” Mitchel said. “I could probably sell CSU pretty well.”
Birkmeier, a senior civil engineering major, worked with Solas Energy. He said waking early to run and then work was challenging, but both required daily problem solving. “I’d like to keep working in this field,” he said. “I enjoy the consulting part of engineering.”
Sophomores Lambert (civil engineering) and Geer (mechanical engineering) tackled a variety of tasks including landscaping, janitorial work and mowing grass. They also helped with research when needed.
“It’s nice to be around the other interns on a project,” said Lambert, whose father played football under CSU coach Jay Norvell when Norvell was at Iowa State (as did Bandhauer). “It’s a really good work environment so it makes you want to work hard.”
Geer learned tack welding to fix a fence. He said that engineers, like runners, must have the work ethic and discipline to persevere.
Geer said his favorite days were when he would unexpectedly get pulled aside into a project at the Energy Institute on the Powerhouse Campus on North College Avenue. “There’s tons of research and tons of engineers working,” he said. “It’s a really nice way to see how they operate and what they do.”
Willems, a senior environmental engineering/interdisciplinary liberal arts major from Australia, worked on making 3D models of all the equipment at the METEC site to make mapping methane movement easier. He said his goal is to “be associated with a big project that benefits a community in a way that can be improved upon and developed.”
Bandhauer said local companies love to employ student-athletes. “They’re grinders,” he said. “They are focused, and they are going to be the future leaders of America. Well, in Tom’s case, Australia.”
CSU women’s basketball player and engineering student Cali Clark.
CSU women’s golfer and engineering student Panchalika “Friendly” Arphamongkol.
CSU men’s track and field/cross country runner and engineering student Lars Mitchel.
CSU men’s track and field/cross country runner and engineering student Ryan Birkmeier.
CSU football player and engineering student Corey Lambert Jr.
CSU track and field/cross country runner and engineering student Gavin Geer.
CSU track and field athlete and engineering student Tom Willems.
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