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Penn College plastics grad hits ‘bull’s-eye’ with career choice

As an archer, James R. Fanelli aimed straight. As an aspiring plastics professional, he zigzagged between continents. The Pennsylvania College of Technology alumnus hit “bull’s-eye” with both approaches.

One led to a championship, the other to a rewarding career.

The 2010 graduate is a senior tooling plastics engineer for Medtronic, a leading global health care technology company. Fanelli supports the development and production of components and devices utilized during open, laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgical procedures, from access and instrumentation tools to internal tissue and skin stapling technology.

Pennsylvania College of Technology alumnus James R. Fanelli is a senior tooling plastics engineer for Medtronic, a leading global health care technology company. He was also a member of a national champion archery team while at Penn College.
Pennsylvania College of Technology alumnus James R. Fanelli is a senior tooling plastics engineer for Medtronic, a leading global health care technology company. He was also a member of a national champion archery team while at Penn College.

“As I started to work on finished devices and understanding their real-life applications, it made me really proud to support products that are used on a patient in their time of need,” said Fanelli, who is stationed at Medtronic’s campus in North Haven, Connecticut.

The location is one of 350 worldwide for Medtronic, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. His company’s Irish roots are appropriate considering that Fanelli obtained a master’s degree in plastics engineering at Queen’s University in Belfast, about two hours north of Dublin.

But first he earned his bachelor’s in plastics and polymer engineering technology at Penn College.

Fanelli’s father discovered the school while searching online for colleges offering hands-on engineering-related majors. Years of building theater sets for school plays generated Fanelli’s interest in engineering. A neighbor working in plastics introduced him to career options in that field. A trip from his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut, to Penn College sealed the deal.

The college is one of six institutions nationwide offering plastics degrees that are accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET. Its state-of-the-art labs facilitate hands-on experience with the various industrial manufacturing processes for plastics. And the program boasts a near-100% graduate placement rate.

“It offered the best of hands-on along with the theory of plastics, as well as classes in statistics and computer software, to help you become a well-rounded engineer,” Fanelli explained. “It would give me the footing, fundamentals and basic principles of plastics manufacturing.”

Plus, the college had an intercollegiate archery team with a rich history of championships and All-Americans.

Fanelli fell in love with the sport in high school after taking a few lessons at a local archery shop, finding it as an effective way to relax. “It’s only you and the bow,” he said.

By the time he graduated from high school, Fanelli was a seasoned archer. His commitment to the sport intensified in college.

“Basically, all my free time between classes was spent practicing with the team. It kept me very busy but in a good way,” Fanelli said. “It gave me another fun group of people to be around on campus. Traveling to various tournaments and colleges throughout the U.S. to compete was the best part.”

His addition to the Penn College squad gave the Wildcats three male recurve archers, the number needed to compete as a team in that discipline. In 2009, Penn College captured USA Archery’s national championship in male recurve. Individually that year, Fanelli ranked in the top 25% of collegiate male recurve archers.

“James was very dedicated and worked hard during the season and offseason,” recalled Chad L. Karstetter, Fanelli’s archery coach at Penn College. “He was always on task in school and hitting the range. He was definitely a man with a plan.”

Fanelli’s Academic All-American status reflected his dedication as did his plastics internships and completion of an 18-credit nanofabrication technology competency credential at Penn State’s renowned Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization.

“James stands out in my memory of the hundreds of plastics students I’ve had the privilege to teach because of his desire to go beyond the typical requirements for graduation,” noted Kirk M. Cantor, professor of plastics and polymer technology. “Earning the nanotechnology credential put him in a unique position to qualify for careers that would be unavailable to other graduates.”

So did his master’s degree at Queen’s University in Northern Ireland.

Rather than enter industry immediately after graduating from Penn College, Fanelli – along with a few classmates – went overseas to enrich his knowledge of plastics materials and experience a different culture. The accelerated pace of the yearlong master’s program (similar degrees require two years of study) made the adventure arduous. The result made it worth the effort.

“The successful career James now enjoys in the design and engineering of surgical devices is due in part to his advanced education in materials science and engineering,” Cantor said.

Glen R. Thomas (left) trains his eyes on the target, watching where teammate Fanelli's arrows fly during the Penn College-hosted Eastern Regional Intercollegiate Archery Championships in April 2009.
Glen R. Thomas (left) trains his eyes on the target, watching where teammate Fanelli’s arrows fly during the Penn College-hosted Eastern Regional Intercollegiate Archery Championships in April 2009.

ConMed, a global medical device company, was the first to tap into that knowledge. Fanelli spent three of his five years there as part of a small team that traveled back and forth to Europe. They transferred ConMed products, assets and technology related to bioabsorbable implants from a facility in Finland to a New York location.

“I was able to grow myself into a uniquely specialized plastics engineer in the medical device industry,” Fanelli said about his ConMed tenure.

That growth led to his current role at Medtronic where he supports manufacturing teams throughout the globe for the company’s Surgical Innovations Group.

Fanelli’s input – in the form of strategic direction, plastics expertise, design recommendations and quality control – is delivered during each phase of a component’s manufacturing life cycle and is also offered to Medtronic’s domestic and international part suppliers.

“I strive to ensure that our parts and components are of the highest quality before they make their way downstream. I need to be confident that I would use the product on myself before the project is closed,” he said.

To do that, he relies on his advanced engineering acumen, troubleshooting “tricks of the trade” that he’s picked up over the years and the basic principles of plastics learned at Penn College.

“Penn College definitely met my expectations of what I had hoped to learn and take forward with me,” Fanelli said. “I’m grateful for Penn College in providing the building blocks to grow in this industry as a plastics engineer.”

He’s also thankful that his career choice was on target.

“A plastics career can include every major global industry, and you can work anywhere in the world,” he said. “There are so many roles you can jump into depending on the company you join. It’s a specialized industry that’s not going away soon!”

In addition to the bachelor’s degree in plastics and polymer engineering technology, Penn College offers an associate degree in plastics and polymer technology. For information about those and other majors within the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For information on Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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