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What is a Mechanical Engineer?

What is a Mechanical Engineer? Mechanical engineering plays a dominant role in enhancing safety, economic vitality, enjoyment and overall quality of life throughout the world. Mechanical engineers are concerned with the principles of force, energy and motion. The men and women who work as mechanical engineers are professionals with expert knowledge of the design and manufacture of mechanical systems and thermal devices and processes. Some examples of products and processes developed by mechanical engineers include engines and control systems for automobiles and aircraft, electric power generation plants, lifesaving medical devices and consumer products ranging from air conditioners to personal computers and athletic equipment. They also design the machines that mass-produce these products. Virtually every aspect of life is touched by mechanical engineering. If something moves or uses energy, a mechanical engineer was probably involved in its design or production.

An Evolving Profession

The explosive development and expansion in computer technology has literally changed the face of mechanical engineering. The drawing board has given way to computer Aided Design (CAD), and sophisticated computational software tools have enabled mechanical engineers to develop
efficient solutions to complex technical problems. For example, the emerging high-tech field of nanotechnology is attracting mechanical engineers to design ultra-miniature machines and tiny implantable medical devices that navigate the human body searching for disease and damaged tissue. Also, the growing concern for the planet and the quality of life for future generations have spurred continuing efforts by mechanical engineers to design resource-efficient and recyclable products and develop equipment and processes to clean-up existing environmental problems and prevent their reoccurrence.

These technologies and a host of others will have an impact on lives in the 2 century, and their development and refine 1st ment require the skills, intuition and creative ability of mechanical engineers. At the same time, mechanical engineers are expected to understand and convey the real-world consequences of technology development alternatives to decision-makers and the public.

Toward a Career in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering is a profession requiring specific skills. These skills are acquired through education, training and experience. Throughout high school, students must enroll in certain courses as preparation for acceptance into engineering programs at a college or university. A solid foundation in mathematics, science and the language arts is critical. Strong mathematics preparation includes algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. Chemistry, biology and physics form the basic science foundation. Ability in oral and written communications is important to success in mechanical engineering studies, and courses in mechanical or computer-aided drafting/drawing and other technology-related subjects can help students begin to understand the important practicalities of technological projects.

Students can enhance their studies and enrich the overall learning experience by entering science and technology fairs and design competitions, and by joining clubs or career groups devoted to engineering and science. Some clubs sponsor day trips and similar excursions to companies, laboratories and industrial facilities, where students can meet engineers in actual work environments.

College for the Mechanical Engineering Student
While mechanical engineering programs may vary in specific content and detail, they are linked by a common educational philosophy. The programs provide a broad-based education with a concentration on fundamentals and basic laws as the major tools required for the professional practice of mechanical engineering. Graduates are expected to have the ability to work professionally, as individuals and in teams, in both the thermal and mechanical systems areas,
including the design, manufacture and control of such systems. Moreover, they are expected to understand the ethical, legal, and societal implications of their work.

Mathematics is a fundamental language of the engineering program. Students also gain extensive integrated laboratory, computer and design experiences. The design experience emphasizes synthesis, computer applications and problem solving. Communications, teamwork and practical
hands-on experience with various product design processes are also important elements of the program. Internships, coop semesters and participation in ASME Student Section activities are strongly encouraged as means to gain exposure to engineering practice.

Those seeking to pursue a mechanical engineering degree in the United States should look for a college curriculum accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). There are approximately 265 college and university mechanical engineering degree programs accredited by ABET. In other countries, look toward polytechnic and university programs that are recognized by governmental education authorities and by the professional organization of mechanical engineers in that country.

Where Mechanical Engineers Work
Employment prospects for mechanical engineers are strong, particularly where local economies are growing. In the Unites States, for example, the profession is growing by 16 percent, or 35,000 jobs annually, which is a rate of growth expected to continue to the year 2006.

Industrial sectors in which mechanical engineers have traditionally made substantial contributions include aerospace, automotive, chemical, computer and electronics, construction, consumer products, energy, engineering consulting and government. In addition, the medical and pharmaceutical industries present exciting opportunities for mechanical engineers to join forces with the life sciences. Even the entertainment industry relies heavily on mechanical engineers for special effects and amusement park equipment.

The vast majority of this work is done in thousands of companies ranging from large multinationals to small, local firms. Job functions and responsibilities range from product
and production design engineering and systems design to power plant operations, quality control and project management. With experience and further education, some mechanical engineers move into legal or management positions that build upon their scientific and technical skills
and expertise. Others choose the path of scholarly research and teaching. The work of the mechanical engineer is diverse and worldwide, and the careers of mechanical engineers are marked by an important common factor-- continuous learning.