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Mechanical Engineering

What is it?


Possible Careers

Does it have moving parts? Then it was probably built by a mechanical engineer! This branch of engineering is one of the broadest, with applications in nearly everything from the automobile industry to energy companies. With a degree in mechanical engineering, you can research and design new products or be an expert in manufacturing - it's up to you!

  • Automotive Engineer

  • Manufacturing Engineer

  • Management Consultant

  • Production Engineer

  • Thermal Engineer

  • Materials Scientist

  • Petroleum Engineer

Meet an Expert

Michele Marion

  • 1989 graduate of Virginia Tech in Mechanical Engineering

  • Worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for 17 years

  • Attended the ODU Career Switcher Program

  • Nine year career in the Norfolk Public School System as a middle school math/science teacher

  • Currently an instuctor/training manager at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard

Expert Q + A

What led you to choose mechanical engineering as your career?

  • I attended Norfolk Collegiate high school and I was very good at Math/Sciences – I took AP Calculus and Physics before they had AP formal exams.  I got into JMU, UVA and VT engineering directly – my father (an electrical engineer) strongly persuaded me to accept the engineering school acceptance as he was afraid that at 17 I would not transfer into engineering at UVA and my intentions at JMU was math education; turned out to be a good life-guiding decision.

What is your favorite part of the job?

  • I have an interesting career path, I worked at the shipyard straight out of college 1989- 2006, went to ODU career switcher program and became a Middle School Math/Science teacher for Norfolk Public Schools for nine school years and then I returned to NNSY in 2015 to end my career as an instructor/training manager.  My favorite part of the second phase of my engineering career is being able to support and hopefully model professional behavior for the younger portion of the workforce.  It makes me happy to see others learn and since refueling engineering is a topic I am well trained in I like to think I provide a good resource and example to the younger work force.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

  • My biggest challenge has really been how I responded to a breast cancer diagnosis in 2003, I had just given birth to my second daughter and had to go through chemo and radiation with two young daughters – this is where the inspiration to teach resurfaced since the days that I was accepted to JMU. Working through adverse health conditions and pursuing a career in another profession taught me things about myself that I never would have learned. I feel like I returned to the shipyard environment filled with a passion to teach and mold and lead by example.

What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?

  • Base mechanical engineering degree, and then trained to be a nuclear engineer through the shipyard programs.

What are your main responsibilities as a mechanical engineer? What kind of problems do you solve and what decisions do you make?

  • As an entry level equipment engineer I worked on a variety of types of equipment:  cutting machines, adapter plates, fluid system components, inspection equipment and these job opportunities utilized my base engineering knowledge.  I transitioned into a management project for controlling the equipment we accepted from Charleston Naval Shipyard in the early 1990s, I transitioned into technical writing and became a lead engineer in the standardization process of our procedures which allowed me to work with points of contact in other shipyards and increase my presentation skills.

What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success as a mechanical engineer?

  • I think that attention to detail, desire to produce a good product (of various forms – equipment, procedures, training, instruction, professional development) has been my main focus in my engineering career.  My instructional skills were of course developed by teaching mathematics instruction for nine years at various (but mostly lower level) skill sets.  I think I have an inclusive and warm personality as I always want to see the good in everyone and every situation; I do not do well with negative people (life is too short) and maybe that’s the most powerful lesson I learned by overcoming cancer at 35 years old.

Describe a typical day at work.

  • Early arrival at a shipyard requires discipline in your life.  I attend a morning meeting that sets the tone for the day, I keep track of approximately 100 engineers on their various qualifications and training requirements in addition to supporting professional development opportunities.  I am involved in several projects at a time and that makes time management an essential skill.  I work to deadlines and I work well under pressure (for the most part).  I enjoy bringing positivity to the work environment and I embrace my work family because you have to be happy somewhere you spend 8-10 hours a day.

What current issues and trends in mechanical engineering should girls who are interested in the field know about?

  • Fields such as biomedical engineering, environmental engineering can all be pursued after the base mechanical engineering degree – both these concentrations of engineering interested me during college and post graduation. Although the curriculum is challenging at such a young age in engineering school, it is definitely worth it to leave the college time in your life with a very marketable degree.  My degree enabled me to be self-supportive at a young age and it also built a foundation that allowed me to make alternate career choices (at lesser pay) to develop my entire career path – the time spent teaching has only had a positive effect on my abilities to re-enter the engineering work force with drive and initiative and positivity.  (Teachers work so hard every day – at school and at home and become consumed with the well being of their students and I try to apply that passion to this job as well). 

What advice would you give a tween/teen girl who is interested in becoming a mechanical engineer?

  • Don’t give up on the degree! Don’t get discouraged by not always excelling in some courses of the curriculum – it can be very tough to accept lower grades when you are working so hard to learn such a variety of skills in the engineering curriculum.  Investigate all the other paths that engineering has to offer (when I took my civil engineering electives my junior year I almost switched majors).  Consider internships, although they can be disruptive to your four year plan.

Interested? Try This!

Beginner Craft

In this craft, you will be building a working catapult while learning about the principles of tension, force, and gravity. To make this project even more fun, you can compete against friends to see whose catapult can launch an object the farthest!

Detailed Instructions:

Advanced Craft

In this craft, you will be building a small car that can be propelled by a sail. This sail car will teach you about the principles of aerodynamics and momentum. To make this project even more fun, compete with friends to see whose car can go the fastest!

Detailed Instructions:

Video Tutorial:

Video Tutorial:

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