The Pumps & Systems’ Workforce Survey results show that 68 percent of students did not complete an apprenticeship or internship during their college years. One university that kicks this statistic to the curb is Texas A&M University—and in particular the school’s Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and its Turbomachinery Laboratory. Turbo Lab Director Eric Petersen, Ph.D., answers a few questions about the program, and how companies can attract students to come work for them.
P&S: How many students are in the program?
Petersen: At the TEES Turbomachinery Laboratory, there are typically about 90 graduate students in the program, working under the mentorship of eight faculty members. Most of these students are majoring in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University.
P&S: How has your program helped new engineers prepare for work in the field? We often hear from newcomers to the industry that they know the theory when they graduate from college, but have not had a lot of hands-on experience.
Petersen: Our students routinely have much more hands-on experience than the average engineering graduate. This is due to two reasons. For one, many of the research groups within the Turbo Lab are experiment-based, and the projects therein are often very close to the real applications in terms of hardware and test conditions, so the students are actively working on devices and instrumentation in an intimate way. In many cases, the students were also directly involved in designing and building the test apparatuses. Secondly, many of our students spend time working closely with industry via their research project or through internships at engineering companies or laboratories.
P&S: What do you think are the most important things for students to learn now, so they are more prepared for the work world?
Petersen: Before leaving school and entering the workforce, mechanical engineering students, in my opinion, should have learned how to solve problems and to be resourceful. Also, the students should come to realize that communication is extremely important. They don’t need to be experts at it yet (as this is something that an engineer can always improve on), but they should be aware of the importance of oral and written communication. On a related note, an engineering student by the time of graduation should have realized the need for lifelong learning. There is no way that the university can be expected to have taught them everything they need to know before graduating, but we can give them a strong foundation and the ability to adapt and to learn new technologies and concepts.
P&S: Do you have partnerships with businesses or facilities?
Petersen: Working with industry is one of the strengths of the Turbo Lab. We interact with engineering and technology- related businesses in several capacities: 1) through our Turbomachinery & Pump Symposia held annually in Houston and biannually in Asia; 2) through our Pump and Turbomachinery advisory committees (each having about 37 members from industry); 3) through our Turbomachinery Research Consortium with about 30 to 35 member companies; and, 4) through research projects funded between various companies and individual Turbo Lab faculty members.
P&S: What are some other projects from the TEES?
Petersen: TEES is basically the research arm of the College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. The college is comprised of 14 engineering departments/majors, so whatever project or research area you can think of, there is a good chance that someone at Texas A&M is actively working in that area.
P&S: What can companies do to encourage students to enter the pumping fields?
Petersen: Perhaps the best way in general is to make themselves visible to the students. It is important for students to make the link between the theory they see in fluid mechanics courses and the practical applications. Pump-related businesses can increase their visibility with students in several ways, including participation in engineering career fairs; making presentations on campus to engineering society meetings such as ASME and SWE (American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Society of Women Engineers), among others; providing senior design projects; and giving a guest lecture to a fluid mechanics class. One of the best ways to encourage students is by reaching out to the engineering professors who can be, in many ways, the best link between a company and the students in their classrooms or research groups.