Commencement 2014: URI senior aims for career designing products with ‘comfort’ in mind

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Cumberland resident is URI’s top German language student

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 18, 2014 – University of Rhode Island senior Dave Powers describes himself as “a very tactile sort of person” who feels at ease with complex math and science. As he prepares to graduate in May with degrees in mechanical engineering and German, he looks forward to putting his tactile abilities to work in the field of ergonomics, designing consumer products with the comfort of the end user in mind.

“I like to tell people that I don’t want to make the motor of a car, I want to make the seats,” said Powers, a Cumberland native. “I think it’s more interesting to make something that has to account for the human; it’s more interesting to design something that is really focused on the user. When the average person uses a product, how easy is it for them to understand what’s going on? Do they have to read the manual or can they just do it?”

Powers carried that user-focused perspective throughout his URI career, especially in his German language education. The recipient of the University Award for Excellence in German, he quickly developed proficiency in speaking German and eventually became a German tutor and chaperoned a student trip to Germany with two URI professors.

“I took German 101 and after one semester I could speak more than after four years of French in high school,” Powers said. “It just seemed to click.”

He spent a year in Germany as part of the URI International Engineering Program, studying at the Technical University at Braunschweig and interning at rail company Deutsche Bahn. And while he was there, he enrolled in a Goethe Institute class in German and passed a high-level exam demonstrating his proficiency and fluency. One professor said he “absorbed German language and culture like a sponge.”

“I really loved that year in Germany. I got to travel to a lot of places, I met some people who I’m still in touch with, and I learned a lot of interesting things, including some skills that I didn’t expect,” he said. “If you want to learn to be better at small talk, networking or giving presentations, try doing them in a different language. That made it so much easier to do them in English.”

At Deutsche Bahn, Powers worked mostly on computer modeling of train systems, and he followed that up with an internship at the Rhode Island offices of Supfina Machine Co., a company he calls “half American, half German” that builds superfinishing machines for clients like General Motors.

But Powers’ college career wasn’t all work and no play. He also played saxophone in the URI Big Band for two years and competes on the URI ultimate Frisbee team, which traveled throughout the region and as far as Florida and Georgia to compete against other universities. He also received the Toray Plastics Scholarship and the Russell C. and Russell D. Ide Scholarship.

With just a few weeks before he graduates, Powers is focused on the next steps in achieving his career goals. He is deciding between several graduate schools to which he has been accepted for master’s degree programs in industrial engineering, and he eventually will seek a job in the ergonomics field.

“I’ll be taking some psychology classes and biomechanics classes so I can design products that incorporate how people think and how we move,” he said. “Whether I end up designing keyboards or chairs or whatever, I just want to make things that work the way you want them to.”