Engineering is a Family Affair

photograph of Pete Watson.

It’s a continuation of a family tradition, Distinguished Service Professor Victor Skormin said enthusiastically of third-generation electrical engineer Pete Watson '10 (no relation to Thomas J.).

Almost 25 years ago, Skormin taught Watson’s father, Joe, and the two have remained friends ever since. So when the younger Watson was looking at prospective engineering schools, Skormin showed him around the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science.

At the time, Watson was considering Clarkson University and the Rochester Institute of Technology, both of which accepted him. But comparing the three made his decision clear.

“The pricing was much more expensive at those schools,” he said. “And what’s really the benefit of paying all that much more money for an education there versus here?”

Even though RIT offered him substantial scholarships that would have made the costs comparable, Watson appreciated Binghamton’s newer facilities and campus culture.

“RIT is mostly just an engineering school,” said Watson, 22, of Endicott. “Their population is mostly just guy engineers. The diversity on campus is a lot better here.”

After graduation, Watson will enter BAE’s three-year Engineering Leadership Development Program, which will rotate him through different jobs at the Johnson City facility while keeping him at Binghamton University to earn his master’s degree.

“He’s going to work at the same place his father worked for 25 years,” Skormin said. “Having two generations working in the same company is very nice. It is very honorable. It is kind of an old-fashioned spirit.”

Skormin has no doubt Watson will excel in BAE’s leadership program because he worked closely with Watson on his senior design project, designing and building a working simulator of a hybridization scheme for a fuel-cell vehicle.

Besides zero emission, one of the advantages of hybrid fuel-cell vehicles is when extra power is needed to climb hills or carry heavy loads, it comes from a second energy source, such as a super capacitor bank that is charged during braking, in effect creating its own “gasoline.”

Watson and teammates Jonathan Pantano and Meghan Ludwig’s project simulated how a hybrid fuel-cell vehicle controls power between sources while maintaining a constant speed going uphill (when extra power flows from super capacitors), on flat surfaces (when power flows through fuel cells) and going downhill (when energy flows from braking back to super capacitors).

“The hardest part was building the controls systems, which (teammates) Jon and Meghan worked on,” Watson said. “I designed the power supply and built it and the printed circuit boards for it. I learned a lot about hardware implementation and how to implement a power supply. I had taken a class on it and we just learned what they are and how to design them, but it’s a whole other thing to have to implement that knowledge into the real world.”

Skormin said applying theory is exactly the point of the project, which will continue even though Watson graduated. (He has applied for National Science Foundation grants and hopes to offer the simulator to universities and businesses that will be able to access it from anywhere in the world.)

“It helped Pete realize that the division into individual engineering disciplines in the university curricula is quite superficial, that all the disciplines come together in a real-life project,” Skormin said. “He is a very intelligent engineer. My only complaint is that if there’s a fourth-generation engineer in family, I won’t be around to teach him.”

When told of all the praise his professor heaped upon him, Watson smiled a bit sheepishly. “Did he say ‘dynasty?’ a lot?”

Yes, he did mention it.

Last Updated: 11/26/13