Written By: Anna Lucas
Mechanical Engineering is an amazing, and rewarding college major and subsequent career. Mechanical engineers focus on brainstorming, developing, and then building solutions to a range of problems for independent companies. A Mechanical Engineer’s work improves efficiency across a wide range of industries, allowing companies visions to become a reality. Mechanical Engineers can also look forward to good job prospects as Mechanical Engineers are always in demand, high salaries due to said high demand, and varied work as mechanical engineers are needed in every aspect of a business. This thus makes Mechanical Engineering a very attractive career option to those with STEM orientated interests.
However, Mechanical Engineering is also a very difficult profession to succeed in, as most companies require even entry-level applicants to have some kind of engineering experience, on top of a very extensive education in the field. The problem with this, though, is that getting into a good college for Mechanical Engineering, allowing you to get a decent education and make good connections in the field, requires it’s own list of experience and extracurriculars, which can be very difficult to obtain as a high schooler, especially if you live in a low-income area.
So, in order to help high school students of all backgrounds and income levels have a fair chance at receiving high quality engineering experience, here are a few great opportunities for getting engineering experience in high school:
1. Science Fairs
Science fairs are a great way for those who have a high work drive, and prefer to work on their own or in small groups, to get engineering expierence. Every state has their own version of a science fair, and they can be found easily by simply google searching your state and the words “science fair”. The way these fairs typically work is a student, or a small group of students, independently (or sometimes with the help of a teacher/mentor) create a project in which they have invented something new, improved something that already exists, or solved a widespread problem. These projects are then displayed and briefly explained on a poster board while including plenty of graphs and pictures. Then, once science fair day comes, the student/group is interviewed more extensively by local experts in the field.
Science fairs are a great way to show colleges that you have a passion for your specific field on engineering, as well as showing them that you have the ability and confidence to work on your own, and don’t have to rely on a teacher or other mentor type’s help to make achievements in your field. Science fairs also give out awards on behalf of companies. Sometimes these companies are local, such as your local/state college sponsering awards, and other times it’s bigger companies such as the US Military. These awards look great on any college application.
2. Job Shadowing
Job shadowing is also a great way to get engineering experience in High school. Whether it’s shadowing a professor at your state college, or following around an engineer in the field that you are interested in, they give you a great insiders look into what the day to day life of someone in your dream job is like. You can usually advocate for yourself while shadowing these people, such as asking them to explain to you what they are working on, or even asking to take a chance and try whatever they are doing yourself, and this is where the experience aspect comes in.
The best way to get an opportunity to shadow someone is to first, find those who you are interested in shadowing. Keep in mind when doing this that college professors get hundreds of job shadow requests from eager students like you every year, and so 9 times out of 10 they will most likely deny you the opportunity. It is usually a better bet to reach out to a local engineer in your field, there are engineering firms and workshops all over in every state, and ask them to shadow. It’s best to reach out to four or five, as it gives you a higher chance that one of them will say yes. If possible, it’s also a good idea to shadow multiple times for different engineers, as different engineers day to day lives can be vastly different depending on the size of the company they work for, their superiority in the company, and the connections that they have.
3. Taking Courses
If you are a baby engineer just getting started in their field, and feel that you don’t have enough experience or knowledge to participate in a science fair or don’t have the option to job shadow, then taking online courses to improve your knowledge is definitely the way to go. By using online learning sites to learn basic aspects of your field of engineering, you can get ahead of your peers once you reach college, and even test out of some classes to graduate early. The best online learning sites for STEM education are:
Coursera is a low cost online learning tool for students in high school, college, or evn post-schooling just trying to learn new skills or improve what they already know. Some of the best courses on Coursera for Mechanical Engineering are Mathmatics for Engineers (Offered by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Introduction to Engineering Mechanics (Offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology), AutoDesk CAD/CAM/CAE for Mechanical Engineering (Offered by AutoDesk), and more.
Udemy is a low cost online learning tool for students. New students get a discount on their first course. Udemy is good because their prices are lower then Coursera, however you do loose the convenience of Coursera’s more niche courses. The best courses for Mechanical Engineering of Udemy are Engineering Mechanics, Mechanical Systems of Engineering, and Intro to Mechanical Design Engineering Skillset.
EDX is an online learning tool for STEM students. While EDX is more expensive than the other two options, they give the option of completing certifications in specific aspects of engineering. While Coursera also gives this option, EDX is a better option when coming to certifications as they have muchb more in-depth courses. Some of the best certifications of the website include Enviornmental Management for Sustainablity, Science and Engineering Prep: Pre-university Calculus and Physics, Applied AI, Human-Robot Interaction, and more.
4. Doing a Passion Project
A passion project is any independently student-founded and led project to achieve a specific goal or mission. In this case, something related to engineering that you complete on your own, without entering it into any competitions, scientific journals, fairs, etc. Some common examples include starting a non-profit charity, in this case something which raises money for cause related to your field, small business, blog, building an online community around an issue, doing independent research, or even writing a book. All of these ideas could be centered around your field of interest, and then used to interview experts, make connections, and take opportunities on behalf of your passion project that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
5. Getting Published in a Scientific Journal
If you are an engineer who already has some level of knowledge or expertise in your feild, something you can do to help take your experience to the next level is to write a paper, and get it published in a scientific journal. Doing this is easier than it may sound, and can be done in five steps.
First, you are gonna want to pick something for you experiment. This could be very different depending on what field of engineering you are interested in, but for mechanical engineering you could test whether a certain type of metal is more conductive than others in a specific setting, create a new type of galvination technique, etc.
The second step is to conduct your experiment, which should be done using the scientific method, and center it around proving a hypothesis.
Third, you are going to write your paper, this needs to be done using a very specific template which you can find online by searching “Scentific Paper Format”.
Fourth, you are going to want to pick a Scientific Jounral you are interested in being published in, for example the best scientific journals for engineering are the Engineering Science and Technology, an International Journal, The Journal For Engineering Education, IEEE Engineering Jounral, and Energy, Science, and Engineering Journal.
Once you have chosen your journal, your last step is to submit your paper to them. Most journals have instructions somewhere on their website for paper submittions, but if you can’t find anything, just reach out to whatever email you can find on their website and they will help you out from there. Keep in mind however, most papers don’t get published on their first submission, so expect to have to go back and alter your paper several times and resubmit before it finally gets published.