Ellen Piper

“I saw an ETS (Emerging Technologies Seminar) presentation about virtual beings and I started to think how that could be applied to apparel. You can't put a real person in a HAZMAT suit and test it to the point of failure… What if we used virtual beings?”

Ellen Piper, EMTM’09
Production Engineer
Airborne Systems

Ellen Piper, EMTM’09

Innovative Problem Solving for Product Design and Development

A technical apparel designer and outdoor sports enthusiast, Ellen is interested in fabric technology and environmental protection. At W.L. Gore & Associates, she works with internal customers to develop specialty products for the military, fire, police and HAZMAT workers. "We often commit to a product before we've designed it, so it's a job that requires constant problem solving and cooperation, as well as flexibility," she says. In a rapidly evolving field, it's a job that also requires familiarity with the most recent technological innovations.


Ellen's undergraduate study was in Communication Arts and Secondary Education, and while it was a solid background for on-the-job communicating and critical analysis, she was looking for a graduate program that could build upon her existing skills — a search, she says, that took 15 years. The trouble was, she had "one foot in technical design and the other in product development" and she couldn't find a school that truly suited her needs. A few years ago, she discovered EMTM on a business trip. "I was about to visit a supplier of adhesive technologies when I picked up an in-flight magazine and saw an ad that mentioned that very topic. It was an ad for the EMTM program at Penn. I realized that in this program I wouldn't have to choose one discipline over the other and that was very exciting."

When she changed jobs, Ellen looked for a firm that would give her the flexibility to attend the EMTM program, though she was prepared to fly across the country if she had to. In addition to its curriculum, Ellen was drawn to EMTM's impressive faculty and its diverse, supportive student community. "Before I actually started, an EMTM student called to say, 'I'm here if you have any questions.' Since then she has helped me along the way. I can't imagine that happening anyplace else."

Career Impact

Coming into the program, Ellen wanted to expand her scope to include other design areas, with the possible long-term goal of moving into a management role. "I feel as though I can grow as I'm able to apply what I'm learning at EMTM," she says.

Ellen has found that the Emerging Technology Seminars (ETS) and EMTM presentations are a perfect opportunity to explore new technologies and generate new ideas. "I saw an ETS presentation about virtual beings and I started to think how that could be applied to apparel. With technical fabric applications you want to run a simulation, but you can't put a real person in a HAZMAT suit and test it to the point of failure. I thought, 'Here is a new possibility: What if we used virtual beings?'"

So far, she has noticed the ways the program has enhanced her day-to-day performance. "It has been absolutely great working with teams, which is something I always have to do at work. What I'm beginning to do differently now is break down a problem so we can address it in a very objective way. I'm also better able to prioritize our needs and manage several projects at once. It's too early to quantify, but I know my leadership skills will make a difference for the company and for me."