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Counting the Days

Nov 18, 2019

Cal Poly engineering students work to install an Advent calendar at the Cambria Christmas Market. Pictured are, left to right, Sigrid Derickson, Oma Skyrus, Danny Clifton and Silvia Calinov.

A team of mechanical engineering students blasted Christmas music on campus as they brainstormed a large, motorized Advent calendar that will be featured at this year’s Cambria Christmas Market.

“It was a holiday jam,” said Sigrid Derickson, a mechanical engineering senior. “Funny thing is, it happened in March. We were sitting around listening to Christmas music, and everyone probably thought we were a bunch of weirdos.”

Eight months later, their efforts will be a new highlight of the eighth annual market, described as a Central Coast “Winter Wonderland.” Based on Christmas markets in Europe that date back to the Middle Ages, The Cambria Christmas Market, housed primarily at the Cambria Pines Lodge, features 2 million lights in dioramas and displays, plus artisan vendors, food, live music and more.

The calendar project is sponsored by the lodge, which operates the market. About five years ago, another team of Cal Poly engineering students built a popular 12 Days of Christmas installation that has been a feature of the market ever since.

“The 12 Days of Christmas is one of our most popular displays,” said Mike Arnold, the market’s coordinator. “We have had to move it a few times to accommodate the groups that gather around each time it goes off.”

With that in mind, the market asked Cal Poly to create another project.

The Advent calendar created by ME students will become a permanent fixture at the Cambria Christmas Market. 

“What they said was, ‘We want an Advent calendar, and it should look like a German village,’” said Lee McFarland, a Cal Poly mechanical engineering lecturer and faculty advisor for the project.

Advent calendars, which offer a fun way to count the days until Christmas, originated in the early 1900s. They typically appear as wall calendars with “windows” that open for each day of the month, revealing a different image. But some calendars get much bigger.

The Cal Poly calendar is massive. It is roughly 14 feet tall, 20 feet long and four feet deep and will feature 25 days represented by boxes. Each box contains a playful diorama, which includes a shooting star, a polar bear snow globe, Santa’s workshop, an ice skater, a hula dancer and other animated scenes of the season. Seventeen boxes feature moving parts, and all play music related to the respective diorama. Songs include such classics as “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

“The whole team is excited to see it in action,” Arnold said. “It is located near our Santa House, so guests will be able to enjoy while they wait to see Santa.”

The Advent calendar created by Cal Poly students will be 14-foot high and 20-foot long, featuring holiday music and moving dioramas.

The project employs mechanical, electrical and audio designs with motors, switching relays and a credit card-size Raspberry Pi computer that uses a programing language called Python. The students manufactured their diorama designs on campus using laser cutters and computer-controlled CNC machines.

While students were given a few project parameters, they devised the final design.

“It really let us use our creative side,” said Derickson, who graduated from Atascadero High School in 2014.

Like the 12 Days of Christmas display, this year’s Advent addition will become a permanent feature of the popular market, McFarland said.

The other mechanical engineering students on the team include: Danny Clifton, from Reno, Nevada; Tyler Koski, from Irvine California; and Oma Skyrus, of San Mateo California. The four students started working on it last January as a senior project. These projects, a requirement for graduation, are designed to give students hands-on experience, said Peter Schuster, a mechanical engineering professor.

“They get to apply what they have learned throughout their education to a specific project,” he said. “The experience forces them to dive deeper into topics in order to get the job done, just as they will as engineering professionals.”

The students took the calendar to Cambria and installed the boxes over the 3-day Veterans Day weekend. This week, they will connect the mechanical parts, lights, music and train set so the entire project will be ready when the market opens to the public on Friday, Nov. 29.

While the calendar marks the beginning of a new attraction for the market, for the team, Saturday means the end of their nearly yearlong effort.

“We put a lot of hours into it,” Derickson said.

Continue reading Counting the Days...
Dakota Baker

Student Perspective: Studying Abroad in Munich

Oct 31, 2019

Dakota Baker, mechanical engineering senior, studied abroad at the Munich University of Applied Sciences over the summer. Dakota shares his experience abroad below. Visit our study abroad page for more information about available programs. 


Dakota BakerHey engineering student! Do you want to study abroad but can’t afford missing classes at Cal Poly? This program may be for you!

Engineering for Sustainability takes place at the Munich University of Applied Sciences in Munich, Germany. It lasts five weeks and costs roughly $6,000 which is a total estimate covering everything from airfare to room and board (there’s free breakfast at the hostel). However, if you receive the Federal Pell Grant, you can apply for the Gilman Scholarship which offers recipients $5,000! A German language class is required, but it counts towards General Education credit (C1 or C2). Habe Spaß! (translation: Have fun) Something special about this program is that you can also get 6 transferable technical elective credits!

Week 1 is all about learning basic German and helpful phrases, Week 2-3 is your first class, and Week 4-5 is your second class. Sustainable Energy Systems, Smart Vehicles, Hydraulics and Pneumatics, and Internal Combustion Engines are some of the offered classes.

But don’t forget time to explore! While in Munich, the teachers are very mindful of the students’ desire to travel and classes get out around 3 pm. Cool field trips are also included. We went on a factory tour of BMW, went to the Deutschland Museum, and more! Also, students are given a few days off including one entire weekend! I personally adventured around the city of Munich while also visiting nearby cities such as Andechs, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Salzburg. students taking tour Some people even went to Berlin and Croatia.

Last but not least, this program is international so you can be sure to meet people from all over the world. And most of the students stay in the same hostel, so everyone kind of becomes a big family near the end. If you are looking to study abroad, look no further than Engineering for Sustainability at MUAS!

Makenzie Kamei with her “Z” Schlieren system, which employs dual 4 inch mirrors and the Xenon light source.

A Tale of Two Schlierens: A Legacy of Prof. Hal Gascoigne

Oct 31, 2019

Makenzie Kamei with her “Z” Schlieren system, which employs dual 4 inch mirrors and the Xenon light source.Mechanical Engineering senior Makenzie Kamei (pictured) has assembled two different configurations of Schlieren imaging systems in the Department’s Fluids Lab and used them to create some rather striking images.  The Schlieren method allows for the visualization of flow phenomena that involve varying density of the fluid.  For gas flows, density variations can occur when there is heating or cooling, pressure variation, or different gases mix. Makenzie’s primary project goal was to set up a Schlieren system to visualize two different variable-density gas flows.  A secondary goal was—to the maximum extent possible–employ available parts that were donated to the Fluids Lab inventory by the late longtime Cal Poly Mechanical Engineering Professor Hal Gascoigne.  Prof. Gascoigne’s research involved a number of investigations using optical methods for visualization of a variety of phenomena, including stress distributions.  His work funded the acquisition of an extensive stock of expensive, specialized optical components… this legacy has found a new purpose in the present project.

Makenzie took on the independent study project under Prof. Russ Westphal to supplement her summer studies, which included taking courses at Munich University.  After researching the Schlieren technique, she selected two configurations to assemble: the classic “Z” (2-mirror) configuration, and the less-well-known “V” (single mirror) configuration. A high-speed air jet from a nozzle in stagnant surroundings.   The key components for both systems—large-aperature first-surface spherical mirrors—were available from Prof. Gascoigne’s legacy stock of components.  Many other components from Prof. Gascoigne’s stock, including a 4×10 ft optical table, Xenon arc lamp, pinholes, and a number of different types of optical component mounts, were also employed.  Only a few additional items needed to be procured or fabricated, so that the resulting Schlieren setups were almost entirely composed of Prof. Gascoigne’s stock. 

Pictured: A high-speed air jet from a nozzle in stagnant surroundings.  

For the flows to visualize, Makenzie selected the plume of a burning candle—a classic Schlieren application—and a high-speed air jet from a nozzle in stagnant surroundings.

“This project has been the embodiment of Cal Poly’s “Learn by Doing” philosophy,” Makenzie said, adding “It’s been a privilege to make use of the parts available in the lab and I am proud of the images I was able to capture. I think Schlieren could be a valuable addition to the laboratory curriculum; it’s one thing to learn theoretically about how a fluid behaves, but it’s incredible to actually be able to visualize it.”

Max Emerick with PressureWing installed on the AFL’s Altavian NOVA aircraft.

Autonomous Flight Lab Conducts First Flight of Next-Generation Flight Test Data System

Oct 31, 2019

Max Emerick with PressureWing installed on the AFL’s Altavian NOVA aircraft.

Max Emerick with PressureWing installed on the AFL’s Altavian NOVA aircraft.

Cal Poly’s Autonomous Flight Lab (AFL), in cooperation with the Boundary Layer Data System (BLDS) project, has successfully conducted the first flight of a version of a new, smaller and lighter, next-generation flight test instrument family. The new instrument family, to be called Flight Test Data System (FTDS), represents the first major revision of the existing BLDS in a decade. The new FTDS family uses smaller, lighter, lower-power components, more on-board non-volatile data storage, and will include both flow and—new for the project—non-flow sensors (strain, temperature, acoustic, acceleration). FTDS will be applicable to a much broader range of test requirements than BLDS, including smaller, lighter, unmanned, aircraft applications. The flight test marked the first milestone of a planned long-term collaboration between the AFL and BLDS project aimed at development of a next-generation low-cost flight test capability.

The flight test program was conducted during August 2019 at the Cal Poly-owned Experimental Flight Range, located near Cuesta College.  Luke Bodkin (AFL) was Test Director, and Max Emerick (BLDS) was responsible for payload integration—installing, operating, and interpreting results.  The AFL’s Altavian NOVA aircraft, operating under FAA Part 107 regulations, was the test airplane.  The airplane features a 10 ft wingspan, and can fly fully autonomously.  Three flights were conducted, progressing from less to more challenging configurations, resulting in successful acquisition of skin friction measurements for all flight conditions.

PressureWing, a next-generation BLDS device developed by Charlie Refvem and Max Emerick.

PressureWing, a next-generation BLDS device developed by Charlie Refvem and Max Emerick. 

The new instrument used for the testing was one of several FTDS prototypes currently in development, and the first of the prototypes to fly.  Informally called “PressureWing” by its originator, ME Master’s student Charlie Refvem, it provides sensors and storage to measure skin friction at up to five locations on an aircraft in flight.  It is the smallest and lightest instrument yet assembled by the BLDS team, and incorporates a novel configuration that stacks components to the maximum possible extent.  Following Mr. Refvem’s initial design, programming, and assembly work in 2018, ME senior Max Emerick completed the programming and conducted an extensive performance evaluation leading him to add a number of enhancements in collaboration with Mr. Refvem.  An improved Pressurewing, with 10 sensors, has also been designed.

Dr. Russ Westphal, BLDS/ FTDS Project Director and  Dr. Aaron Drake, AFL Director Dr. Russ Westphal, BLDS/ FTDS Project Director and
Dr. Aaron Drake, AFL

Several other prototype instruments based on the FTDS architecture have been designed, assembled and programmed, and are now in various stages of benchtop and wind tunnel testing. These efforts followed initial work by student Isabel Jellen in 2017, who demonstrated the feasibility of meeting FTDS requirements with a clean sheet approach using the latest hardware.    These new FTDS instruments enable acoustic measurements with MEMS microphones (student: Andy Wu), wide-range static/ dynamic pressure measurements (student: Marc Goupil), and quasi-static/ dynamic strain measurements (student: Zach Wilson).  Next step: flight!

Summer 2019 News & Awards

Jul 16, 2019

Departmental News

Cal Poly’s Mechanical Engineering program has been named the No. 2 undergraduate program in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Research News

  • Assistant Professor Hans Mayer and a mechanical engineering student team are collaborating with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers to improve the safety of Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear facilities during fire scenarios. The team designed, built and tested a prototype device used to create novel MTC HEPA filtration media. Initial testing demonstrated that the prototype can reduce a processing step by 10 times and eliminate this step from being the process bottleneck. The project is funded by the DOE’s Nuclear Safety Research and Development Program.


Fernando Mondragon-Cardenas and his senior project team developed a small scale tractor-trailer autonomous vehicle under the guidance of Professor Charles Birdsong.

  • Daimler Trucks North America has supported work with Professor Charles Birdsong in developing a small scale tractor-trailer autonomous vehicle.  This work was conducted through two senior project teams; the first developed the chassis and the second developed the electronics and software. Two identical vehicles will be manufactured; one delivered to Daimler in Portland, Oregon and the other will stay at Cal Poly and serve as a platform for future research in vehicle control and automation. In addition Daimler has given financial support for a team of mechanical engineering and computer engineering students to travel to the ESV International Student Design Competition in the Netherlands in June 2019 where they showed off a demonstration of autonomous vehicle platooning that was developed in an interdisciplinary senior project. 
  • Assistant Professor Ben Lutz and Professor Brian Self are using active learning and hybrid course modules to promote identity, belongingness and sense of community in mechanics courses and to mitigate equity gaps (i.e., differences in performance, GPA) for underrepresented students in engineering and science courses. The professors are developing studio-modeled courses with flipped classroom structures and learning assistants in physics, statics and dynamics sections — classes that most STEM majors must take and that represent a significant bottleneck in the curriculum.

Faculty Hires

  • Dr. Jennifer Mott Peuker was hired as an assistant professor
  • Dr. Hans Mayer was hired as an assistant professor

Student Awards

College of Engineering Academic Excellence

  • Sonya Christine Dick

College of Engineering Undergraduate Academic Excellence

  • Sonya Christine Dick
  • Joshua Bryan Wyman Clemons

College of Engineering Graduate Academic Excellence

  • Bradley Wash
  • Trent Peterson
  • Brock Johnson
  • Gregory Pellegrino
  • Jordan Nedbailo
  • Thomas Goehring
  • Kevin Gasik
  • Alex Schnorr
  • Nathan Hoyt
  • Margaret Juran
  • Anthony Jungquist

Mechanical Engineering Department Outstanding Service and Leadership to Their Club

  • Michael Juri (HPV)
  • Kyra Schmidt  (HPV)
  • Derrick Fromm (HPV)
  • Parker Reynolds (Supermileage)
  • Eric Zhong (ASME)
  • Paul Swartz (SAE)
  • James Schubert (ASHRAE)
  • Greg Ritter (Bike Builders)

Outstanding Service to the Mechanical Engineering Department

  • Lisa Kusakare
  • Kate Goldsworthy

MESFAC Award recognizes students who served on the committee for their service

  • Jessalyn Bernick
  • Chris Ferdor
  • KC Egger
  • Lynette Cox
  • Donovan Zusalim

DONK Award recognizes graduating machine shop technicians who have gone “above and beyond” in their role.

  • Chris Scarborough
  • Kathryn Webb
  • Steven Waal
Continue reading Summer 2019 News & Awards...
Bently Nevada Supports Learn  by Doing

Bently Nevada Supports Learn by Doing

Jul 16, 2019


Michael Mullen

Michael Mullen, mechanical engineering graduate student, 
is working on installing System 1 in the vibrations and rotor dynamics lab

For more than 20 years, Bently Nevada has been a supporter of the Mechanical Engineering Department and co-sponsor of the vibrations and rotor dynamics lab. Their support ensures that students get hands-on experience using the latest industry technology and are Day One ready. This year, Bently Nevada donated System 1 to the vibrations and rotor dynamics lab to support student learning in rotor dynamics.

“Supporting the next generation of engineers is close to our hearts, and rotor dynamics is an area of study pioneered by our founder, Don Bently,” explains Hannah Pence, Global Communications Leader for Bently Nevada at BHGE.
System 1 is Bently Nevada’s flagship software platform that offers a modern and intuitive interface that enables users to manage monitoring programs. The system was introduced in 2001 and has become the industry standard for rotating machinery, vibrations monitoring and diagnostics. 

Students will use System 1 in conjunction with rotor kits also donated by Bently Nevada. Undergraduate students in ME 318 will use the software in labs to help correct any unbalance in the rotors as they spin. Graduate students in ME 518 use the rotor kits more extensively and perform multiplane balancing and model rotating machinery phenomena such as anisotropic bearing stiffness and fluid-induced instabilities caused by fluid film bearings. 

Vibrations in these kits are measured using proximity sensors located along the shaft. Once System 1 is fully installed, the Bently Nevada 2300/20 vibration monitor will read the proximity sensor signals and upload it to System 1. Since the 2300/20 monitor only has two input channels, the system will be used primarily for undergraduate classes. 
Jesse Maddren

HVAC&R Legacy

Jul 16, 2019

Jesse Maddren

After 20 years, Jesse Maddren, a distinguished mechanical engineering professor, will retire in August. He joined the department in 1999 and was instrumental in developing the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program into what it is today. 

Because of budget cuts and lack of engagement, the program had declined before Maddren’s arrival at Cal Poly. He recognize the importance of HVAC&R and the HVAC&R program and the rich history it had and set out to rebuild it.

I always valued working in the lab. I wanted to create a working lab where students could get practical experience working on equipment that they would use in the field.

— Jesse Maddren

He invited about 15 HVAC&R industry professionals, mostly Cal Poly alumni,  to Cal Poly and sought their help to reinvigorate the program. This group would become the founding members of the HVAC&R Industrial Advisory Board. They agreed that the program was vital to mechanical engineering students and the industry in California, and they were committed to rebuilding and creating opportunities for graduates. Maddren pointed out that this group was a large part of the success of the program.

“The industry people I work with are dedicated to what they do and being able to build the HVAC&R program with them has been very rewarding,” said Maddren.

Maddren helped develop an HVAC&R curriculum concentration in 2005. The purpose was to expand the curriculum and prepare students for careers in the industry. 

To ensure the success of the program in perpetuity, the advisory board helped build an endowment to support the program. In 2007, the group launched a fundraising campaign with matching funds from Bay Area SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association) and raised $700,000 over a two and a half year period. Under the direction of Maddren and with the support of industry and alumni, the endowment has since grown to $2.5 million.

Maddren’s next goal was to renovate the HVAC&R lab. With the help of a $250,000 cash donation from Critchfield Mechanical Inc. and donations of equipment and services from several other companies, the HVAC&R lab was completed in 2011. The goal of the lab was to inject learn-by-doing into the curriculum and expose students to industry grade equipment.

“I always valued working in the lab,” Maddren said. “I wanted to create a working lab where students could get practical experience working on equipment that they would use in the field.”

The HVAC&R program hosts an annual golf tournament and various weekend events to help raise money for the endowment. To date the annual event has raised more than $500,000 for the endowment.

Maddren shared that the main reason for his work in the program is the students.
“The best part about my job is working with students. Being able to help people learn something new is rewarding,“ he said.

To learn more about how you can support the HVAC&R program, visit our website at

Continue reading HVAC&R Legacy...
Human Powered Vehicle Cal Poly

Race to Battle Mountain

Jul 16, 2019

Cal Poly Human Powered Vehicle
Human Powered Vehicle’s rendering of this year’s design

In just a few months, Cal Poly Human Powered Vehicle (HPV) will be compete against top-ranked international teams to beat a national record at Battle Mountain, Nevada, which is famous (in a small way) for hosting the annual Fastest Human-Powered Speed Challenge — the most prestigious event in the world of speed bicycling.

None of the parts are complicated to build in and of themselves, but it’s getting them to work together efficiently that is most difficult.​​​​

— Max Chinowsky

The team’s goal is to eclipse the American collegiate team speed record — held by UC Berkeley — of 61.3 mph and the current Cal Poly record of 58.9 mph.
The team is competing at Battle Mountain for the first time, although Cal Poly students have been racing high-performance bicycles since 1978. This competition is purely about speed, said Max Chinowsky, the team’s vision and social media lead.

“There were so many factors that we had to account for in previous competitions that we couldn’t excel at any one thing,” said Chinowsky.

This year’s recumbent design features two wheels, a slim frame built specifically for the driver, smaller clearances, lightweight frame, minimized frontal area and an increased focus on reducing all sources of chain rub. 

“Any little thing affects performance. We designed it perfectly enough so that the driver is comfortable enough to peddle with full power,” Chinowsky said.

Over the 2018-19 academic year, the team has focused their efforts to research, design and build the bike. The team includes more than 30 students with a core group of 15, a chief engineer and a project manager. To achieve their goal, the team reorganized and formed specialized teams working on lead, fairing and drive train systems. Chinowsky explained that a big part of making sure this project is successful is management. 

“None of the parts are complicated to build in and of themselves, but it’s getting them to work together efficiently that is most difficult,” he said.

During fall quarter, the team finished the design in SolidWorks, a 3-D computer-aided design and engineering software program. They did finite element analysis to ensure the frame was safe and passed all its loading requirements and computational fluid dynamics on the fairing to make sure it had maximum laminar flow. The bike was designed to fit the rider perfectly to maximize performance and reach their speed goal. 

 They used SolidWorks to verify clearances and sizing and created a comprehensive model of their rider. During winter quarter, they began manufacturing molds for the fairing and spent long hours laying up the fairing and welding frame tubes. The team has been assembling the bicycle since the beginning of spring quarter and will continue to modify and perfect the bicycle through the end of summer.

The team will compete Sept. 8-14, 2019 at Battle Mountain. 

For more information about the Human Powered Vehicle and to support the team, visit their website at

Continue reading Race to Battle Mountain...
Jack Wilson

Remembering Professor Jack Wilson

Jul 16, 2019

Jack Wilson

Professor jack wilson is a loved professor of mechanical engineering

Professor Emeritus Jack Wilson passed away on May 1, 2019.  If you were a mechanical engineering student between 1985 and 2001, you likely had him for one of the many courses he taught, mostly in the thermal sciences area.  If you did, you’d remember him as one of the most generous and kindest people you ever met. We agree.  

He was my department head, my colleague, my role model and my friend.

— Saeed Niku

Wilson grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan and served in the U.S. Army before studying agricultural engineering at Michigan State University (MSU).  He worked as a design and experimental engineer at the Oliver Corp. in South Bend, Indiana, before returning to MSU for graduate school.  He taught at the University of Georgia before coming to Cal Poly in 1976. 

Wilson was originally hired as the head of the Agricultural Engineering Department.  In 1985, he joined the Mechanical Engineering Department as head.  

According to Ray Gordon, professor emeritus, “I was just finishing up my term as department head, and we approached Jack to replace me.  Jack said he’d do it for one year as long as he could stay in mechanical engineering as a faculty member.”  And stay he did — for the next 16 years.  

“Jack was a magnificent teacher,” said Gordon.  A natural leader, he also served as chair of the Cal Poly Academic Senate in the early 1990s.

Professor Jim Widmann, mechanical engineering chair, remembers Wilson as being very soft spoken, generous and always willing to listen,  “We shared a common origin from Michigan, which we liked to chat about. He had good common sense Midwestern values and attitudes. I definitely liked talking to him.”

Saeed Niku, a mechanical engineering professor, agreed. “I remember him as a kind, fun, classy gentleman,” he said.  “He was one of the first faculty to bring a big stereo to his office to play classical music. He was my department head, my colleague, my role model and my friend.” 

Melinda Keller, a mechanical engineering lecturer, said, “Dr. Wilson was my ME 236 professor and later my senior project advisor. He helped me succeed with my project, even though it was not his area of expertise.” Keller, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly, added, “He let me know it was OK not to know things, and that good problem solving skills and project management were more important than knowing the solutions ahead of time.”

“He taught me how to cut scope and focus, how to ask questions and lead someone to answers —  even when you don’t know those answers yourself! He was excited to learn alongside me and to provide insight when he could. He had so much experience in so many things that he patiently used to help his students along their paths.”

Professor Jim LoCascio remembers Wilson as a wonderful human being with a smile that would brighten anyone’s day. “He served as our department chair and had the best interest of the students, faculty and department in all the decisions he made,” he said.   

“I will always remember the stories that Jack told about growing up on a farm in Michigan during the Depression,” recalls LoCascio.  “I especially remember him talking about using newspaper in the family home for insulation.  How he and his siblings would share a bed to stay warm in the winter.  I really enjoyed watching his loving smile when he would explain that his wife, Joanne, had a lead foot when she got behind the wheel.  The Wilsons would bring their disabled daughter to Mechanical Engineering Department functions, and you could see the loving care they gave their child.”

We’ll miss you, Jack. 

Continue reading Remembering Professor Jack Wilson...
Sonya Dick

Future Educator

Jul 16, 2019

Sonya Dick

Sonya Dick, recent mechanical engineering graduate, is determined to become a professor

Sonya Dick, recent mechanical engineering graduate, did not always picture herself becoming a professor, but she discovered a passion while working with undergraduate students in the lab.

“I realized that the way I could have the greatest impact on people is by sharing my passion for engineering as a professor,” said Dick. 

I realized that the way I could have the greatest impact on people is by sharing my passion for engineering as a professor.

— Sonya Dick

According to the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), less than 16 percent of engineering faculty are women, and Dick is determined to change this. She explained that representation is important for students and notes that when they identify with their professors they may have a higher chance of pursuing a teaching career.

She was inspired to pursue a career in academia because of her research, lab experience and interactions through student teaching.

“My hope is that we continue to diversify our faculty. There is a lack of women in mechanical engineering and it’s important that people see every type of person going into the field,” Dick said.

She started out her teaching journey by guest lecturing physics classes at her hometown high school. Last year she started as an undergraduate research assistant under the guidance of Professor Brian Self. 

In her research, Dick explores ways to incorporate the mechanical engineering biomechanics laboratory into dynamics courses at Cal Poly in ways that are engaging for both mechanical and non-mechanical engineering students. Currently, she is designing curriculum material for sophomore-level engineering dynamics classes using complex 3-D motion analysis technology to create 2-D problems. 

“In order to create a problem for a sophomore-level dynamics class, it’s important to first step back and think about where they are coming from since you’ve already gone through the courses,” Dick said. 

She wants students to visualize and apply the fundamentals they learn in class using small scale models of real world problems in simple exercises like rolling a ball down an incline plane.

She shared that what makes a good teacher is their investment in the students.

“The people who take the extra step to keep the door open even when they don’t have office hours show that they’re here to educate and help the students,” said Dick.

Dick recently won the ASEE Pacific Southwest Section Undergraduate student Award for her work as an undergraduate research assistant student and was also given the College of Engineering Academic Excellence award for maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. 

She will begin her doctorate program in mechanical engineering this fall at the University of Michigan. 

Continue reading Future Educator...


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