A straight-A student at Bellefonte Area High School, Brett Corl was in an unfamiliar position in his freshman calculus class at Penn State Hazleton in the fall of 2009.
He did not do so well on a test the professor gave to measure the students’ calculus skills, and the professor suggested he drop the course.
Corl said he felt like dropping out of college.
But for the Bellefonte grad, there was a silver lining. He scored a 5 — the highest possible — on his Advanced Placement calculus exam in high school and tested out of the course.
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Now, four years later, the son of Bernie and Carthy Corl, of Benner Township, shrugged off that anomaly on his way to a 3.93 GPA at Penn State, a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a job lined up at Boeing in suburban Philadelphia.
Corl, 22, graduated from Penn State on Friday with a bachelor’s degree in engineering science and as a Schreyer Honors College scholar.
“I remember there’d be nights he’d been studying till 2 or 3 in the morning,” said Cathy Corl. “Brett always wanted to be the best."
For Corl, the key to his undergraduate success was managing his time — laying out a routine and sticking to it, which sometimes meant, as his mother said, working late into the night to get everything done.
Corl has come a long way since that first week in his freshman calculus class, and the feeling set in about a month ago, when he had finished his senior thesis project, which is a requirement for his major, engineering science.
His topic was the microstructural evolution of inconel 617, an alloy that may be used in the next generation of nuclear plants, and he studied what happened when pieces with the alloy in it were broken destructively. A classmate studied the nondestructive way.
Corl and the classmate compared work to develop a nondestructive method that would reduce costs and improve safety. The thesis turned out to be 65 pages long, and he analyzed the images from the alloy testing to determine how it was affected by conditions and whether it not it precipitated.
Corl said time management was important to finish the work, which could include up to 20 or 30 hours a week.
On April 1, he rang a gong in Atherton Hall that symbolizes completion of the thesis that was a requirement for his major and the honors college.
“That’s when it kind of hit me that my undergrad career is almost over,” he said.
Corl got into engineering because of his childhood growing up on his family’s farm. There, if a piece of machinery were to break, the family would have to figure out a way to fix it or work around it.
“A lot of the coursework allowed me to see the theory behind what we would do before,” he said.
Corl got started in research as a freshman at the Hazleton campus, and he topped off the year with first place for his poster during the research exhibition.
The project studied how to perform a home energy audit with a couple of simple tools available at home improvement stores, such as a tool that measures energy use or a thermal leak detector to wave around a window to see where the temperature changes are the largest.
The research was well-received, and he handed out the tools to faculty and staff for them to try at home.
“It was kind of like a defining moment that I could be successful and got to really highlight the work I had done and the progress I made,” he said.
Corl transferred from the Hazleton campus closer to home at the University Park campus for his last two years. His junior year, he lived on campus, and for his senior year, he moved back home.
The summer between those years, however, he was in Everett, Wash., for a paid internship with Boeing.
For his internship, he performed stress analyses on the spoiler hinge fittings for the company’s project for its 787 jets.
When it was over, he was asked to come back to Everett and work after his graduation. It was a flattering offer, and a sign his worked was well-liked, but he told his bosses he wanted to be closer to his family in Pennsylvania.
Corl interviewed for a position at Boeing’s offices in Ridley Park, Delaware County, and he accepted a job offer there in November. He’ll be a stress engineer and start soon.
He is in the process of moving with his fiancee, Brooke Norris, of Bellefonte, to West Chester, where they will live. They will marry in October.
Corl said jokingly that half of Bellefonte already knows about his successes because of his proud mother.
But Cathy Corl can’t help beaming about her son.
“He always wanted to be a role model,” she said. “He wanted to just go above and beyond, be the best.
“It really makes you feel proud.”