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‘Engineering’ a new educational pursuit

Fulbright scholar Joseph Zinno off to Finland

Joseph Zinno -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — In a month that finds area students returning to their classrooms or entering them for the first time, Steubenville native Joseph Zinno is no different in that respect.

But what distinguishes the 2018 graduate of Catholic Central High School is where’s he heading and why.

The son of Michael and Tammy Zinno of Steubenville is off to northern Europe to pursue his master’s degree in industrial design engineering at LUT University in Lahti, Finland, through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

The nation’s flagship international educational exchange program offers students grants to conduct research, study and teach abroad, explains a news release from Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., where Zinno graduated from May 13 with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, minors in engineering entrepreneurship and mathematics and a concentration in dynamic systems.

The U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board announced the Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards for 2022-23, with Zinno one of 19 Villanova University students and alumni winning the prestigious awards.

Villanova has been listed among the nation’s top producers of Fulbright students for more than a decade, according to the university news release, as 97 Villanovans received Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards from 2016-21.

“Through research, teaching and engagement with communities across the globe, Villanova’s Fulbright students use the knowledge and skills they gained at the university to ignite change around the world,” said University Provost Patrick G. Maggitti. “Congratulations to each of the Villanova students and alumni recognized by this prestigious program and to the dedicated faculty and staff who support our talented students throughout this process,” Maggitti added.

Fulbright recipients meet, work with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences, the news release continues. “The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction in the classroom, field, home and in daily tasks. These experiences allow the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things and the way they think.”

The 22-year-old Zinno looks forward to such opportunities, he said, as he nurtures what’s always been an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire “to understand the technical world behind machines, products and the world around me” and fuel “a passion for innovation.”

He talked about how that has developed through the years during an interview earlier this summer.

Zinno has always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“I was always trying to sell something, doing stuff around the neighborhood, but I also kind of had a little business growing up,” Zinno said of what was called The Stand and involving some neighbors.

“We lived right behind Harding Stadium so I used to sell parking for football games,” he said. That grew into selling candy, hot dogs and Perler beads tchotchkes. “These little beads you iron them together and you can make different things,” he explained, noting he later would design football jerseys in team colors and logo magnets.

Where product design and entrepreneurship intersect held his interest, ultimately leading Zinno to want to study mechanical engineering.

“The way I describe it is I think I have a natural knack for being able to sell something, but for me, it was like, what’s the point of going to get an entrepreneurship or business degree if I don’t know how to make anything, so I wanted the mechanical engineering to give me a really strong technical foundation and to learn how to manufacture something, to know everything about a product and then use some of the soft skills I think I already have to be able to sell something and market it to people and make the rest of that entrepreneurship end,” he explained.

By the time Zinno was a senior at Catholic Central, product design seemed his direction, “the creative applications of that.”

In looking at a host of schools to attend after graduating from Catholic Central, Zinno found Villanova to be “a better fit and right fit” and “a really good option.”

One of its appeals included opportunities for engineering students to do international trips or study abroad, “which isn’t super common as far as engineering schools because engineering curriculum are pretty rigid,” Zinno said

“The engineer/entrepreneurship minor was one of my favorite things about Villanova and one of the attractive points because I was going strictly for mechanical engineering, which is pretty technical, but then this minor is really cool because it’s taught out of the College of Engineering,” Zinno said. “The way I describe it is you’re not just going to take business classes and they’re not just tossing this business jargon at you, they’re engineering professors, but they understand the business aspect and the entrepreneurship side of engineering, so they do a really nice job of making this interdisciplinary program that hones in on venture creation and product design and prototyping and a lot of things I’m interested in, so that minor helped me out a lot in making up the ground and adding a little bit of that entrepreneurship and creative piece I was interested in,” Zinno explained of his studies at Villanova where he excelled.

Zinno was a dean’s meritorious service awardee and the inaugural recipient of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Student Achievement Award. He worked on an international service project in Madagascar through the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program and participated in a Student Justice Experience to Jamaica with Mustard Seed Communities. He was inducted into Pi Tau Sigma, the International Honor Society for Mechanical Engineers, was a new student orientation counselor for three years, was involved with the Buddies program for four years where he served as a member of the executive board and served on the Engineering Student Council all four years. He was the recipient of two Innovation Fund Grants through the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to found and pursue his own venture — Rooted Designs, which offered engraved Villanova keychains, magnets and coasters with a percentage of sales going to a Villanova charity chosen by the customer.

While he received grant money to launch Rooted Designs, he later was award a grant for the startup phase, which led to the purchase of his laser engraver, an “underappreciated form of technology.”

Applying for the Fulbright program was a process that began at the end of his junior year, according to Zinno, who said Villanova competes with some of the top universities in the country when it comes to producing Fulbright scholars.

“It’s been on my radar because I enjoy traveling, I enjoy international experiences, and so it was kind of always on my radar to be interested in a Fulbright,” he said, noting he’ll be on the study side of a Fulbright as opposed to research or teaching.

“I was already considering grad school, so why no apply for Fulbright,” he commented.

The application process included applying to a specific place, and Zinno had his sights set on Finland for several reasons, including because a friend had studied there and been impressed with the experience and there’s no language barrier

With an interest in product design and entrepreneurship, Zinno said he was looking for a program that was interdisciplinary — either engineering and business, engineering and entrepreneurship or engineering and design — “kind of one of those things I was looking for, not just a master’s in mechanical engineering. Those three things got me to apply to Finland,” he said, “so I’ll be in a master’s in industrial design engineering. It’s basically product design.”

When Zinno learned he was a Fulbright awardee, he shared the news with his proud parents but also with his maternal grandmother, Eloise Traina, herself a Fulbright Scholar at the University of the Americas, Mexico City.

Summers have been spent at job sites or work experiences, and this one was no different for Zinno, who returned to Brooks Instrument in Hatfield, Pa., after a summer 2021 experience there as a mechanical engineering intern. The summer of 2020, meanwhile, found him serving as a market quality intern at Honda of America Manufacturing in Marysville, Ohio.

Asked what he’ll do after his studies in Finland, Zinno said, “I don’t know.”

There are a couple industries that interest me. I worked at Honda a couple summers ago, good experience, the product was a little too big for me. I think in automotive as an engineer you can get pigeonholed and kind of lose track of the whole product,” he said.

“The company I was at last summer and will be this summer is very technical,” he said. “What I don’t like about that is that it’s not a consumer good, aesthetics don’t really matter, no one sees it, it’s a hundred percent about function, it has to do what it has to do,” he continued.

“That’s what I like about a car — it has to work well, it has to function well, but it also has to look good and people interact with it, and there’s this whole consumer-centered piece to it, the customer matters.”

Zinno hopes to work “in a consumer good space, something a little smaller. I think what I enjoy is somewhere that it’s multidimensional — it’s technical so function matters, but also aesthetics are important.”

Shoe design has that possibility.

“I think shoes are really cool to design because they have to work, they have to function, be comfortable, but they also have to look good and last and be relatively cheap so you’re trying to make all these different factors work into one thing, and that’s kind of what’s interesting to me — kind of optimizing all these things and outputting one thing that takes all these factors and combines them in the best way possible.

“Something like shoes or along those lines I think would be neat to design,” he continued.

“The other thing I like about shoes is in a lot of shoes there aren’t moving or electrical components but it’s really easy to prototype. One of the spaces I’m interested in is rapid protoyping. A shoe you can go from design to prototype in a day, just with some of the new added manufacturing techniques like 3-D printing an all these kind of modern manufacturing things allow you to do things really quick.

An industry like that allows you to take from concept to protoype really fast,” he said. “ I’d rather make something and see what I did wrong and make another one, than plan it out and make one and hope it’s perfect,” he said in comparing the effort involving something small vs. something large like a car.

“What I’m interested in is taking concepts and trying to create them, do these new things that haven’t been done and seeing if it’s possible. A lot of times it has to do with manufacturing,” Zinno explained. “The program I’m going into is a master’s in industrial design engineering but they take a very consumer-centric approach to it, which is I think what I am looking forward to,” he said. “An example of a class I’m going to have is a packaging engineering class, looking at packaging and how people interact with it. I think what I’m looking forward to is looking at product design from a whole life cycle point of view so it’s all the way from opening the package to using the product. There’s user interactions from beginning to end, so it’s not all about the product itself, but how it’s packaged,” Zinno said.

“I think my mechanical background has given me a good background in how to technically make something and make something sound, and make it good and make it functional. It’s kind of taking the next step, and making something functional usable and intuitive to use and fun to use and aesthetically pleasing and adding all that polishing around the end is what I am going to learn a lot about in this program,” Zinno said of his study-abroad opportunity.

His father expressed pride in his son’s award for a new chapter of learning.

“This does not happen without a great support system,” Mike Zinno said. “He is blessed with wonderful grandparents, family and friends. Villanova has been a blessing to our family, and his four years there have been life-changing. Joe stands on the shoulders of our school system, church and the Steubenville community to help him achieve this wonderful award and recognition. My wife and I are so very proud and blessed,” he said.

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