Getting Hands-on Experiences as College Students: Jack Gontowski ’18 and Phil Sieg ’18

Jack Gontowski ’18
With interests in engineering and building from a young age, the decision was natural for Jack Gontowski to pursue those fields at Northeastern University. He was enticed by his courseload’s focus on science and math, and felt prepared thanks to Friends Select. “Going into college, I found my entry-level courses to be easy and most of the content to be somewhat repetitive,” Jack said. “I had a strong foundation in math, the sciences, and writing in all my classes. I rarely felt above my head, and I think Friends Select had a major role in that.”

Jack was attracted to Northeastern because of their renowned co-op program, a cornerstone for experiential learning. For more than a year, he has been working with Barletta Heavy Division in Boston as part of his construction management co-op. Jack’s duties include managing and submitting documentation for track work, overseeing crews and subcontractors for a $102 million project, creating documentation to ensure work is completed, and tracking information for the company’s weekend and night shifts. 

In July, Jack will be working on the Gateway Project, a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Northeast Corridor rail line between Newark and Manhattan, a project that will double train capacity into New York City by overhauling the century-old systems. This will be his final co-op as well. “Co-op has allowed me to apply the skills I have been learning in college. I have really loved my co-op experience, and it has allowed me to have a definitive idea of what I want my career to be,” he shared. “I think my favorite aspect of co-op is getting hands-on experience and being treated like a professional. It is also nice to get a break from classes for a few months and try something different.”

Jack foresees that Friends Select students who share his love of science, math, and engineering will be able to further their passions thanks to the new upper school STEAM Building. “The new building will be a great addition,” said Jack. “The spaces will allow students to take classes in STEAM with more specialized topics so they can identify their true interests.” Given his valuable time at Northeastern, Jack recommends upper school students who share his interests gain on-the-job experiences. “I would recommend doing as many internships as possible to gain experience and connections to prepare yourself for after school.”

Phil Sieg ’18

Currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying mechanical engineering and pursuing a master’s degree in robotics, Phil Sieg recalls gravitating towards STEAM-related subjects as a young Friends Select student. “I participated in MathCounts club in middle school; we competed and had fun, all while building our problem-solvings skills,” he said. “Friends Select allowed me to experiment with an advanced math program. As an eighth grader, I was enrolled in a geometry course with upper school students, which was exciting and helped me build a strong math foundation.” Phil feels his alma mater supports students’ academic interests by providing opportunities for them to explore and expand their studies, and the new STEAM Building will allow students to pursue interests in those fields like never before. “It’s wonderful that Friends Select is investing in STEAM education through its new spaces,” he said.

Phil’s interest in math influenced his study of mechanical engineering. “My desire to have hands-on experiences and to learn how things work and how to build and design systems drives my studies at Penn,” he said. “In my university courses, I enjoyed myself most when I was studying mechanical engineering and computer science. This naturally led to me being passionate about robotics, a fusion of multiple engineering disciplines.” 

Phil is a member of the research team in the Dynamic Autonomy and Intelligent Robotics (DAIR) Laboratory. In 2021, he worked with DAIR’s principal investigator and Penn assistant professor Dr. Michael Posa to create a physical demonstration to accompany the journal article, “Stabilization of Complementarity Systems via Contact-Aware Controllers.” Phil also works in Penn’s Precision Machining Laboratory, which houses equipment to aid in metal manufacturing, and is a teaching assistant in the mechanical engineering and applied mechanics department.

Last summer, Phil gained experience in industrial robotics during his internship with Oshkosh Corporation. Such hands-on experiences enabled him to define his career goals. “Together, these experiences made me realize that I would like to work at a place that lies in between these two extremes,” he shared. “I would like to be innovative and creative when it comes to robotics, but I also want to work on real-world products.”