Jason Zapka is a lifelong Penguin. He began his journey as a Penguin in his undergraduate career, where he was in the University Scholars Program. Then, he came back as a grad student. Now he’s a full-time faculty member, using the knowledge he learned as a Penguin to teach first year engineering students and serving as an adviser for Tau Beta Pi.
“The material is pretty much the same [as when I was an undergrad,]” Zapka said. “But once you work [in the field] you learn a totally different way to learn and analyze things.”
After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Zapka went on earn his master’s degree and to gain 15 years of experience working in heavy industry steel mills working on process automation and project management. In 2006, he started his own consulting company, but was asked to help out with a few classes at YSU. In 2007, Zapka became a part-time faculty member.
“I liked interacting with the kids, and I think I add something to them because I had practical experience, and I have been out in the field,” he said. “They have questions like, ‘Well, what was the job really like? What did you do? What did you learn?’ I kind of enjoy that aspect of it.”
Zapka wants to use his years of experience as a tool to aid his teaching. He referred to gaining experience in the field as an evolution process.
“[It’s] unlike the university environment where you have this book that you’re following, and you’re stuck to a curriculum of one thing that is a layer on a layer that is building this foundation of knowledge,” he said. “[In the work world,] you have to take the way that you were taught to understand things and then turn that into some way of making good decisions. … Once you have to work, you realize the world is bigger than just the material you’re training with.”
Zapka said that he hopes he helps other students realize the big picture, saying that engineering is not just “that one problem in your area,” but that the problem is something that everyone is experiencing.
As for his goals, Zapka said that he hopes he just helps students learn.
“I look forward to those days five or six years from now when a student comes back to me and says, ‘You know, you really helped me make a good decision,’ or ‘I think you’ve made a positive impact.’ That would be the best thing to have.”