EMT and engineer: How one Penn State student made it work


By Miranda Buckheit

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The noise of an ambulance is an all-too-familiar sound. The distinctive sirens incite action as both cars and pedestrians move out of the way to allow for the vehicle to speed by on its hasty mission.

More often than not, it is merely a matter of resuming life after watching an ambulance speed by, but for some, it is only just beginning.

For Alex Salzinger, an industrial engineering senior from Scarsdale, New York, it’s a rush to be on call as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for Penn State Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

Salzinger found out the Penn State ambulances were primarily student-staffed as he was searching for his ideal school. Equipped with this knowledge, he knew that he had to come to State College.

“I’ve been working on ambulances since I was in high school and I got certified as an EMT during my senior year,” Salzinger said. “I started working with Penn State as an EMT volunteer during my first year of college.”

Salzinger’s compassion for others led him to Penn State’s Emergency Medical Services, but he also picked the University for its top-ranked industrial engineering program within the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME).

“I wanted to keep as many doors open as I possibly could, so one of my goals throughout my college career was to avoid pigeonholing myself,” Salzinger said. “Penn State IME was enticing for me because I knew that I wanted to venture into a business-oriented role.”

In addition to his years spent as an EMT, Salzinger’s résumé boasts experiences with Johnson & Johnson, the largest and most diversified health care company in the world; Intercos America, the leading global supplier, contract manufacturer and strategic innovation partner for the cosmetics and skincare industry; and Woodard and Curran Engineering, an engineering, science and operations firm that serves public and private clients nationwide.

Elena Joshi, associate teaching professor and undergraduate program coordinator, said that she was impressed to find out that Salzinger worked as an EMT, especially considering the number of hours he dedicates to the job.

“Being an engineering student on its own is not easy,” Joshi said. “It is challenging to balance your studies, work and extracurricular activities. There is a great payoff in terms of job opportunities for students that manage their time well. They are precisely the type of people that companies are looking to hire.”

EMT by night, student by day, employee by summer

During the semester, Salzinger works as an EMT anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week; however, he explained that he is available up to 50 hours. These working hours are stacked on top of his already full course load. Usually, he works one overnight shift per week and heads to class the following morning. If he is lucky, he can catch a break during his overnight shift to work on homework or take a quick nap.

He also works shorter, six-hour shifts during Penn State athletic events, as an ambulance has to be present and ready to go at all the major games.

Salzinger’s dedication to his EMT work led him from volunteer to crew chief and teaching assistant. As a crew chief and teaching assistant, he is responsible for teaching roughly 30 EMT trainees a semester in medicine and emergency services operations. Also, he served on a committee for organizational restructuring.

Salzinger said that his experience working under stressful conditions allowed him to grow as an employee. Through his work as an EMT, he is familiar with maintaining his composure and reacting to emergencies.

“Alex is a tremendous asset to Penn State EMS,” Robert Edwards, senior associate director for University Health Services, said. “He is a skilled emergency medical technician and his position here has helped him grow and develop his leadership, critical thinking and decision-making skills, all of which carry over well to all future employment activities.”

His calm and collected demeanor and his industrial engineering education came in handy during his co-op experience working with Johnson & Johnson from December 2018 to July 2019 on the trade customization and rapid response teams. The trade customization team is responsible for overall supply chain efficiency for the company’s major accounts, while the rapid response team handles support for global emergency supply chain disruption to mitigate potential impacts.

“The rapid response team was right up my alley because it utilized my skills of being able to think with a clear-head under a lot of pressure while still being strategic,” Salzinger said. “These kinds of scenarios happen all the time; they are high profile and easy to find online, like a material supplier being destroyed by a natural disaster.”

During his time with the company, Salzinger was able to identify key process improvements for the trade customization team, which resulted in a 100% process efficiency improvement by eliminating sources of error in business reports and decreasing the lead time for material deployment.

Additionally, Salzinger spent time supporting management to create a visual-basic reporting system that integrated multiple databases while providing a user-friendly interface. The system provided analytics reports to assist in supply chain disruption responses, as well as to help predict any future disruptions.

His hard work paid off: Salzinger received three Johnson & Johnson Encore Awards. The award serves as a formal recognition of exceptional performance and commitment to success. Also, Salzinger received a Johnson & Johnson Academy Process Improvement Green Belt for “improving business agility, responsiveness and productivity.”

“My industrial engineering education has helped me get to the point where I am able to think about the bigger picture,” Salzinger said. “How do numbers work? How do numbers have an impact? Those lessons helped me.”

The merging of disciplines

While Salzinger doesn’t think there is a direct correlation between his love of being an EMT and his education in industrial engineering, he does believe that the skills he learned from his job have opened doors for his career.

“I learned a lot about interpersonal communication while working as an EMT because you can’t just study it,” Salzinger said. “Every single patient encounter is a full conversation with this random stranger who’s in a lot of pain, or something’s gone very wrong. You have to be able to talk to them.”

In addition to his job, Salzinger is a member of the student-run Penn State Emergency Medical Services Organization (EMSA). The group promotes emergency medical services awareness and education by teaching CPR and “Stop the Bleed” courses regularly to people within the Penn State community and surrounding areas.

“It’s so important for people to be trained in CPR and emergency medical situations,” Salzinger said. “I hope that Penn State continues its great work in training students because it means that there are more people out in the workforce prepared to deal with emergencies. When someone needs help, knowing CPR can make all the difference.”

Salzinger explained that his love for being an EMT stems from wanting to have a positive impact on people’s lives, and he believes his EMT responsibilities have helped him become a more well-rounded person.

“Penn State has taught me so much and made me a hirable person,” Salzinger said. “Being here has taught me how to balance my time. I’ve established a habit of doing things earlier just because you can never rely on working on a shift in terms of homework. Penn State is really what you make of it.”

Salzinger will graduate in August 2020 and starts his first job as a cyber security consulting analyst with Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital operations, technology and business operations.

The student spotlight series by the Penn State Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering aims to highlight innovators, makers and those that personify engineering excellence in their academic studies. The department currently has 90 doctoral students, 59 master’s students and 436 undergraduate students. In addition, the department hosts 42 full-time and courtesy faculty members. Established in 1908, the department is home to the first industrial engineering program in the world and has made a name for itself in the engineering industry through its storied tradition of unparalleled excellence and innovation in research, education and outreach. To learn more about IME and how you can get involved, visit ime.psu.edu.


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Megan Lakatos


a man in an E M T uniform stands before an emergency services vehicle while holding a football
Salzinger was awarded a game ball by James Franklin, Penn State football coach, following a successful CPR save on a football game spectator. IMAGE: ALEX SALZINGER

a man stands in front of a wall that displays the Johnson and Johnson logo.
Salzinger completed a co-op at the Johnson & Johnson Consumer headquarters during his junior year and received several awards for his work. IMAGE: ALEX SALZINGER