Master’s program in mechanical engineering continues to grow

The Master of Science in mechanical engineering program at East Carolina University made its debut in the fall of 2019 and saw additional enrollment in 2020.

Ten students enrolled in the fall, despite possible setbacks from COVID-19, said Dr. Brian Sylcott, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering.

Dr. Brian Sylcott, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering, sees a bright future for students enrolled in the master’s of mechanical engineering program at ECU. (ECU photo by Cliff Hollis)

“COVID has not had a significant impact on the program, other than access to campus,” he said.

The opportunities for graduates after obtaining a mechanical engineering degree involve researching, designing, developing, building and testing mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, among other options.

Nihar Shah came to ECU to work as an instructor for the Air Force ROTC program when he saw an opportunity to take graduate courses. He said he was always “fascinated with airplanes” but found out quickly what didn’t work and where his career path should head.

“Being in Air Force ROTC as a cadet during my undergraduate years, I was given an opportunity to fly to see if flying was a career field I was interested in,” Shah said. “Once airborne, I very quickly realized that I did not want to be a pilot. Instead, I focused my efforts on the engineering aspects of flight and aviation.”

Shah has undergraduate degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. With a desire to keep his engineering skills “sharp,” he enrolled in ECU’s mechanical engineering graduate program.

Shah said his plan is to be a technical advisor for military acquisition programs.

Mechanical engineering could well be the most general and diverse field within engineering, offering graduates numerous high-demand employment opportunities in industry, government and small business, Sylcott said.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment growth for mechanical engineering will increase by 5% over the next 10 years, illustrating an increasing demand for people in this field,” he said.

Research and teacher assistant part-time opportunities are available for graduate and undergraduate students at ECU in a number of departments, most notably within the medical and science fields in addition to the engineering department.

In planning the program, the department surveyed 103 students and alumni, with 97% supporting the idea of a master’s in mechanical engineering, Sylcott said. Eighty percent said they would apply within the next two years if it was offered. In the area of advanced energy systems, 74% expressed interest, and 24% were interested in biomaterials.

Students surveyed also indicated a willingness to work while enrolled in the program, with 46% planning full-time work and 42% preferring to work part time.

Sylcott said the students in the program are making progress and are looking toward obtaining degrees possibly by the end of this year.

“We are looking forward to our first graduates,” Sylcott said.

— By Margaret Fisher