Paul Ventimiglia, BA

Hometown: Wayne, NJ

Degree earned at WPI: BA, Liberal Arts & Engineering

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
My high school guidance counselor suggested WPI to me because of the unique project-based approach and short 7-week terms. I don’t tend to thrive in “traditional,” boring academic settings. I was looking for a college with an excellent engineering program and a good robotics program. I did not want to go to a school where all of the students were competing against each other for grades; however, I also did not want to go to a huge school with 30,000-plus people. Finally, I needed a school with a strong theater program and sailing team, because those are two of my other passions, besides engineering.

When I visited WPI, I found that the people were really exciting and passionate, especially Ken Stafford, who I remember meeting on my tour (Ken later became my close friend and academic advisor). WPI was also the only school I visited that explained to me their machine shop practices: Any students who become properly certified can make full use of the shops, 24 hours a day if needed. This was a major requirement for me because I actively build large robots. After meeting with the lab managers, they agreed to provide me with dedicated lab space for storing mechanical parts and equipment, starting with my first day on campus.

Present job title and employer:
I have been self-employed for several years as a “robotics engineer” or “mechanical designer” if you had to give it a title. I have not been out actively seeking many employers because I have been fortunate enough to work on my own self-sustaining robotic projects for the foreseeable future.

How do you feel your experiences at WPI prepared you for working in your field?
I am passionate about building robots. WPI has provided me with expert professors and gifted students who have worked with me on personal projects outside of the classroom, providing tips, guidance, and support. Many people at WPI are just as passionate about their fields as I am, and I have learned the most by asking these people questions.

I was provided with the tools needed to learn (computers/software, robotics labs, machine shops, etc.), the environment to learn with great professors, and the opportunity to work on robotic projects on a professional level. In my current work, I regularly call on students and professors with questions in their field of expertise because we have formed long-lasting relationships.

WPI has given me the fantastic opportunity of networking with business leaders in industry. There have been many speaking events and presentations, both on and off campus, in which I have been fortunate enough to take part. Often, I am asked to display one of my robotic creations, and I have gotten the chance to meet powerful and interesting people in their fields who have noticed my work.

How did professors in your department impact you as a student and/or person?
Professor Mike Gennert has been a tremendous supporter of my robot projects and was a primary reason for giving me the confidence to proceed with my biggest project: building Moonraker for the NASA Centennial Challenge in 2009. I gained firsthand experience of everything found in the real world on this project: from forming and leading a team of students, alumni, staff, and faculty; to budget and schedule planning; to finding sponsors and procurement; to designing a robust and reliable robotic system quickly; and competing against professionals.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, prepared you for facing real-world challenges in the workplace?
I like to see results with the projects I work on. I usually am working on something because I want to, not because I have to. We worked in small teams in most of my classes at WPI. You will be working with teams in the workplace, and you have to learn quickly how to deal with people whom you may not always get along with or work well with. Experience is the best teaching tool, and WPI provided me with many team projects focused around defining a problem, creating a solution, putting that solution into practice, and seeing results.

In the mechanical engineering classes with professors Holly Ault and Allen Hoffman, theory and practice were combined to create functional devices with product-like appearances. In the robotics courses, there were several different mobile robotic creations produced within one term, mimicking the reality of short deadlines found in industry.

The teammates I had for the Moonraker project also happen to be some of my closest friends. I am forever grateful that WPI brought us all together. I continue to work with many of those teammates on projects as they come.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:

  • I was involved with the sailing team for several years.
  • I spent some time working on designing and building sets with the theater department.
  • I designed and constructed multiple robots for Battlebots competitions and traveled with other students/alumni to competitions all over the country.
  • I spent the majority of my time working as a mentor for the FIRST Robotics team on campus, Team 190. The FIRST team is made up of high school students from the Mass Academy of Math and Science; WPI students act as the engineering mentors.
  • I held leadership roles on the team, and always remained active in some way during the entire year.
  • I held leadership roles on the team, and always remained active in some way during the entire year.

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • NASA Regolith Excavation Challenge, $500,000 prize (held in CA).
  • Combots Cup Winner (held in CA).
  • Battlebots Pro Division Heavyweight Class (held in CA).
  • Battlebots IQ “Rumble at the Rock” Best Engineered Robot (held in MA).
  • Battlebots IQ College Division, 1st Place, 120 lb (held in FL).
  • Battlebots Rochester Robot Rampage, 1st Place, 120 lb (held in NY).
  • ”The Franklin Cup” (Most Innovative and Best Engineered Robot), NERC (held in PA).
  • Protolabs “Cool Idea” Award (for Robotic Hand Prosthesis MQP).
 
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