Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board

Virginia Tech’s Mechanical Engineering Department formed its Advisory Board in February of 1997.

The purpose of this group of alumni and friends is to:
Support the Department on existing and proposed educational and academic programs and other activities.

Provide guidance strategies and assistance to the Department in maintaining effective liaisons with the university and the external community.
Assist the Department in developing and communicating a national reputation in scholarship and research.

dittmer_bioHoward Dittmer

Advisory Board Chair
VP of Engineering & Technology

Howard Dittmer is Vice President of Engineering and Technology at ARPAC LLC, a leading manufacturer of end of line packaging machinery. Howard received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech. He also holds a MS in Software Engineering from DePaul University where he is currently a PhD student in Software Engineering. Prior to joining ARPAC Howard was Executive Vice President at Herbst LaZar Bell, a leading product development firm. In addition he has served in executive engineering roles at Fluid Management, Rockwell International and General Signal. He was a founding advisory board member for Northwestern University’s Masters of Product Development program. He is currently a member of the ASME Industry Advisory Board.

Blanton_bioJohn Blanton

Senior Engineer
GE Power & Water


John Blanton is Owner and Chief Engineer of Classic Engineering, LLC, a provider of technical education and consulting services in gas turbine technologies. In 2016 he completed 36 years with the General Electric Company, focused primarily on aero-thermal design technologies for industrial and aircraft gas turbines. Dr. Blanton received BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech, and was on the teaching faculty there for one and a half years. He also has been an adjunct faculty at Union College in Schenectady NY and at the University of Cincinnati. He is a Fellow of both ASME and AIAA, and is an active volunteer leader in both organizations at local, regional, and institute levels.

Blanton_bioMary “Prim” Jones

Executive Director of Engineering (Retired)
Aerojet Cooporation

Mary Jones Berry P.E. is a 1962 Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering graduate with a MS in ME from George Washington University. She retired in 2008 as the Executive Director of Engineering at Aerojet Corporation. Her expertise is in solid propellant rocket motor design. She devoted part of her career as the chief engineer of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

She was the first woman registered as a Professional Engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. She was the first woman to be inducted in the Academy of Engineering Excellence at Virginia Tech and in 2002 the District of Columbia Council of Engineering and Architectural Societies awarded her the Engineer of the Year award. Mary is a former President of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and now served as an honorary member of the Alumni Board.

16-CousinsWilliam T. Cousins, Ph.D.

Technical Fellow
United Technologies Research Center

Dr. Cousins holds BSME, MSME, and Ph.D. degrees from Virginia Tech, and is currently with United Technologies Research Center in East Hartford, Connecticut, holding the position of Technical Fellow in the aerodynamics area. His career includes positions at Virginia Tech, Pratt & Whitney, and Honeywell Engines. He has published extensively in the areas of axial and centrifugal compressor design, testing and measurements, inlet/engine integration, inlet distortion, stall and surge phenomena, and unsteady flow analysis, areas in which he has worked for over 35 years. Listed in Marquis’ Who’s Who in Science and Engineering and Who’s Who in the West, and also Strathmore’s Who’s Who, Dr. Cousins has received numerous awards for his technical work. A Life Fellow in ASME, Dr. Cousins has held numerous positions in the society, including sitting as a member of the Board of Governors. Currently, he is a Past Director of the Aircraft Engine Committee of the International Gas Turbine Institute.

DesChamps_bioNicholas H. Des Champs, Ph.D.

President and Founder
Des Champs Technologies Corporation

BSME, Virginia Tech 1962
Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, Heat Transfer and Thermodynamics, 1967, Virginia Tech
1962 to 1963, Atlantic Research, Springfield, VA
1966 to 1971 at Sanders Associates, Nashua, New Hampshire involved with developing countermeasures systems for U.S. Navy fighter aircraft, study of reentry heat transfer, and many other thermodynamics and heat transfer projects.
1971 to 1974, VP for an engineering development company in New York City.
1974 to 2007, founder and president of Des Champs Technologies, a manufacturer of very special air conditioning and energy recovery equipment.

1997 Master Entrepreneur of the Year, 2010 inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Engineering Excellence.
Served on the VaTech Engineering Advisory Board and the Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board and the VMI Engineering Advisory Board.

Heilmann_bioJohn D. Heilmann

Global Business Director, Offshore Products
Lord Corporation

John Heilmann joined the ME Advisory Board in 2010. He is a Virginia Tech alumnus, with both BS (1995) and MS degrees (1996) in Mechanical Engineering. After leaving Virginia Tech, John joined Lord Corporation, a privately-held company headquartered in Cary, NC. At Lord, John has held positions in design engineering and engineering management, focusing on flight-critical helicopter components. John has also served as product manager for Lord’s electromechanical product and elastomeric helicopter product lines. John is currently the global business director for Lord’s offshore elastomeric products, serving the oil and gas industry. While at Lord, John obtained a Pennsylvania professional engineer license and completed an MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill. John serves on Lord’s STEM Outreach and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation committees. John resides in Apex, NC.

Jones_bioJohn R. Jones, III

President (Retired)
AEP ProServ

John Jones is currently a consultant to the electric power industry focusing on project and construction management.

Prior to consulting, he retired at the end of 2002 after 36 years as an executive with American Electric Power. At that time he held the corporate office of Senior Vice President and President of a subsidiary he created, AEP ProServ. His responsibilities included providing engineering, environmental, construction and maintenance services to AEP’s 38,000 MW generation fleet plus providing those services on a competitive basis to external customers domestically and internationally. During his career, he was responsible for the project management, construction and start-up of approximately 15,000 MW’s of coal, gas, wind and nuclear generation.

Jones holds a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and Management Development Certificates from the University of Michigan and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He is a member of the VT College of Engineering’s “Academy of Engineering Excellence”.

van-houten_bioKeith Van Houten

Manager, Active Safety & Automated Driving Performance Simulation Group,
General Motors’ Center for Autonomous Vehicle Development

Previous assignments include the Lead Development Engineer for the Buick Regal program, and multiple assignments within GM’s noise and vibration and vehicle integration organizations.  A former Solar Car team leader as a student at Virginia Tech, he’s continued his involvement with VT’s Ware Lab, mentoring the Hokies’ HEVT team in the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) program since 2004.  He’s led the GM Virginia Tech campus team for more than 20 years, responsible for recruiting, faculty engagement, and corporate philanthropy.  He joined General Motors in 1991 and works at the GM Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan.  Keith holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech, and an Master of Science in Strategic Management from Indiana University.  Keith was inducted into the VT Mechanical Engineering Society of Distinguished Alumni in 2018.

 Reilley_bioMichael J. Reilley, PE

Director, Nuclear Propulsion-Construction Engineering
Newport News Shipbuilding

Michael J. Reilley is Director of the CVN21 Propulsion Engineering at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, VA. He is responsible for design of the Propulsion Plant on the new Ford Class aircraft carriers.

He joined Newport News in 1984 as an associate engineer and has held a number of positions during his career including lead mechanical engineer, Manager, Virginia Class Submarine-Nuclear Construction Engineering and Manager, Propulsion Plant Construction Engineering for the Ford Class Aircraft Carrier and Director of the Nuclear Propulsion-Construction and Process Engineering.

Reilley earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from West Virginia in 1984 and a Master’s in Engineering Management from George Washington University in 1992. He is a Licensed Engineer in the State of Virginia.

About Newport News Shipbuilding:

Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is the nation’s sole designer, builder and refueler of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and one of only two shipyards capable of designing and building nuclear-powered submarines. NNS also provides fleet services for naval ships and recently expanded its nuclear and manufacturing expertise into Department of Energy and alternative energy business ventures. Headquartered in Newport News, Virginia, the shipyard’s vast facilities span more than 500 acres along two miles of waterfront on the historic James River. It is the largest industrial employer in Virginia, employing more than 20,000 people, many of whom are third and fourth generation shipbuilders. For more information, please visit

Rives_bioJ. David Rives

Sr. Vice President, Electric Distribution (Retired)
Dominion Energy

A 1980 graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Dave received his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1999.  He enjoyed a 35 year career with Dominion Energy, the majority of which was focused on power station operations, training and leadership.  He held leadership positions with the company’s non-nuclear power generation business unit in various roles including: Managing Director – Merchant Operations, Vice President – Technical Services, Vice President – Regulated Operations and finally as Senior Vice President – Power Generation.  In 2014 he was named Senior Vice President – Electric Distribution.  Dave retired in 2016.

Dave and his wife Pam are currently focused on volunteer opportunities and enjoying their family at their lakeside home on Leesville Lake south of Lynchburg, VA.  Currently Dave serves as President of the Leesville Lake Association and Vice – Chair of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

Sparks_bioJohn F. Sparks

Program Director, Engineering and Technology Programs
Aerojet Rocketdyne

Dr. John F. Sparks is a Program Director at Aerojet Rocketdyne and has program management responsibility for early development and advanced technology programs. Aerojet Rocketdyne is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader providing propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense, strategic, tactical missile and armaments areas in support of domestic and international markets. Dr. Sparks has Bachelor (1974), Masters (1976), and Ph.D (1981) degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech. In addition to his membership on the Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board, Dr. Sparks heads the College of Engineering Advisory Board Legislative Committee. Dr. Sparks is the College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus for 2014.

Zanoni_bioEd Zanoni

Senior Manager Core Technologies,
Philadelphia Design Center

The Boeing Company

Edward John (Ed) Zanoni is Senior Manager of Core Technologies in the Engineering Enterprise Support Group at The Boeing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Core Technologies Department is comprised of over 30 analysts supporting the advanced core competencies of the group including but not limited to Nonlinear Implicit/Explicit FEA, Durability and Damage Tolerance, Composites Design & Analysis, Optimization, Certification and Dynamic Systems Technology.

Ed is responsible for maintaining the Group’s Technical Excellence in Engineering Enterprise Support. This includes the advancement of structural analysis capabilities through tools and training, as well as solving some of the Boeing Company’s most challenging tasks in Mechanical Structural Engineering. He is also responsible for the advancement of composites technology through design and analysis.

Ed is also a steering committee member of the Boeing Fatigue and Fracture Mechanics Community of Excellence, committed to maintaining an emphasis in maintaining technical excellence in airframe and dynamic component fatigue and fracture mechanics throughout the Boeing Company. He has co-authored papers in the areas of probabilistic modeling of retirement lives for dynamic components, airframe damage tolerance and spectrum development for airframe damage tolerance.

Ed has recently accepted the role as Boeing’s Deputy Engineering Executive focal for Virginia Tech, working with Sarah Mayer. Ed has supported numerous Virginia Tech Engineering hiring events, and has most recently led the Virginia Tech Engineering Exposition as well as the Boeing Engineering Accelerated Hiring Events at Virginia Tech for the past 3 years.

Ed is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Additional degrees include MS in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University, MBA in Operations & Service Management from St. Joseph’s University, and Graduate Certificate in Supply Chain Management from Lehigh University.

He has also served as an examiner and monitor for the Keystone Alliance for Performance Excellence (KAPE) from 2005 to 2012. Ed and his wife reside in Narberth, Pennsylvania, where they raise their five children, all under the age of 11.

Rule_bioJay A. Rule, Jr.

Senior Principal Engineer
WestRock Corporation

Jay Rule serves as Senior Principal Engineer at WestRock’s Covington, Virginia paperboard mill. He joined the Westvaco Covington Research Lab in 1989, conducting applied production research, followed by supervisory responsibilities in the Covington mill starting in 2002. Following mergers in 2001 with Mead, and in 2015 with RockTenn, the packaging solutions company is now named WestRock.  Jay currently supervises the mill’s young process engineers as well as leading project work in production performance analysis, and thermal/fluids/heat transfer process improvement. He received BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Mechanical Engineering from VPI&SU and served as an instructor there from 1980 through 1989. Jay is a registered professional engineer in Virginia.  He and his wife Jeanne reside in Daleville, VA.

B.J. (Joel) Burch

Vice President & General Manager
BWX Technologies Inc.

B. Joel Burch is the Vice President and General Manager of BWX Technologies, Inc., (BWXT) Nuclear Operations Group (NOG) in Lynchburg, Virginia. Joel oversees the operations of more than 2,200 technical and skilled employees in the manufacture of naval nuclear reactors for submarines and aircraft carriers, as well as providing nuclear fuel components for several high performance U.S. and international research and test reactor facilities.

Also, BWXT NOG-Lynchburg provides medical isotope targets, and coated particle fuel applications for NASA related projects.  In his approximately 36 years with BWXT, Joel has been primarily involved with design for manufacturing and management in Operations, Quality Control, Engineering, and Project for the Department of Energy. He has also worked closely with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In addition to a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech, Joel also holds an MS in Industrial Administration from Lynchburg College, and has completed the Executive Program, Graduate School of Business, from the University of Virginia’s Darden School.

Damien McCants

Business Development Manager
Mortenson Construction

Damien McCants graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 2003 and an MBA in 2014. He is a project manager with Mortenson Construction in McLean, Virginia, working in their Federal Contracting Group. Damien has also held positions at Carrier Corporation, Johnson Controls and Critchfield Mechanical. He holds a LEED Accredited Professional Certification. He currently resides in Ashburn, Virginia with his wife, Krystal.

Angela Scribben

Research Engineer
U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory

Angela Scribben is a research engineer with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. Angela received her BSME and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2000 and 2003, respectively. In her role at AFRL she leads in-house research and development of propulsion integration concepts for future subsonic aircraft applications. She also leads contracted efforts to develop advanced subsonic inlets for embedded mobility configuration installation including analytical and experimental work. Her work also includes collaboration with NASA on dual-use high lift technologies for extremely short take-off and landing, and work to better understand serpentine inlet aerodynamics.

Steve Drumheller

Mountain Precision Tool

Steve Drumheller is President of Mountain Precision Tool, a company he established in 2001. The Blacksburg company is a custom manufacturer of high-precision machined parts whose primary customers are suppliers to the electronics, aerospace, fiber optics, defense, and pharmaceuticals industries. Prior to 2001 Steve worked for Ingersoll-Rand Company for twenty-five years in research, product development, product management, and finally as Corporate Director of Engineering. Steve is a past chair of the ME Advisory Board, and he has served on the Board since 1997. He received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and his MBA from Rider College in Lawrenceville, NJ.

Susan Fioravante-Kolbay

Senior Mechanical Engineer

Susan Fioravante-Kolbay is a senior mechanical engineer with Leidos in Reston, Virginia.  Since receiving her BSME with a Green Engineering concentration from Virginia Tech in 2002, Susan earned an MS in Engineering Management from The George Washington University in 2006. She has worked as a senior facility mechanical engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, a senior mechanical engineer with Whitman, Requardt, & Associates LLP, an associate, mechanical engineer with Girard Engineering, P.C., and engineer I with Hayes, Seay, Mattern, and Mattern, and a test engineer at Virginia Tech. Susan was a volunteer math tutor at Woodson Adult High School for three years and is chairperson of the Architectual Review Board for Fair Oaks Estates. She is a PE and LEED AP

Douglas C. Rabe, Ph.D.

Director, Turbine Engine Research Center
USAF Research Laboratory