Twinning: Kaylie and Kylie Barber named mechanical engineering student marshals

May 1, 2024

By Mariah R. Lucas

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kaylie and Kylie Barber turn heads for dressing identically every day as they walk across campus, but the twins will stand out for a different reason at spring graduation. They are the first-ever duo selected to serve as dual student marshals for the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME).   

“Kaylie and Kylie are outstanding students and representative of the excellence that comes from hard work and ingenuity within the mechanical engineering major,” said Mary Frecker, Riess Chair of Engineering, professor and head of the ME department. “It’s wonderful to be able to honor them both, simultaneously, to represent their class with the student marshal designation.” 

The Barbers both earned a cumulative 4.0 GPA and will graduate with honors with majors in mechanical engineering and minors in mechatronics, facilitated through Penn State Harrisburg. Their next stop is the University of Notre Dame, where they will pursue law degrees. 

“We are very honored to have been selected as marshals, especially together, because we’ve supported each other throughout our engineering education,” Kylie said. “Even when we were studying alone in the dorms during COVID, we always had each other.” 

Kaylie said it wouldn’t have felt right to be picked for the honor without her sister.  

“With us being twins, people sometimes say, ‘Oh they’re too close, we should separate them,’” Kaylie said. “It feels really good to have the ME faculty support us in choosing us both to represent ME at graduation.”

From a young age, the sisters spent a lot of time together as homeschooled students and enjoyed many similar activities, they said, which continued through to college and living together, to hobbies and internships.  

“We’ve always really gotten along well and got lucky that our interests aligned,” Kaylie said. “Because we both enjoy the same things, it’s been nice to have someone else going through those same experiences beside me.”  

“It’s nice to have a built-in roommate, someone who is family, wherever I go,” Kylie added. 

The sisters said that so far, they have not had issues with being accepted for the same opportunities. They were accepted to the same colleges, internships and graduate programs, making sure to note in cover letters along the way that they had a twin applying for the same opportunity, so that it wasn’t a point of confusion for reviewers.   

The Barbers said they chose Penn State due to the hands-on nature of the engineering program as well as the opportunities afforded by the Schreyer Honors College. Other schools, they noted, said they would not be able to get hands-on design experience until their senior year.  

Through the Schreyer Honors College, the Barbers completed undergraduate research theses. Under Frecker in the Engineering Design and Optimization Group (EDOG), Kylie studied the effect of adding a fin joint to increase the swimming efficiency of a laminated origami robot.  

Kaylie completed research under Jared Butler, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, engineering design and aerospace engineering, who oversees the Mechanism Collective within EDOG. Kaylie designed and implemented an origami-based steering mechanism for controlling the swimming direction of a laminated compliant origami robot. 

The sisters got the idea for their research projects at a summer internship at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where they developed their own swimming robot.  

“We both focused on developing the same swimming robot; we just took the robot in different directions with two distinct research questions,” Kylie said. “Kaylie was looking at control, while I was looking at efficiency.” 

Though the sisters considered attending graduate school for engineering, they ultimately decided that law was their greater interest, stemming from pre-college internships at a law firm that specialized in international trade and tariff agreements.  

They noted that having an engineering background can complement practicing law, particularly in patent law within the field of intellectual property. They had the opportunity to network with attorneys while completing engineering internships at John Deere.  

“It was interesting to see how the intellectual property attorneys at John Deere were applying engineering knowledge, even as lawyers,” Kylie said.  

After law school, the sisters plan to return to Pennsylvania, likely Pittsburgh, to join a large law firm. They hope to make partner, they said, and then start their own law firm specializing in patents within the field of robotics.  

“I see it as a way to keep doing engineering — but I also really love writing — and it’s a good way to combine both in patent law,” Kaylie said.  

For two semesters, the sisters served as writing mentors for ME 297, a technical writing course for engineers, where they honed their technical writing skills and helped their peers succeed.  

“In my class of 75 students, Kaylie and Kylie stood out,” said Michael Alley, teaching professor of mechanical engineering. “They sat in the front row, listened intently, were eager to answer questions and exceeded expectations on assignments. They motivated not only other students to participate in class discussions, but also me to raise the level of my teaching. Not surprisingly, I asked them the next semester to serve as learning assistants, and they did an outstanding job mentoring the younger students.”

The Barbers also spent three years as student supervisors for the Learning Factory’s Makerspace.  

“The Learning Factory was one of our most impactful experiences at Penn State, as it allowed us to take what we were learning in class and apply it in a hands-on environment,” Kylie said. “We learned how to weld, 3D-print and laser cut, and spent much of our free time there.” 


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