MEs establish careers in many industries
The BLS projects 9 percent job growth for MEs between 2010 and 2020
“Our newest twin-engine aircraft is fueling a demand for mechanical engineers.”
– Lenny Wells, Gulfstream
By Sonya Stinson
Senior Contributing Editor
Mechanical engineers make up the second-largest engineering occupation in the Unites States, numbering about 243,000, according to the 2012-13 edition of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (bls.gov/ooh). They work in a broad range of industries and job functions, including designing, building, testing and overseeing the manufacture of mechanical devices. The BLS has projected that job openings for mechanical engineers will grow by about 9 percent between 2010 and 2020.
The six recent ME grads profiled here work in the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors. They represent just a sample of ME career options.
Gulfstream needs MEs
The expansion of the G650 program at Gulfstream Aerospace (Savannah, GA) is fueling a continuing demand for mechanical engineers, according to Lenny Wells, director of staffing at Gulfstream. The G650 is the company’s newest twin-engine business jet aircraft.
“To make certain that our pipeline is full of talented mechanical engineers we have created strong ties at the university level,” says Wells. “We offer internships and co-op opportunities to attract and retain students studying mechanical engineering, and we partner with universities across the country on classroom research and design projects. Our continued relationships with student groups like the Society of Women Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and National Society of Black Engineers ensure that our future mechanical engineering workforce will continue to be diverse and inclusive.”
Gulfstream views diversity as an important goal. “Each one of us must ensure that our culture remains open to new people, accepting of new ideas and respectful of differences,” says Jennifer Giffen, VP of human resources. “Innovation demands that we gather ideas from everyone and that we accept those ideas without judgment or preconceived notions. We must come to work ready and willing to accept the contributions of others and realize everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, background or upbringing, brings something valuable to the table.”
Dhruva Kurmapu maximizes inventory storage at Gulfstream
Dhruva Kurmapu started as an intern at Gulfstream in February 2011, armed with a 2009 BSME from Andhra University (Vishakhapatnan, India). Last year, she earned an MS in industrial engineering from Ohio University (Athens, OH). She chose to add IE to her ME training because it “brings the engineering and business worlds together.”
Kurmapu’s current work is with the product support materials group at Gulfstream. “My duties involve increasing the efficiency of our processes by using tools such as Lean Six Sigma, facilities planning, ergonomics and sustainability,” she says.
For a recent project, Kurmapu was assigned to upgrade the tire storage system at the service center. She and her team looked into the options and recommended using an automated carousel storage system that extends tire storage capacity all the way to the roof, accommodating four times as much inventory. Following Kurmapu’s cost-benefit analysis, the new system has been approved for the capital budget and its implementation is pending.
Having a job focused on making the workplace more efficient is tailor-made for Kurmapu’s personality. Even her home is super organized, she says with a smile. “I have everything within hand’s reach.”
Sebastian Osorio designs auto bodies and frames at Honda R&D Americas
Sebastian Osorio didn’t need to look any further than home for his introduction to a career in mechanical engineering. Back in his native Colombia, his mother was a mechanical engineer.
Today, he’s a design engineer at Honda R&D Americas, Inc (Raymond, OH). He joined the company after earning his 2012 BSME at Ohio University (Athens, OH).
Osorio designs and develops parts and frames for the outer body of power sports vehicles, trying to balance cost and weight. “I’ve had a longtime fascination with autos and motor sports,” he says.
In his design work, Osorio applies a lot of what he learned in college courses in kinematics, statics and materials science. “I deal a lot with plastics, so that’s really helping me out right now,” he notes.
A year-long senior design course at Ohio University helped prepare Osorio for his current work. He and his classmates were assigned to develop a project employing cost and weight analysis. “I learned how to develop good organizational skills and work on a team,” he recalls.
“In college, you do a lot of individual work. You study for exams by yourself. You do your own homework,” he notes. “Here, you kind of depend on other people, and a lot of people depend on you. That’s one of the most challenging things to get used to. A big part of my job is facilitating communications between our styling group and our test group.”
Osorio has also had to get acquainted with the Tokyo-based company’s corporate culture. “It’s an enjoyable experience, but something that I wasn’t used to,” he says. “Honda brings some engineers over from Japan to support certain projects and also to train local engineers. This keeps the Honda philosophy consistent throughout the world.”
A key tenet of Honda’s business philosophy, according to one top executive, is valuing a diversity of experiences and ideas. “Honda’s deeply rooted practice of ‘respect for the individual’ strongly encourages our leadership team to seek each associate’s viewpoint,” says Bill Konstantacos, VP of Honda R&D Americas. “These unique perspectives allow us to better understand our rapidly changing customer base.”
An Nguyen tests aircraft materials at Bombardier Learjet
An Nguyen is a fatigue and damage tolerance analyst at Bombardier Learjet (Wichita, KS). She’s assigned to the Learjet 85 aircraft development program. She performs stress tests on aircraft materials to detect structural changes that might lead to cracks or even complete fractures under certain conditions.
Nguyen started at Learjet in June 2012 as an intern and became a fulltime employee in December 2012 when she finished her BSME at Wichita State University (Wichita, KS). She studied for a year at Cowley Community College (Winfield, KS) before transferring to Wichita State.
Though Nguyen had interned with other employers, her stint at Learjet was her first experience in the aircraft industry, and she faced a challenging learning curve.
“I was a little nervous when I started my job, because I had to know all of the airplane details, from the nose to the tail cone,” she explains. “Also, I had to get familiar with a lot of software. Luckily, my colleagues helped me a lot. That’s why I got better and better, and why my mentor could keep me on the team.”
With co-workers from several different countries, one of the things Nguyen appreciates most about her work environment is its diversity. “As engineers, most of the time we work on a team to solve problems and challenges,” she says. “I think having multiple perspectives leads to better solutions.”
Nguyen admits that some aspects of her role as a professional engineer still make her a little nervous. “As a newbie engineer, sometimes it’s hard for me to make important decisions,” she says, but adds that her confidence is growing as she gains more knowledge on the job.
Chiray Wey designs exterior vehicle components at Nissan
Chiray Wey is an engineer in the exterior design department at Nissan Technical Center North America (NTCNA, Farmington Hills, MI). The department is responsible for the lamps, bumpers, fascias, grilles, wipers, mirrors and trim on the Infiniti JX luxury SUV and the next-generation Nissan Titan truck. Wey herself helps fashion the truck’s bumpers, fascias and grilles.
“We have a design team that tells us what they want the car to look like, and we make it happen,” says Wey. She got her BSME from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) in 2012 and joined NTCNA right away.
Both of Wey’s parents and an older sister are engineers. Following in their footsteps seemed natural, given her longtime interest in math and science. “It just felt like what I was good at and what I wanted to do,” she says.
A career in the automotive industry was also a natural fit. “I like the fast pace of the industry, how you can be working on something and in a few years it’s out driving on the road,” she notes.
A summer internship at Nissan made the school-to-work transition easier. “It helped me learn to interact with different people, people who have been in the workplace for many years, and people just out of school,” she says. “It also helped me apply what I learned from books to real life.”
Since joining Nissan’s engineering staff, Wey has been busy getting up to speed on all the workplace policies and procedures, along with the legal requirements and testing involved in making cars. Learning the ropes from her more experienced co-workers has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. “School was great,” she says, “but there’s nothing like working in the industry with people who have been here for twenty years.”
Rob Wilson, Nissan’s director of diversity and inclusion, says that the company is committed to an inclusive workforce because it makes good business sense. “Diversity drives excellence because it strengthens us not only as individuals, but also as a company,” he explains.
Rijvana Patel: reducing chemical emissions at DTE Energy
Since January 2013, Rijvana Patel has been working on a team that’s involved in fuel-gas desulfurization (FGD) at DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant (Detroit, MI). That process, she explains, “purifies the emissions that come out of our plant. Two units at the power plant have their FGD systems up and running, and two more are in the process of implementing theirs.”
Patel is an associate engineer assigned to assist the team’s project engineers and managers. She is also helping with a project in selective catalytic reduction.
“Both projects kind of go hand-in-hand, to purify the emissions,” she says. “If you drive by a power plant, you see the smoke coming out of the chimney. We purify that and make it pure water vapor instead of whatever gas or chemical would otherwise come out into the environment.”
Patel completed several rotations as a co-op student at DTE, starting in December 2007. She got her BSME from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in August 2009. DTE hired her full time in October 2010 as a Fermi 3 nuclear licensing analyst. In that job, she did revisions on the utility’s combined operating license applications as part of a nuclear licensing procedure that she says can take five to ten years.
Patel’s career role model is an uncle who is an engineer for the city of Dearborn. His design work has been part of many local capital improvement projects over the last couple of decades. “I always wanted to be like him,” she says. “He makes a difference in the community.”
One of the things she enjoys most about her work is being able to get away from her desk occasionally to visit a construction site. “I get to go out into the field and see design versus reality,” says Patel. “If I see a piping and instrumentation diagram on paper, it looks like an infinity sign. But when I see the real thing it looks totally different.”
Robert Conley tests car engine performance at GM
In his short time as a General Motors engineer, Robert Conley has already landed a key supporting role on a history-making project. Working at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds, about forty minutes outside Detroit, Conley performed the validation testing on the company’s upcoming Cruze diesel.
“It’s the cleanest diesel passenger car that GM has ever produced,” Conley reports. “It’s really exciting that I’ve played a role in reintroducing the company to the U.S. diesel market.”
Conley is an air induction and exhaust performance engineer at General Motors (GM, Detroit, MI). He joined the staff in 2012 after earning his BSME at Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI). The validation testing his group does helps GM’s power train organization get SAE certification of the horsepower and torque ratings for its vehicles. SAE, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers, is a well-known automotive and aerospace standards-setting body.
His “strong passion for vehicles” inspired Conley to pursue a mechanical engineering degree and a career in automotives. As an undergrad, he interned at GM and Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, MI) and spent a summer in an engineering study-abroad program in France.
Conley’s college courses in fluid mechanics, heat transfer, vibrations and thermodynamics are most closely related to the work he’s doing today. “I also took elective classes in automotive engines and power train design that have been beneficial to my current job,” he says.
More experienced co-workers are helping Conley get his career on the right path. GM has paired him with an executive mentor from the company’s chassis organization.
“I meet with him every few months, and he gives me the lay of the land and a good understanding of how I can develop my career,” Conley explains. “There are a lot of tools that the company has put in place for young engineers.”
Conley will soon join the issues resolutions team on a trip to a GM assembly plant where a new product is being readied for its debut later this year. “I’ll be responsible for all of the chassis components, making sure that the assembly workers don’t have any issues with integrating them into the vehicle on the assembly line,” he says. “That should be a really exciting and challenging job for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
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