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Mechanical Engineering Professor Inspires an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Ashley Earle in Kinsley Lab

Ashley Earle, Ph.D., is organizing the Women in STEM Symposium on Nov. 4, 2023, at York College of Pennsylvania. It’s the next step in a career focused on using engineering and an innovative spirit to impact lives for good.

As a teenager, Dr. Ashley Earle started to face numerous musculoskeletal issues including multiple rounds of surgery on her feet. For someone who cherished dance, the weeks she spent in a wheelchair after surgery left a lot of time for reflection.

During this season, she stumbled upon an article about a woman who was using ballet to help students with neuromuscular diseases. The experience sparked a deep passion in her to explore biomedical engineering and work toward finding cures for such conditions.

“I remember thinking that’s not going to cure it,” she says of the dance therapy. “I decided I wanted to go into biomedical engineering and find cures for neuromuscular diseases. I still keep that article for when I have bad days, to remind me why I went down the path I went down.”

Abstract concepts in a mechanical major

Her academic journey took her from undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering at Lafayette College to doctoral work in Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, where she focused on neuromuscular diseases. As her musculoskeletal issues began into interfere with the demands of lab work, she started looking beyond research for her career aspirations. Around that time, Dr. Earle discovered a profound love for teaching and decided to dedicate the next phase of her career to inspiring and educating future engineers.

At York College of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Earle is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, she discovered the platform she’d been searching for: a liberal arts institution with small classes that aligned with her passion for education. Her expertise in biomedical engineering found a natural connection with mechanical engineering, as the intricacies of the unseen world, such as subcellular biomechanics, directly lead to the more physical elements of mechanical engineering, such as joint biomechanics. Linking the small scale to the larger scales provides a more wholistic view of neuromuscular diseases that affect people’s ability to move and helps to shine a light on possible solutions.

One of the challenges Dr. Earle has faced as an educator is finding ways to communicate complex, abstract concepts to her hands-on, mechanically minded students. She continually seeks innovative methods to help students visualize and understand these principles. At York College, she has found a student body eager to explore new concepts, even when they fall outside their comfort zone.

An entrepreneurial mindset

“I love my students,” Dr. Earle says. “If I have a bad day, I walk around the Kinsley Engineering Building and talk to students about their class work and their lives. The fact that they want to have a relationship with me, I really love. It’s priceless to feel respected and valued, but also to feel like I can be myself around them. I hope it makes them feel like they can be themselves around me, too!”

Her passion for teaching and thinking outside the box paved the way for Dr. Earle to receive a KEEN (Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network) Fellowship in 2023. She began engaging with KEEN several years ago when looking for new engineering activities to bring into the classroom. In the process, she discovered something she didn’t realize she possessed: an entrepreneurial mindset.

“My response to someone telling me I couldn’t do something has always been, ‘Watch me,’” she says.

While Dr. Earle has never launched a business, she discovered through KEEN that the entrepreneurial mindset is about curiosity, making connections, creating value, and recognizing opportunities in every situation. The KEEN Fellowship allows her to develop this mindset in her students and collaborate with her department to improve the Introduction to Engineering program.

Empowering Women in STEM

Dr. Earle’s commitment to promoting diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math is evident in her role as the organizer of the Women in STEM Symposium on Nov. 4, 2023. This event is made possible through a generous donation from Carol Eicher ’90, who earned her MBA at York College and spent decades as a CEO and business executive while serving on the York College Board of Trustees.

The goal of the symposium is to empower college women by exposing them to the stories of women in successful STEM careers. It aims to inspire young women to define success on their terms and forge connections that will support them throughout their academic and professional journeys, Dr. Earle says. She believes women should be empowered to follow their passions into career fields.

“I’m for women doing what makes them feel alive and fulfilled,” she says. “I want women to feel like they have the freedom to choose what passion they want to follow, what passion they want to make their career, what passion they want to make their hobby.”

Her enthusiasm for science and engineering stems from the thrill of pushing boundaries and the satisfaction of overcoming challenges. She hopes to instill this passion in her students and show them that the pursuit of knowledge and innovation can be immensely rewarding.

“I love STEM because I love the excitement of discovery and I love things I don’t know,” she says. “I love being on the edge of known knowledge.”