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DiFulvio Gains Invaluable Experience Through Aerospace Internship

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By Tom Shively, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - For Penn State senior Dominic DiFulvio, flying doesn't just constitute twisting and turning in the air on vault or pulling off a perfect landing on rings. Flying is something he's always had an interest in and from an early age wanted to pursue as a career. 

"I always wanted to fly, so I just kept with that when I was a kid," DiFulvio said. "When I got here, I figured why not do something I always loved as a kid. [Gymnastics] definitely kindred that aspect of my life." 

DiFulvio took a step towards making that dream a reality when he interned with the Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence last year. He had the opportunity to work with some experts in the field including Dr. Jose Palacios, someone who has been active in the Penn State community for some time now.

"I talked to Dr. Palacios about doing an internship with him because I wanted to get some experience under my belt before I left here," DiFulvio said. "I worked with him a lot with blade coatings. We did the process of icing and de-icing and how the coatings affect the ice and how it sheds off the blade. We did a bunch of accelerometer tests and we just did a ton of stuff. It's kind of crazy like I can't even think about all the stuff we did."

DiFulvio undoubtedly received recognition for the quality of his work, as some of the work he did during his internship was sent to NASA scientists.

In terms of his mentor, Dr. Palacios, they share a special bond: both are/have been members of the Penn State gymnastics team during their time at University Park. Jose was on the team from 2000-03, competing on the 2000 NCAA championship team as well as helping Penn State win its first Big Ten gymnastics championship in 2003, his senior season. 

Despite the connection, DiFulvio said Palacios didn't focus too much on talking about gymnastics, rather focusing on trying to prepare DiFulvio for the job market and the career field, something DiFulvio was very grateful for. 

"We sometimes talked about gymnastics, it was more that he is a pretty busy man so I tried to stay pretty on task when I was with him," DiFulvio said. "He was always very helpful when it came to asking about any advice about grad school or future jobs or just anything that we were doing. 

As far as grad school is concerned, it's something DiFulvio definitely wants to pursue, but not until he has a couple years of experience in the field under his belt. 

"I have a few interviews that I'm trying to get done before I leave here, and I'm hoping to end up down in the Virginia area," DiFulvio said. "I'm looking to go to grad school after I join the industry for a little bit, do two to five years and then come back [to school]. I'm looking for the space side of aerospace, so I'd like to do stability and dynamics control, spacecraft and space vehicles. That's the goal of what I want to get to."

Looking ahead to his career, DiFulvio understands the significance of his time with Dr. Palacios and how it better prepared him for opportunities in the field.

"[The internship] is something that I value very highly," DiFulvio said. "He taught me a lot of things that I didn't know and I wouldn't have known had I not done that with him. All the experiences that I have gotten here with leadership and with teamwork is definitely going to carry over into the working world."

While perhaps not being the most vocal leader towards DiFulvio, Palacios did most of his teaching through his work, demonstrating the ins and outs of crafting space vehicles and other technical aspects to DiFulvio without really being too overbearing. 

"It was a 'lead by example' kind of thing," DiFulvio said. "He just worked his butt off every single day and I just aspire to be more like him."

DiFulvio will graduate this spring with a degree in aerospace engineering.


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