Each tool or product people use in their everyday lives has to be designed before it can be sold and operated. Behind all of those objects, both large and small, are mechanical engineers. Individuals in this profession are tasked with understanding how a variety of factors will affect a product’s design and functionality. Mechanical engineers have to consider force and thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, manufacturing, combustion, and a host of other issues as they work. They must also consider each component of the object in question to ensure it will not break or fail because of a design flaw.
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering fields, with jobs of this type required in everything from space shuttle or automobile design to nanotechnology. Increasingly, technology companies that create ever-smaller chips, sensors, and electronic devices are in need of mechanical engineers to help them. On the other hand, biomechanical engineers work in healthcare, helping to design tools and products that work in conjunction with the human body. One of the biggest advantages to a degree in mechanical engineering is the flexibility it gives students to pursue a number of different careers after graduation.
Mechanical engineering students should expect to take basic first-year courses, such as introduction to engineering, calculus and physics, engineering computing, materials science, or systems and fields. As students progress in their course of study, they will take more specific courses on fluid and solid mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics or circuits, and machine engineering. Students focusing on mechanical engineering in healthcare, information technology, manufacturing, or the environment will take engineering electives particular to their area of study.
Because mechanical engineering is such a broad field, students can have very different programs. Popular special interests include micro and nanotechnology, in which engineering students work with materials involved in building computers; bioengineering, in which students focus on fluid mechanics and the design of the human body; and energy and the environment, in which students study topics such as fuel cell systems, advanced thermodynamics, and combustion as a means of understanding energy use. Standard specializations, such as design and manufacturing or solid mechanics, are also consistently popular.
After choosing a specialization, students must choose which type of degree to pursue. Here’s what mechanical engineering students can hope to glean from each type of program:
For mechanical engineering students going into technical positions in manufacturing, drafting or design, material selection, or technical sales, an associate’s degree is appropriate. This degree will also prepare students to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program at many schools, if they wish, but will not qualify them for engineering jobs beyond the basic technical level.