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Careers in mechanical engineering.

Since the industrial revolution took America by storm in the 19th century, the wheels of industry have been turning steadily, and mechanical engineers have played a leading role in keeping them in motion.

Now, more than 100 years since the invention of the steam engine and the development of rail transportation, American industry is still looking to mechanical engineers to apply their expertise to a broad range of technological challenges in the 90s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of mechanical engineers is expected to increase between 14 percent and 24 percent through the year 2005 as the "demand for machinery and machine tools grows and industrial machinery and processes become increasingly complex."

Mechanical engineering, the second largest of the engineering professions behind electrical engineering, is considered by many to be the broadest of the engineering disciplines. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has 36 technical divisions to represent the diverse professional interests of its membership. A sampling of those technical divisions includes such specialty areas as environmental control, solid waste processing, solar energy, heat transfer, fluid engineering, and pressure vessels and piping.

The broad base of the discipline can be further measured by the fact that mechanical engineers often work in fields represented by other professional organizations such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and robotics.

What all of this means for the mechanical engineering student and graduate is that there are employment opportunities in most large industries including automotive, industrial machinery, farm engineering, publishing and printing, power, office machinery, chemicals, textiles, petroleum, computers, pharmaceuticals, metals manufacturing, soap and cosmetics, electronics, and paper and wood products. While three out of five jobs held by mechanical engineers are in the manufacturing sector, there are also jobs in government, business, and engineering consulting.

There are many different functional areas that mechanical engineers work in such as applications engineering, design, development, quality assurance, testing, project engineering, manufacturing, sales and marketing. Here are profiles of a few of those areas.


Many mechanical engineers like David Carter, who is employed by NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, are engaged in design. Carter provides the mechanical design for instruments that are employed in in-flight experiments designed by NASA scientists. "I sketch the design and do stress and vibration analysis," says Carter. Then he works closely with the machinists who actually build the instrument.

As might be expected, the computer has had a dramatic effect on the way mechanical engineers engage in the design process. In many, though not all, companies, drafting tables and mechanical pencils are relics of the past. "We are almost totally dependent on a computer-aided design (CAD) system that lets you see the design in two or three dimensions," says Carter. Designers are also using computers to help them model their designs. For example, Carter says that he uses the computer to do stress and vibration analysis.

Mechanical engineers today engage in an infinite variety of design projects such as packaging design, machine design, the design of waste processing plants, coal gasification plants, and undersea vehicles. Mechanical engineers interested in working in the design arena need to have a good grasp of engineering fundamentals and should pursue opportunities that mesh with their engineering concentration.

Quality Assurance and Testing

U.S. companies today are acutely aware of the fact that they are competing in a global economy. Whether their customers are consumers or other businesses, top management know that to maintain a competitive edge they must produce quality products.

Many U.S. companies are in the process of seeking or have already obtained certification under ISO 9000, the stringent international quality standard.

As a result, the quality-related functions such as testing and quality assurance/quality control have taken on new importance within engineering departments. For many of the most competitive companies. Total Quality Management (TQM) is not just a buzzword, but a way of life.

Quality assurance engineers spend a lot of time working with other professional staff as well as with hourly employees. They conduct in-house audits and are often involved in revising manufacturing procedures to bring them in line with company quality standards. Documentation is another critical area of concern for quality engineers, who must ensure that all manufacturing procedures are carefully written down and followed.

Sales and Application Support

Some mechanical engineers enter into sales and engineering application positions following graduation. Others like Soyini Walton work in other engineering positions and come to sales later in their career. Walton is an IBM system engineer who specializes in sales and applications support for IBM's midrange computers. It was specifically Walton's mechanical engineering degree and experience in the waste management industry that made her attractive to IBM.

"When you're talking to a customer, they want you to know their business," says Walton. When customers talk about using the computer in wastetracking and landfill applications, Walton knows exactly what they're talking about.

If you have good communication and interpersonal skills, a sales and applications support position can be rewarding. Helping customers solve problems can bring great personal satisfaction and also be financially rewarding. Especially, if your interests tend toward business, sales and marketing can be the first rung on the ladder that leads to mahogany row.

Preparing for a Career

Preparing for your first engineering job begins long before you send out your first resume. While you're still in school, you'll want to consider a variety of issues that will affect your future marketability. If at all possible, try to get some engineering work experience while in school. Investigate cooperative work opportunities or summer employment. More than a few cooperative education students have been hired permanently after graduation by the company they did their co-op work with. Also make the most of your courses that have a lab component.

While your technical skills are very important, you should be aware that employers are interested in well rounded candidates who can communicate well and who have good interpersonal skills. These are not arbitrary requirements. They are based on industry's emphasis on the work team.

Join professional organizations as a student member. Almost all professional organizations have student memberships, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the National Technical Association, a professional society of African-American engineers and scientists. Memberships in professional organizations not only look good on the resume, but they provide opportunities for leadership, networking, and professional formation.

Be creative when looking for a job. Check with the college placement office, professors and alumni to get leads. Another valuable resource is the College Placement Council Annual, a copy of which you can probably get from your placement office. It is organized in a way that allows you to specifically look for companies that hire mechanical engineers.

Wilkins Jones is a technical writer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Where to go for more information

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) 345 E. 47th Street New York, NY 10017 (212) 705-7722

American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 1791 Tillie Circle, NE Atlanta, GA 30329 (404) 636-6400

Society of Manufacturing Engineers/Robotics International One SME Drive Dearborn, MI 48121 (313) 271-1500

Raymond C. Brown, Lieutenant junior grade Naval Engineer U.S. Coast Guard Washington, DC

Lt.j.g. Brown is responsible for the planning, design, construction, maintenance and outfitting of medium endurance Coast Guard Cutters.

His duties include inspecting ships, reviewing drawings, and calculating stability data pertaining to ship design alterations. He consults with other engineers in the hull design, machinery, and electronics of naval engineering at Coast Guard Headquarters and responds to problems and requests for changes on various cutters.

Brown received a BS in mechanical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC. and an MBA in management from Southeastern University, Washington, D.C. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration, after which he plans to earn a doctorate in industrial engineering.

His advice to students on how to succeed: Stay drug-free and have a plan or some goal that's realistic. And, when you start a job, try to find a mentor. Find out how he or she got to his or her particular position.

Aaron Saunders Regional Sales Manager Parker Hannifin Corporation Cleveland, OH

As regional sales manager for the Pacific Region, Saunders is responsible for a field sales force covering California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Western Texas and Hawaii.

After receiving a BS degree from Bluefield State College, Saunders joined Parker as field salesman in 1981. In 1987, he was promoted to OEM salesman and in 1990 he was promoted to product sales manager for the Quick Coupling Division. He relocated to Los Angeles after being promoted to regional sales Manager in March, 1992.

Saunders' main goals are to be associated with a major corporation that is a leader in its industry, to move into the ranks of upper management without compromising any principles, and to contribute to a better society.

Advice to students on how to succeed: Live a balanced life. Know that no one owes you anything. Have a "can-do" attitude--learn the principles of teamwork and stay alert and involved.

Stewart P. Carter Mechanical Engineer John Deere & Company

Stewart P. Carter joined John Deere's Product Engineering Center in January 1992. He is part of the Engine Life Test and Evaluation Group of Engineers responsible for the design durability and qualification tests that current and future engines must meet to qualify for production or service.

Carter's first exposure to John Deere occurred as a summer intern in 1990. It was during this time that he wanted to expand his knowledge of the engine industry through "hands-on" experience.

He also valued the opportunity to work with the high caliber of talent that John Deere attracts. With the continual upgrading and expansion of CAD/CAM applications between product development and production engineering, and with the focus on manufacturing to reduce waste and nan-value added operatians, there exists an ideal environment in which to learn and progress.

Carter offers this advice to students: Never lose sight of what you're in college for, and that's to get a quality education. There will be times when things become so difficult that quitting is the easiest choice, but don't fall victim to this trap. Instead, become more determined and persevere. The best things in life are those that we struggle and fight for. Just remember to keep your eyes on the prize.

Gilbert C. Jackson Construction Manager Camp Dresser & Mckee Inc. Baton Rouge, LA

Gilbert C. Jackson currently holds the position of construction manager for program Management on the East Baton Rouge Parish Wastewater System Improvements Program. His responsibilities include administration and management of contract documents and contract requirements on construction projects. He also assists project engineers and project representatives with construction-related problems.

Before his assignment to the Baton Rouge program, Jackson served as Senior Inspector of the New Orleans Construction Department for CDM. He was instrumental in the coordination of construction projects for the Jefferson Parish Capital Improvements Program.

Jackson is a member of the National Society of Construction Managers, American Public Works Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, National Society of Black Public Administrators, and is a board member of the YMCA of New Orleans.

Jackson's main goal is to help recruit more African Americans into the field of environmental construction management and to help create an environmental approach to solving problems with infrastructures in urban areas.

His tips for success: Stay focused and don't be afraid to ask for help. Keep up with the latest technology and market yourself.
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Title Annotation:Career Reports: Engineering & Computer Science; includes related articles
Author:Jones, Wilkins O.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Science teaching: a career choice for the 1900s and beyond.
Next Article:Careers in the criminal justice system.

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