Former head of Siemens corporate communications to finish final U.S. engagement at Penn State

09/18/17

Peter Olfs, a former head of corporate communications at the industrial manufacturing company Siemens, will engage with Penn State students for the last time this week.

Olfs will discuss the importance of leadership in engineering and other technical industries with students in the College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP), as well as other departments throughout the University. EDSGN 100 students in many sections will engage with him on a variety of topics related to global engineering.

Olfs, who resides in Germany, has been a visiting lecturer at Penn State since 2004. In addition to his appearances at University Park, Olfs has also engaged with students at Penn State Berks and Penn State Mont Alto, and has presented multiple times at a dozen or so other U.S. universities.

While Olfs said his early lectures primarily focused on engineering with a digression into business, they have evolved over the years to focus more on the international and global business practices that arise in the engineering field.

“I’m putting much more emphasis on what you need to know as a future leader,” Olfs said.

Since he began giving lectures, Olfs said that business has become more complicated. Future leaders have more responsibilities to consider, especially due to the wealth gap, the economic effects of political turmoil and climate change.

“All of this has quite a bit of implication on companies,” Olfs said. “The world is global, whether we like it or not. And even if you only plan to do a business at home, you’ll have an international competitor, especially if your business is growing.”

Olfs is able to provide the students with firsthand knowledge of how to become a leader. During his career, Olfs rose through the corporate ladder, making his way from entry engineer to head of corporate communications. Because of his experiences, Olfs believes that “soft skills” like business techniques and international relations are key when working in any field, especially engineering.

Business and technology are compatible, he said, because technology changes the way business is done and opens up new solutions.

“Technology is really a big motor in what’s happening [in business],” Olfs said. “Technology is opening up new possibilities and I stress that very much.”

Sven Bilén, professor of engineering design, electrical engineering, and aerospace engineering and head of SEDTAPP, has welcomed Olfs since his first visit to Penn State.

"We are very fortunate to have Peter come and expose our students to aspects of the global engineering environment. It is important for our students to understand the global, interconnected world into which they will soon be working,” Bilén said.

Erik Davidson, electrical engineering alumnus (B.S. ’08, M.S. ’10) and 2013 Bishoff Entrepreneur in Residence, has known Olfs almost as long as he has been visiting Penn State. 

“I met Peter 13 years ago in my first engineering class at Penn State, EDSGN 100. During his visit, Peter helped open my eyes to the fact that engineering and business are global endeavors. After a strictly U.S.-centric childhood and education, this was an important lesson that provided me with a mindset that has greatly benefited my personal and professional life,” he said. “To this day, I do business in Germany and around the world. I am glad I have gotten to know Peter, and feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn from him.”

Olfs, who has traveled to 49 countries during his career, began visiting the U.S. in 1980 as Siemen’s international technical press officer. He lived in the U.S. for 15 months in 1993 and found that while he was working in Washington, D.C., his English vocabulary improved, he learned more about American culture and he gained a better understanding of what American business was like.

Because of this, Olfs encourages engineering students to study or complete an internship abroad. By working in a different country, he said, students learn new things every day because they are constantly connected with the culture.

"It’s important to realize that different cultures value different things," he said. “Working gives you permanent feedback [into what these things are].”

He believes that working in a different country provides students with skills more extensive than just improving a language or a better understanding of cultural diversity. Olfs said it teaches students how to be better future leaders and how to better work in a corporate environment.

Having worked in industry for 40 years with people who were regularly sent to other countries for engineering projects, Olfs has seen those with international experience come back more open-minded and able to listen more carefully than their counterparts who haven’t been exposed to other environments.

In order to be a leader, or to be successful in a corporate environment, Olfs said students need to understand the complexity of the society.

“Year-round, you need to seriously watch what is happening in the world. Being aware of what’s happening in the world in the past, the present and the future will make them [students] better leaders,” he said.

Though Olfs will be glad to have more time to focus on his family, as well as his teaching position at the University of Life Science at Konstanz in Germany, he said will miss his routine travels to the U.S. and to Penn State.

“I’m a little bit sad because I really love the U.S.,” Olfs said. “You love a country when it’s a country like the U.S.”

 

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Gabrielle Barone

grb5181@psu.edu

“Year-round, you need to seriously watch what is happening in the world. Being aware of what’s happening in the world in the past, the present and the future will make them [students] better leaders."

 
 

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The School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) delivers effective engineering education through active, collaborative, project-based, and professionally oriented classroom experiences. SEDTAPP offers a variety of programs that partner faculty, students, and industry in the study of real-life engineering problems. Our programs teach students to solve real-life problems with innovative solutions. 

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