People-Powered Education

Mechanical engineering major Nick Principi '17 (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
December 12, 2016

Thanks to a support system of encouraging internship supervisors, vigilant faculty and caring fraternity brothers, mechanical engineering major Nick Principi ’17 will graduate in four years with a patent to his name, a standing job offer and stories of a victorious battle against cancer.

In September 2015, a month into his junior year, the Mount Prospect, Illinois native was diagnosed with a large tumor in his chest. Principi spent most of the next six months in surgeries, chemotherapy treatments and recovery.

“I worried about graduating and if I’d get to see my friends in the college environment again,” he said. “I’ll get a degree and will have wonderful memories with friends because so many people looked out for me.”

Principi turned his first internship into a success story because of his inquisitive spirit. The internship required knowledge the rising sophomore hadn’t yet learned, so he turned to Bradley faculty for help. A few faculty visits prepared him for his first summer at Shanley Pump in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

The intern impressed supervisors with his ability to solve mechanical issues and communicate his ideas with sales staff. As the company’s lone engineer dedicated to troubleshooting, he designed a steam pressure seal that company officials patented.

Principi also served as the translator between sales staff and mechanics. He explained mechanics’ technical information in language the sales team and its clients could understand.

Principi returned to Shanley Pump for another internship after his sophomore year. Now comfortable with company culture, he built relationships with mechanics there. Those conversations revealed mechanics’ frustrations with time required to assemble a large pump unit.

The intern discovered a design tweak that saved the company time and money. He moved the location of a couple bolts and equipment a couple inches and modified the pump in design software. In a matter of minutes, Principi solved an ongoing problem and earned praise from company management.

Two summers of efforts were rewarded with a standing job offer after graduation.

“It was a weight lifted off my shoulder,” he said. “I liked the professional environment. I learned how to take work seriously enough to focus on my task, but not be so serious that it drained my production.”

After his cancer diagnosis, Principi dropped his fall courses, but managed his spring courseload while recovering from a last surgery with help of faculty like engineering professor Dr. Bob Podlasek, Principi managed the spring 2016 courseload while recovering from his last surgery. Principi credited Podlasek for calling him at home late in 2015 after the student wasn’t on class registration lists. As a result, Principi stayed on track to graduate.

“I chose Bradley because I didn’t want to be at a school where I was just a number,” Principi said. “I don’t think faculty at a bigger school would wonder why I withdrew from class and reach out without knowing my situation.”

Principi also appreciated support of his Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers. He was expected to serve as fraternity vice president that year, but he became the one blessed by their service.

Fraternity members assisted with daily tasks once he was cleared to return to campus in February 2016. They also sponsored a fundraiser that netted $15,000 for medical expenses.

“This amazing support structure I have at school is why I worried about leaving them when everything happened,” he said.

The ordeal shaped Principi’s career outlook. Even though he has one job offer in hand, he would like to work on a technical consulting team at a design company like IDEO.

“I’m looking for an opportunity to use my skills to help others,” Principi said. “When I needed help the past couple years, there were people around me as friends, family, doctors, nurses and people I never met dedicated to helping people like me. This is one way I can give back with my career.”v