Mechanical engineering is all about designing something new. Imagine
a motor smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, or an airplane
that will carry 500 people.
Larry E. Banta says mechanical engineers make it happen. He is a professor
in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at West Virginia University
Mechanical engineering degrees can cover a variety of subjects. Thermodynamics
is the study of energy. Materials science is a blending of mechanical engineering
with chemistry, physics and mathematics. Mechatronics mixes mechanical and
electrical engineering to produce cool new products like cell phones, MP3
players and HDTVs.
Other courses could include solid mechanics, fluid mechanics, and kinematics
(the science of pure motion).
Because the program offers such a broad education, mechanical engineers
can work in many different fields.
"In addition to traditional 'mechanical' things, mechanical engineers work
in the chemical industry, the electronics industry, the construction industry,
the aerospace industry, medicine, even Disney World and Hollywood," says Banta.
Mechanical engineers need at least a bachelor's degree. To be licensed
as an engineer, you must attend an accredited program.
In the U.S., the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredits
about 1,830 engineering programs. Students can continue their studies in graduate
and post-graduate work.
Most programs include co-op terms to give students experience working
or researching in the field.
Mechanical engineers do a lot of research into ways of reducing energy
and creating more efficient materials.
"We must make our power plants, our factories, our homes and our means
of transportation more efficient -- and we can -- in order to slow and eventually
reverse the global warming trend that now threatens our planet. Mechanical
engineers are at the forefront of the research in this area," says Banta.
Women are a minority in engineering, but they shouldn't be. Banta says
that the mechanical engineering program at WVU is about 10 to 15 percent women,
which is typical nationwide. "We need more women engineers to solve the challenging
problems that face our world today," he says.
Engineers need a broad range of technical and non-technical skills. Well-rounded
students can excel in engineering programs.
"It is important to be involved in interesting activities which support
the development of complementary skills in communication, time management,
working in teams and financial management," says Moyra McDill. She's a full
professor of engineering at a university.
Engineering programs are often very competitive to enter, so you must
have very good grades in high school. Take as much math and science as
"You should also take lots of English and, if possible, a foreign language.
I say this because many of our students who do well in math and science have
surprisingly poor reading and writing skills," says Banta.
To further improve your skills, Banta recommends researching fun projects
for you and your friends. "There are tons of magazines, books and websites
about how to build robots, make catapults, build model rockets or turn your
toaster into a satellite antenna (just kidding about the last one)," he jokes.
New engineering books can cost from $100 to $140 each. "Multiply that by
five or six each semester, and you can see that the cost of textbooks is a
significant expense," warns Banta.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Mechanical
A list of accredited engineering programs in the U.S.
Engineering: Your Future
Fantastic pre-college site from the American Society for Engineering