From left, Nick Hannan, ’08; Ashley Hetrick, ’17; Brent Dressler, ’11; and Ruth Frontz, ’90, are among more than 150 Penn College graduates who have put their “degrees that work” to work for architecture/engineering/surveying firm Larson Design Group.
College, company drive each other forward
by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/magazine editor. Photos by Larry D. Kauffman
Published March 4, 2019
There’s a special relationship between Pennsylvania College of Technology and Larson Design Group.
Both institutions sprouted in Williamsport to help meet the needs of their community, and both have grown to national proportions.
A symbiosis developed naturally: Penn College graduates earn “degrees that work.” That means they are ready to work when they are hired and are prepared to continue a lifelong journey of learning and critical thinking.
And Larson Design Group needs those graduates to continue its growth in providing top-level architectural, engineering and surveying services to clients across the nation.
Penn College benefits when Larson Design Group employees share their expertise with students and faculty. Their industry perspective helps to ensure that a Penn College education continues to meet changing workplace realities.
“With strong shared beliefs that learning, technical excellence, growth and leadership are critical for personal and professional success, it’s understandable why more than 150 Penn College graduates over these (33) years have put their ‘degrees that work’ to work at Larson Design,” Larson Design Group President and CEO Keith Kuzio said during his remarks at a luncheon that brought together Penn College scholarship donors and recipients. The firm has established two endowed scholarships at the college and supported a third with a challenge grant that matched funds donated by LDG employees and others.
“These alumni have contributed significantly to our growth from six people in Williamsport in 1986 to more than 325 people today, working across 10 offices in four states, on projects located in 43 of the 48 contiguous states,” Kuzio said.
The company has, in turn, contributed to the college’s ability to offer a world-class education.
“Industry connections are an integral component of our hands-on, applied technology education,” said Naim N. Jabbour, assistant dean of construction and design technologies. “LDG has been one of our strongest supporters in that endeavor. They’ve provided continuous support over the years to promote and push forward the college’s overall vision.”
There is a continual cycle of contact between the college and the firm.
The company’s employees visit the college several times each year to lend expertise to students in classrooms. They provide tours of the firm’s facilities to architectural technology classes and, more recently, gaming and simulation students, with whom they exchanged ideas on the uses of virtual reality. In 2018, the company invited architectural technology faculty to learn about 3D scanning and how it can be implemented into coursework.
LDG employees serve as guest jurors for Architectural Design Studio class presentations, recruit interns and full-time employees at the college’s Career Fair, and volunteer for Penn College programs that provide career exploration for school-age students, including the college’s Architecture Odyssey summer pre-college program, its Boy Scouts Merit Badge College and PA Build My Future.
They also serve on the Penn College Foundation board and on the program advisory committees for the college’s accounting, architectural technology, civil engineering technology and surveying technology programs. These committees – made up of industry representatives who contribute input about trends and new developments – help the college refine its instruction and better prepare students for their fields.
Perhaps most tangible to students, Larson Design Group offers paid summer internships, as well as cooperative education experiences that are much like internships but occur during the academic year, providing flexible schedules that allow students to gain experience while taking classes. The firm’s retail design division has three Penn College students working in co-op positions this year.
The internship/co-op experience has been a strategy for LDG to help build its employee-recruitment “pipeline” as the nationwide demand for qualified engineers exceeds the supply.
Those who take on employment at LDG have the opportunity to impact development in communities throughout the nation as the company continues to expand.
“Without a doubt, this magnitude of success for LDG would not be possible without this large, talented pool of Penn College graduates,” Kuzio said.
Brent Dressler, ’11
Retail design project manager
Dressler uses two Penn College degrees – a bachelor’s in building science and sustainable design and an associate degree in architectural technology – to design spaces for retail clients. Among them is the Party City national retail chain.
“It’s a fast pace,” Dressler said. “They want things done yesterday; that’s the typical schedule.”
In addition to managing projects, Dressler leads a group assembled to integrate innovation into the retail design division’s workflow.
The group – whose four other team members, like Dressler, hold Penn College degrees in building science and sustainable design and architectural technology – have implemented such technologies as 3D scanning and virtual reality.
“3D scanning captures everything on-site, well beyond the tape and laser, which was the old way of doing things,” Dressler said. “We bring that data home, and from there we develop construction drawings.”
The division’s use of VR allows clients to virtually walk around in a digital rendering of their space.
Dressler and the innovation group drove the research, development and integration of these technologies and other changes to improve the efficiency and quality of the retail design division’s work. The implementations generated a 20-to-1 return in the first year.
Dressler initially enrolled at Penn College to pursue the architectural technology associate degree.
“My goal was to start somewhere,” he said. “I wanted to improve my education and get at least a two-year degree to give myself a better opportunity with employers.”
He chose the college based on its quality, location and price.
“My education taught me how to buckle down, how to focus,” Dressler said. “They’ve been key to my success here.”
As Dressler worked toward his associate degree, the college announced it would initiate a bachelor’s degree in building science and sustainable design. He chose to extend his education.
“It’s definitely paid off,” he said. “That was a good move for me.”
A co-op experience with LDG during his senior year was a good move, too. It followed a summer internship with the company.
“I’m more proud now than ever to have done the co-op, getting a taste for what’s ahead of me and what’s possible,” he said.
He remains enthused about what’s ahead and how much more there is to learn.
“We’re a growing firm,” Dressler said. “In retail design, there are boundless opportunities. I’m thoroughly excited for the future of this division.”
Ruth Frontz, ’90
Division business analyst
Frontz is, at the same time, a detective and a wise adviser.
“The best part of my job is getting to analyze the numbers: why something may not be showing up correctly,” Frontz said.
Frontz is one of three business analysts at Larson Design Group. Among her duties, she manages a monthly financial review process with division leaders. She investigates and answers such questions as: How efficient are we at converting direct labor into revenue? Are we earning enough to support existing staff? Why was a revenue goal not met?
“Those are items we’re constantly measuring,” she said. “I give that information to management to help them make decisions.”
Frontz attributes her success to loving what she does.
“I have worked at several other places, many of them not so good,” she said. “The culture and attitude here at LDG is different: very positive. ... It is not: ‘How do I get through my day to go home?’ but, ‘What more can I do? What is the next step?’”
Finding her way to the job she loved took time.
Frontz has conquered algebra, having successfully completed two courses at Penn College.
“But when I was in high school, I could never do algebra, so I switched over to business math, and I really liked it,” she said.
She also liked drawing, and so enrolled in Penn College’s advertising art major, attaining an associate degree.
When she realized it was not the career she was meant for, she later earned an accounting degree. In this field, she has found a career she loves. She feels valued each time she uncovers helpful information in the numbers.
“It’s the best feeling because I know I’m doing this job right,” Frontz said. “I’m providing the financial information my internal clients need. I have earned their trust. ... That’s an awesome feeling.”
Nick Hannan, ’05, ’08
Project manager - Energy
Hannan’s team works with energy companies, primarily designing oil and gas drilling sites.
He enjoys the fast pace.
“(Clients) are interested in getting things done ASAP,” he said. “If they’re not drilling, they’re not making money. … It’s very rewarding to see your work come to fruition quickly, to have something done, and two months later be able to see it and learn from what you designed.”
He also enjoys becoming a trusted adviser to his clients.
“We pull in all the information that we can and give our opinion,” Hannan said. “As an engineer, we tend to want to say, ‘Yes, I can get that permit for you.’ … But we ask, ‘Is that really what they want to do?’ We try to determine what is best.”
He has seen the benefits. When energy companies moved crews from Pennsylvania to other states, they continued to work with Hannan and LDG.
Like many, as Hannan finished high school, he was unsure what he wanted to do. So he enrolled in Penn College’s general studies major.
“When you’re a freshman, you don’t always get the classes you want,” he said. “So I had my plan, but when I couldn’t get the class, I said, ‘Well, I’ll take photography.’ It was the best decision I’ve made.”
In that class he met his wife, the former Alison Seasholtz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 2007.
Hannan earned his general studies degree in 2005, trying out classes in a few majors along the way. He was introduced to civil engineering by an engineer who worked with his father. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering technology in 2008.
“At Penn College, you have smaller classes, so you can talk to your professor. You know your classmates,” he said. “We would look at real-world projects and apply what we were learning to them.”
While still a student, Hannan began his work experience with LDG. A summer internship led to a cooperative education experience during the school year. Upon graduation, he accepted LDG’s offer of a full-time design position.
He worked his way up to project designer before becoming a project manager. He has also gained his professional engineer license and is a certified professional in erosion and sediment control. He supervises a staff of seven, six of whom are Penn College graduates.
“For me, being an engineer offers the ability to work as a professional with the right balance of office and field time, a variety of challenges and experiences, and plenty of career opportunities,” Hannan said. “The job includes using math and science principles while still having a design element that at times requires creativity and aesthetics.”
Ashley (Roush) Hetrick, ’17
Designer - site engineering
Behind the scenes of most building projects are engineers like Hetrick.
As a certified engineer in training in Larson Design Group’s site engineering department, Hetrick designs land development plans.
“I pull all the information on how to design the site,” she said. That includes researching local and state zoning ordinances to determine requirements for driveway widths, stormwater control, parking, and the like. “I will come up with what I think it needs to look like.”
Among her favorite projects is a four-story addition to Evangelical Community Hospital’s complex in Lewisburg.
“I can drive by and see my work come to life in my community,” the Mifflinburg native said.
She also prepares land development plans for some of the firm’s national retail clients.
Like others, Hetrick began her LDG experience as a summer intern, continued during the school year in a co-op position, and accepted a full-time offer upon graduation with a civil engineering technology bachelor's degree.
“The reason I never left is that I liked the people I worked with,” she said. “I wanted to find a company that would take me under its wing and help me grow in my career. Larson Design has done that.”
As did her alma mater.
Hetrick often accepts invitations to return to the Penn College campus. In October alone, she returned three times: to give a classroom talk to current students, to meet prospective students at the college’s semiannual Open House, and to join selected students and alumni in a meeting with the civil engineering technology program’s accreditor, ABET.
“I could never say no, because the professors and the program itself have done so much for me,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my professors, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I truly mean that. So I like giving back when I can.”
She enjoys encouraging future engineers.
“I like telling my story to current and potential students so they can see that anyone can do it,” she said. “I am not your typical student. I waited two years after high school to start classes at Penn College because I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
But she knew she liked math and science, and became aware of civil engineering careers through her father’s work for an excavating company.
“It seemed like a really good fit for me,” she said.
It seems she was right.
To be successful, she said, “You have to really like what you do. I love what I do. You could call me nerdy.”