Mechanical Engineering Is on the Rise

The classic discipline is cutting-edge again.

Ewan Pritchard and Advanced Energy's plug-in hybrid school bus.

Ewan Pritchard and Advanced Energy's plug-in hybrid school bus.

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We're No. 1. The range of skills common to mechanical engineering graduates also goes over well in the job market. At Austin, many M.E. students are top prospects on the wish lists of companies scouting prospective hires. Edward Hensel, head of mechanical engineering at rit, says "there's a powerful, pent-up demand in industry for mechanical engineers. In more than 20 years as a teacher, I've not seen the like of it before."

Research money is plentiful too, in part because of recent increases in National Science Foundation funding for the physical sciences and engineering. Silverberg says these have particularly favored M.E. "because so many of the critical problems in the forefront now lie in the area of mechanical engineering." His department's research expenditures increased 25 percent over the past five years to $8 million a year. Indeed, North Carolina State recently added two new graduate classes—one in nanomechanics, the other in biofluids—to accommodate M.E.'s increasing involvement in nanotechnology and the life sciences.

Anderson, meanwhile, should have her master's completed by spring 2009 and expects to eventually earn a doctorate, too. She's also adamant she wants to keep working at NASA: "It's better than I had hoped. I've really enjoyed it; I really feel it's the right place for me." Clearly, it's mission accomplished for Anderson's girlhood dream, thanks in large part to her mechanical engineering education.