Exceptional Education - Spring 2014
Blazing Trails: First Class of Engineers Making History at Mount Union and Beyond
There’s probably not a better word to describe Mount Union’s first class of engineering graduates. They took a chance on a new program, and it turned out to be one worth taking.
After receiving multiple job offers, Alina Selby ’14 of Finleyville, PA accepted a position with EQT Corporation. For Cy Guertal ’14 of Canton, OH, an internship turned into a job offer, but he has decided to explore other options and is interviewing with several companies. Bryan Pike ’14 of Chagrin Falls, OH has received a job offer from H-P Products, and John Laux ’14 of Pittsburgh, PA, has accepted a job offer from Michael Baker Jr., Inc. And, after several job offers, Kristin Gromes ’14 of Navarre, OH has accepted a position with Terydon, Inc.
There are many college seniors across the nation wishing that they were in these Mount Union seniors’ shoes right now.
Commencement season is upon us, and all across the country, soon-to-be and recent graduates are working to nail down those first job offers as they anticipate walking across the stage to earn their degrees or beginning their new lives post graduation. Fortunately, for Mount Union seniors, they have been prepared with an exceptional education that has an excellent track record when it comes to the success of its graduates. In fact, among members of the University’s Class of 2012, 98% of those self reporting had secured degree-required employment or were accepted to graduate school, all in an average of 20 days after graduation.
This year’s inaugural class of engineering students – earning degrees in either civil or mechanical engineering – have the added comfort of knowing they have benefited from a unique program that pairs outstanding preparation in the foundational skills of their discipline with the fruits of an education that is grounded in the liberal arts.
“Thanks to the University’s strong foundation in the liberal arts, these graduates were also able to develop well-rounded competencies in communication and critical thinking in addition to building their leadership skills and appreciation for broad thinking,” said Dr. Shuvo Roy ’92, professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences and faculty director of the Masters in Translational Medicine Program at the University of California, San Francisco. He’s also the director of The Kidney Project and serves as a member of Mount Union’s Engineering Advisory Board.
Armed with such a comprehensive education, Selby, Guertal, Pike, Laux, Gromes and their six fellow classmates are truly prepared for success.
“This first class of graduates is a group of go-getters,” said Dr. Dhanunjay Boyalakuntla, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “The graduates are confident and hard-working. They have great attitudes toward people and profession and are raring to succeed in their future endeavors.”
Engineering Advisory Board Chair Wayne Denny ’92, general manager of innovation management for The Timken Company, describes them as “pioneers.” “These students were drawn in by the challenge of a new program and wrapped their arms around it and its benefits early on,” he said. “The high-quality education they have obtained and their tenacious, energetic and enthusiastic spirit will pave the way for great successes in the future.”
The rigorous education these students received was enhanced by a focus on what Mount Union calls the “four pillars of exceptional engineering education,” which provide for a dynamic, practical and distinctive curriculum that gives engineering graduates an edge. These pillars include extensive hands-on real-world engineering, an international engineering field experience, engineering knowledge that is integrated with essential business skills and effective leadership and communication skills.
“We focus on graduating not just a successful engineer, but an individual with exceptional attributes who will live a meaningful life and be a responsible citizen,” said Dr. Osama Jadaan, professor of civil and mechanical engineering and chair of the Department of Engineering. “These attributes will develop our engineering graduates into alumni who will bring pride to their university and community, and our first class of graduates has set an outstanding precedent.”
Hands-On Real-World Engineering
One only has to consider the incredible amount of hands-on experience that Mount Union’s first class of engineering graduates have garnered to understand how very well prepared they are for their futures. From lab and field experiences to internships and undergraduate research to student competitions, civil and mechanical engineering students “get their hands dirty” from day one.
Labs, projects and other experiential learning components truly set the stage for success. Civil engineering students benefit from the learning that comes from casting and testing concrete to designing concrete structures. There are opportunities to harvest and test soil specimens in order to design geotechnical foundations and collect polluted water and then apply what they have learned to clean it. Mechanical engineering students have used wind tunnels to design more fuel-efficient vehicles and tested materials to understand their mechanical properties. They’ve also built a Baja vehicle from the ground up to race against other teams.
As in any discipline, internships offer critical preparation as well. “These hands-on opportunities allow students to connect what they learned in class and the lab to what is done in industry,” said Jadaan. It is without a doubt an experience of which students are eager to take advantage. In fact, 86% of the graduating mechanical engineering class and 80% of the graduating civil engineering class have participated in internships.
An additional element of the engineering programs is the senior design capstone, and Jadaan says the faculty is particularly proud of the endeavors of this year’s graduating seniors. The civil engineering students are designing a well pad for horizontal drilling (fracking). On the mechanical engineering side, one team is focused on the Baja vehicle, while the other is working with MAC Trailer and using a wind tunnel to design and test trailer fairings.
Also helping to arm students for future success are a number of field trip experiences that reinforce the concepts that students are exposed to in class. In addition, there is an intentional focus on providing opportunities for undergraduate research that broaden students’ understanding of their chosen disciplines. Some of this research is carried out independently by students or stems from class assignments and projects, and many faculty members invite students to work alongside them in research.
This type of faculty-student research truly illustrates one of the distinctive features of Mount Union’s program. “The engineering programs are focused on the preparation of undergraduate students in an environment that offers small class sizes,” said Roy. “As a result, these students benefit from a great deal of personal attention from faculty, which better allows for the well-rounded training that is critical to success.”
International Engineering Field Experience
There is no doubt that hands-on experience is critical to the success of civil and mechanical engineering graduates, but so is an appreciation for the global implications of their future work. That’s why the Department of Engineering has incorporated an international field experience requirement.
“So few engineering programs in the country require a mandatory international engineering experience,” said Dr. Helen Muga, assistant professor of civil engineering. “Our international experience exposes students to the grand challenges of society and engineering from a global perspective. Our students learn that social, cultural and political aspects are equally as important as technical aspects when working on projects. They benefit from real-world, hands-on engineering while on site in an international setting, and they benefit professionally and personally from applying their engineering knowledge and skills to assisting communities that need it the most.”
Last summer, the 2014 graduates traveled to Belize alongside Muga, working with Edward P. York High School and Wesley College over the course of the 10-day visit. During their stay, students built a storm water control system. This year’s trip will take students back to Belize.
“It was truly a cultural experience for them, from the food to the environment to seeing first-hand what I teach them in class about problems in developing countries,” said Muga.
Integration with Essential Business Skills
Engineering and business may be two separate disciplines, but when it comes to product development, these two fields go hand in hand. It is for this very reason that Mount Union’s engineering students work alongside business majors to design products going to market.
“Engineering majors need to be business savvy entering the workforce; this is critical for vertical movement into management of a larger company,” said Dr. Chad Korach, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “By interacting with business students, engineering majors have been exposed to business development and a customer-centric way of thinking that many engineering majors do not have the opportunity to experience.”
According to Korach, junior engineering students participate in a Product Design and Development course that is intended to introduce to the students, and put into practice, methods for developing a product from infancy to production. Students work in product design teams throughout the semester, creating and selecting product concepts based on customer feedback and surveys with the end goal of developing a working prototype.
During this innovative partnership, engineering and business students have worked on such products as an improved whiteboard eraser, an integrated tracking device in a recreational arrow, a weight-sensing alarm clock and an improved wall-mounted USB outlet.
“The collaboration is certainly a unique part of our program that we intend to keep growing,” said Korach.
Effective Leadership and Communication Skills
It’s clear to see that, during the development of the programs in civil and mechanical engineering, much effort was made to incorporate elements that would result in truly distinctive programs. From the very beginning, a focus was placed on meeting the societal need for engineering graduates with well-rounded educations and strong leadership and communication skills.
“Engineers must be able to adequately express their ideas to have others benefit from them,” said Denny. “Mount Union recognizes this need and provides the rigorous class work needed to advance safe designs, but also rounds out the individual to be able to communicate their ideas, work well with others and be a contributing member of society.”
Dan Kever, engineering manager for CESO, Inc. and member of the Engineering Advisory Board, agrees. “Communication skills are in great need in today’s engineering consulting industry. Those who are able to communicate with peers and clients rise to the top.”
The engineering programs build on the communication skills that the students receive through the Integrative Core, Mount Union’s recently-launched general education curriculum that incorporates written and oral communication skills. In every design class, students write an engineering report detailing the project design and impacts. Students also have presented their designs to practicing engineers and regulators.
“Our students have learned from the first day they set foot on campus that communicating the beauty of their designs is as important as the design itself,” said Dr. Hans Tritico, assistant professor of civil engineering. “Civil engineers, specifically, spend a lot of time talking with the public about the impacts of their projects on the community.”
And, on the mechanical side, recent survey results released by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers indicate that both society members and non-members in engineering-related positions believe communication skills are crucial for success in the field.
“Our students are more than just engineers – they are leaders, communicators, entrepreneurs, athletes and more,” added Tritico. “The liberal arts background and focus on communication and leadership skills ensure that, when they graduate, they stand out from their peers. It truly is a strength of the program.”
When Mount Union set out to launch new programs in civil and mechanical engineering in 2010, it did so in response to the growing need for future engineers who were well-rounded. In the past, engineering graduates have come primarily from state schools; few private institutions in Ohio were offering the requisite degree in four years. Mount Union had an opportunity to set itself apart from the rest, offering the advantage for graduates that comes from small class sizes, a strong reputation in math and science and an array of broad-based offerings.
There is no doubt that the liberal arts foundation that has been a hallmark of the Mount Union experience is truly a differentiator. When combined with the four pillars of exceptional engineering education, graduates absolutely have an edge. And, given the early success of this inaugural class of engineering students, it seems as if this innovative approach is working.
“This batch of students chose the hardest path toward their career – going into an unknown program that has never been tried and tested,” said Muga. “I commend them for their courage, determination and perseverance throughout their four years at Mount Union. They are the trailblazers of our two programs, and I am certain they will be blazing many more trails in the future.”