Mechanical Engineering Major #MajorMonday
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines and machines. For the professors and students at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Ga., mechanical engineering is the entryway to innovation.
Dr. Aniruddha Mitra, associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department, says, “People who are hands-on in their approach to learning and life prefer mechanical engineering. Whether students are interested in cars, planes or lab work, I have noticed a common thread is the appreciation for hands-on work.”
Mechanical engineers are responsible for product design, mechanical and thermal analysis, and materials selection. They also design the equipment and facilities, oversee manufacture, and provide technical support. Mitra worked on in a research and development department within the automotive industry in his native India, but discovered he preferred working with students. He received his doctorate from the University of Nevada-Reno. He joined the faculty at Georgia Southern in 2002.
Other areas of research and development for mechanical engineers come in energy development, HVAC, failure analysis in areas of automotive and more.
Mitra also gets to go into the high schools in Georgia as the affiliate director for Project Lead the Way. “When I go into high schools, there’s a misperception that math is the biggest skill needed for engineering. I would rather see persistence with some aptitude toward hands-on activities. Students will find success if they have the ability to take on challenges, take on projects, work with diverse backgrounds … sure they need physics, math and chemistry, but there is more.”
Dr. Brian L Vlcek serves as professor and department chair for mechanical engineering at Georgia Southern University. He shared some statistics: as of fall 2014, there are 740 students enrolled in Georgia Southern’s Mechanical Engineering Program. “When you add students in the engineering transfer program to GaTech and graduate students, there are 1,025 students total in the department.”
Vlcek agrees with Mitra that students who are hands-on problem solvers with a strong aptitude or interest in math and science tend to be successful mechanical engineering students. “Time management and self-discipline are actually two of the most important skills to be successful in the program. The technical content will come from studying. It is the time management to make time for the studying (balanced with fun extracurricular activities) and the self-discipline to first get started and then push through the work that will lead to success.”
Along with coursework and research time, students are encouraged but not required to be involved… in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Eagle Motorsports, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers.
Student Azell Francis worked with Mitra on her honors capstone research titled “Bamboo: nature’s natural composite- the future of sustainable engineering.” She graduated in 2013 with her Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering with minors in Management and International Studies. She is still at Georgia Southern, working on her Masters of Science in Applied Engineering with a concentration in Engineering Management. She hopes to complete her coursework in the spring of 2015.
Raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Francis knew she would have to become an international student to study what she wanted – aerospace engineering. “I attended a college fair and I made contact with the Georgia Southern representative. I needed that personal feel to ease my transition into a foreign country. I really connected. College is more than academics and as a student I was more than a high GPA or SAT score. I knew I wanted to go into engineering but I realized that aerospace engineering was too specific. I am still fascinated by how things work. The fun thing is that the program easily allows for the application of the theory learned in the classroom.”
Francis explains that Trinidad and Tobago follows a British system of education and she had to make significant decisions at 14 to move forward with studying subjects with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) focus. “It was a lot of chemistry, biology, math, physics, geography and English. “I always wanted to study something where I knew I would be part of something bigger than myself. What I have learned in the classroom can be applied in a very tangible way and be of service to others.”
As part of the University’s honors program, Francis worked on a capstone honors thesis where she studied the use of bamboo as a construction material. She and Mitra studied the structure and strength. “It’s a natural resource that grows quickly and is a sustainable material. It could be for the public good. However, not enough research has been done. The ability for wider use is critical. It could change the face of construction.”
Now that she is almost done with her master’s degree, she’s also seeking a graduate certificate in Occupational Safety and Environmental Compliance. “I think sustainable development is important and in the international arena, it will be coupled with engineering and policy.”
For those interested in mechanical engineering, Francis recommends that students not only enjoy technology, science and math, but also have people skills. “Engineers create and make a difference in the world. What you work on will affect the lives of others. You have to have the curiosity, ask questions and often find the answers through research. You have to be willing to work hard for the benefit of others. Sure you will get frustrated at times, but persevere and watch as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Seek out all opportunities to develop your skills and you will be surprised at how much you will grow.”