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UHCL: 'Well-trained mechanical engineers can do just about anything'

March 19, 2018 | Katherine Adams

Stem building
Rendering of the new STEM and Classroom Building

In Houston, there’s an almost endless demand for highly qualified mechanical engineers. That’s why University of Houston-Clear Lake is offering up-and-coming engineering students the opportunity to obtain a new, competitive bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in a leading-edge science, technology, engineering and math facility.

“The new STEM and Classroom Building will open in a few months, and this new major, which is open to students starting fall 2018, is designed to prepare students for a field that is evolving all the time,” said Ju H. Kim, interim dean of the College of Science and Engineering and professor of physics. “The unique nature of this program meets multiple needs. Mechanical engineering is the largest engineering field, and job opportunities are highly concentrated here.”

Kim added that the demand is so high, there are often not enough seats for students wishing to pursue mechanical engineering at other universities. “Our new B.S. in mechanical engineering is a great option for students who wish to stay in the region. It gives students in this area the ability to commute and not have to move away to get their education.”

Professor and Mechanical Engineering Program Chair Jeffrey Mountain said that UH-Clear Lake’s new program will focus on preparing students to enter industry directly after graduating. “We are preparing students for the workforce,” Mountain said. “We offer a firm foundation in underlying theories as well as hands-on experience in how things are made and how they work. We will teach mathematical equations, but we’ll help students understand how they relate to the real world.”

The new STEM and Classroom Building’s seven dedicated mechanical engineering spaces will provide the hands-on linkage between theory and practice. “We’ll have a machine shop, a thermal fluids lab, a materials lab, a computer design lab, an additive manufacturing lab, a general purpose measurements lab, and a senior design studio for capstone projects,” Mountain said.

A capstone project is a multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students, typically at the end of an academic program. “These labs are a place for students to gain fundamental understanding of engineering and put it all together in a capstone,” Mountain said, and added that more equipment purchases are planned once new faculty who will have additional expertise in specific areas have joined the team.

Kim said that the new STEM facility helps to promote a more integrated study of mechanical engineering. “People sometimes forget that mechanical engineering is highly dependent upon the physical sciences,” he said. “Mechanical engineering is closely associated with the fields of chemistry and physics. Because we will be housed together in this new building, students will benefit from learning the importance of the relationships between these disciplines and create the synergy that will result in well-rounded graduates that have a more complete, enriched training.”

Well-rounded graduates will better prepare an ever-changing workforce, Kim says. “We are implementing the changes that employers need from the very beginning, so we are better preparing students for changing technologies in the field.”

Kim said that a student graduating from UHCL with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering will be prepared for almost anything. “The data show that engineers change careers up to seven times in the course of their life,” he said. “In order to survive, you must have a strong fundamental basis. Change is rapid. When you have the right foundation, you can go from one job to another more smoothly if your training is well integrated.”

UHCL’s proximity to NASA is another of many advantages that Mountain said the program will leverage. “NASA is an incredible resource for so many things, including sponsoring capstone projects,” he said. “Using NASA as a potential resource for internships will also work very well with our student population.”

Mountain said that the highest concentration of mechanical engineers in the country is here in Houston. “They’re badly needed here in Houston, and a well-trained mechanical engineer can do just about anything. That’s why employment is nearly guaranteed. Our mechanical engineers will have the basis to collaborate with specialists of all kinds at their workplace – that’s part of the educational experience they’ll receive at UHCL.”

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