Mechanical engineering is one of the largest, broadest, and oldest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers use the principles of energy, materials, and mechanics to design, analyze, optimize, and manufacture machines and devices of all types. They create the processes and systems that drive technology and industry. The key characteristics of the profession are its breadth, flexibility, and individuality. The career paths of mechanical engineers are largely determined by individual choices, a decided advantage in a changing world.
Mechanics, energy and heat, mathematics, engineering sciences, design and manufacturing form the foundation of mechanical engineering. Mechanics includes fluids, ranging from still water to hypersonic gases flowing around a space vehicle; it involves the motion of anything from a particle to a machine or complex structure. Analysis, design and synthesis are the key functions of mechanical engineers. The question is often how devices and processes actually work. The first step is to visualize what is happening and clearly state the problem. A mechanical engineer will then use computer-based modeling, simulation, and visualization techniques to test different solutions. Design is one of the most satisfying jobs for a mechanical engineer. It is very gratifying to realize that an engineer can prevent more injuries with a single design than a doctor can repair in a lifetime. “Synthesis” is when you pull all the factors together in a design that can be successfully manufactured. Design problems are challenging because most are open-ended, without a single or best answer. There is no best mousetrap — just better ones.
Students take a sequence of basic and engineering science courses. They develop engineering problem solving skills in the areas of mechanics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, materials and automatic controls. For example, students in heat transfer use faculty-developed computational tools to demonstrate the principles and processes discussed in class. The software provides “virtual” experiments that help the students visualize the processes they are modeling and helps enhance their understanding. In addition, students learn to use higher mathematics, statistics and modern computer techniques.
Mechanical engineering principles are reinforced and integrated through design assignments and “hands-on” laboratory courses in experimental methods, digital electronics, and electro-mechanical systems. Students conduct experiments in labs where they use digital data acquisition systems to evaluate the performance of instruments, motors, engines, electrical circuits, signal processing equipment and solid state control devices. Working both individually and in teams, students also develop communications skills and learn about the complex cultural, legal, ethical and economic factors which influence the engineering profession. Those who wish to may select courses that satisfy the requirements of a minor area of study (e.g., aerospace, bio-medical, environmental management, engineering business).
With the largest co-operative education programs in the University, students have the opportunity to get important, practical industrial experience. This program build self-confidence, helps define career objectives, enriches the technical education and enhances job opportunities while providing an income. In this program, students have the opportunity to work in industry for an extended period of time during their normal undergraduate years. Typically, students spend one summer and one semester working for a company with one or two more summers possible. Co-op students normally take an extra semester to graduate. Currently more than 40 companies -- located throughout the U.S. -- offer co-op opportunities to our students. Furthermore, opportunities exist for students to study abroad as a part of foreign exchange programs.
Here is what some of our graduates have to say about Mechanical Engineering at U.Va.:
“You come out of engineering with practical skills that really make a difference.” (Meg Olson, BS ME and Russian and Eastern European Studies, 06) For Meg’s senior thesis project, she worked with Professor Pradip Sheth to create biomechanical modeling programs to optimize braces for children with cerebral palsy. Meg interned at the U.Va. Patent Foundation and is now working at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, reviewing patent applications. She plans to attend law school and hopes to work in foreign countries to set up systems of intellectual property protection. “My goal is to combine my interests and apply my engineering knowledge in a policy context,” she says.
“During my undergraduate studies as a Mechanical Engineer, I was able to explore several cutting edge topics through individualized classes and hands-on laboratory work. I was also able to actively participate in specialized research projects while working with graduate students and professors, and was given the opportunity to present my research results at professional conferences and technical colloquia. My experience as an undergraduate in the Mechanical Engineering department at U.Va. helped to define my post-graduate goals and set me up for success in the cutting edge discipline of nanotechnology.” - ( Patrick Hopkins , BS ME and BA Physics, ‘04)
"Graduating from The University of Virginia is worth its weight in gold, but graduating with an engineering degree sets you apart from all undergraduate alumni. The degree shows companies that you are capable of handling a rigorous 4-year curriculum at a top university. The degree not only helped me while working as an engineer at Ford Motor upon graduation in 2000, but the discipline I learned while studying engineering gave me a great quantitative background for Harvard Business School and now sales with IBM in Atlanta." (Les Williams BS ME, ‘00)
Research is an important component of our undergraduate program in Mechanical Engineering. Many students are involved in hands-on research in one of the many active research laboratories within the department, either as paid research assistants or as anxious volunteers. From the Center for Applied Biomechanics, to the Rotating Machinery and Controls Laboratory, or the Aerogel Research Lab—-opportunities abound. As a testament to the many excellent opportunities that exist, our students have won more Harrison Research Awards than any other department in SEAS. Many students even begin this research in their second or third year, preparing them for outstanding senior thesis projects. Many of our undergraduate students work in our research laboratories side-by-side with graduate students and faculty.