No limit for MechSE undergrad opportunities
Last semester, engineering mechanics senior Marco Nunez did research for MechSE Professor and Department Head Anthony Jacobi’s Microchannel Heat Exchanger Research Group, which supplemented the efforts of the Hyperloop team at Illinois.
“I used computational fluid dynamics software to create meshes and analyze the thermal activity of the heat exchanger,” Nunez said.
Nunez is just one of many students who have taken advantage of research and project opportunities within the department.
He recommends that students pay attention to MechSE’s weekly E-week emails, which often contain both voluntary and paid research positions.
“Do not be intimidated to apply to an area that you know nothing about,” Nunez said.
Fellow senior in engineering mechanics Lauren Kovanko recently started conducting research in elasto-capillarity for the Kinetic Materials Research Group, led by Assistant Professor Sam Tawfick.
“I did not have any prior experience in this area of research, but my background in mechanics from TAM classes is very relevant,” Kovanko said, noting TAM 335, 424, and 451 as classes that helped prepare her for her position.
Tawfick recruited Kovanko after seeing her enthusiasm and overall performance in TAM 424. She averages ten hours per week in the lab, preparing and working on experiments as well as reading about and considering relevant theory. She suggests that students get to know their professors outside of class.
“If you have questions about class material or related topics, ask them and show them you are interested,” Kovanko said. “You do not have to be the best student in the class to get a research opportunity.”
“I have about ten undergraduates in my group,” Tawfick said. “I hire undergraduates when my graduate students have a need for a project they’re working on, or when I have a new idea that I want to explore.”
Tawfick said he chose academia over working in a national lab because he wanted the opportunity to work with students and help them become better scientists and engineers.
“Some undergraduates make major contributions in my research group, and co-author papers. My group is dependent on these students,” Tawfick said. “I consider some of the undergraduates who worked with us in the past to be the best products of my research group.”
Like Tawfick, many professors are looking for motivation and enthusiasm in undergrad students, and are willing to train those with little or no prior experience. Natasha Mamaril, Coordinator of Undergraduate Research in the College of Engineering, recommends that students engage in research because the learning process associated with it can be very valuable.
“Undergrad students learn about a systematic approach to conducting research and to solving problems,” Mamaril said. “Whether they decide to pursue a graduate degree or a job in industry, undergrad researchers develop research skills, communication skills, and interpersonal skills—all of which are desired by employers.”
Mamaril recommends the College of Engineering undergraduate research website as a resource for students looking for research opportunities. Undergrads doing research can be compensated with an hourly rate at or above the minimum wage depending on the amount of funds available and the level of work. In lieu of pay, students can also receive negotiable class credit.
“Students may email professors whose research interests them or even ask to meet with professors to inquire about undergraduate assistant positions,” she said.
“Becoming involved in the department itself is a great way to network with peers, faculty, and staff,” Biehl said. “Students have opportunities for leadership and can run for important roles in student societies. These are all great ways to explore interests and have fun while learning valuable life and career lessons.”
The student society ASME has nine committees that offer opportunities for students to get involved, such as outreach, special projects, and student affairs. There are several projects members can work on, such as The Mighty Cheese, a 50-pound flywheel that is nearly impossible to tip over when rotating, and a new Engineering Open House exhibit called the Mass Oscillator that uses a spring-mass-damper system to measure mass without using gravity. Students can participate in ASME by joining a committee or attending events.
“ASME prepares its members for life after graduation by allowing them to interact with companies throughout the school year at general meetings,” said Rohita Mocharla, current president. “Members can also apply skills they’ve learned in class by attending various workshops or joining a projects committee.”
Students can also join the Society for Engineering Mechanics (SEM) by attending meetings or events. There are general meetings with guest professors as well as project and outreach meetings and social events. SEM is open to students from all majors and currently has members in EM, MatSE, engineering physics, CEE, and math.
Some of SEM’s projects include a vortex cooling system that uses a specialized tube to separate air flow into hot and cold components as well as a flashlight radio that uses light to project the signal it receives onto a solar panel, which then plays the signal through a connected speaker. SEM also helps design and build demonstrations for 200-level TAM classes.
“We try to give our newer members as much design and construction skills as we can, so that they can build skills necessary for industry,” said Project Chair John McNally. “SEM (also) has members that go onto graduate school and are happy to answer any questions they can about the grad school experience.”
For those looking to get involved in Greek life, Triangle is a social fraternity whose members consist of engineers, architects, and scientists.
“We aim to develop balanced men who have good work ethics and time management skills,” said Triangle president and ME sophomore Patrick Burke. “As a member of Triangle, you will gain access to our house and alumni network.”
Triangle provides professional development opportunities such as professor dinners, hosting tech talks, and hackathons with companies. Brothers also have the opportunity and workspace for working on individual or group projects. One current project is to use donated wind turbines and solar panels to produce green energy that can power at least one room of the fraternity’s house.
“The project involves about a third of the house and people with different backgrounds including electrical, mechanical, chemical, and aerospace engineers, as well as technical systems management majors,” Burke said.
In addition to being an active member of the Greek community, Triangle also participates in EOH and Engineering Council.
Check back soon for Part 2 - focusing on our high-achieving car teams!