“I couldn’t ask for a more productive and close-knit group of peers.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I graduated from Western Kentucky University with a degree in advanced manufacturing sciences. I have worked for a tier-one Toyota supplier as a quality engineer, a small job-shop manufacturing facility that produces woodworking equipment as a mechanical engineer, and am currently employed by a manufacturer of airbag inflators as a production engineer. I am a proud father of two — a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. My drive is to show my kids that self-improvement is always possible. If you are capable of reaching higher and wish to do so, it is never a bad idea to keep improving yourself.
Why did you decide to pursue your M.Eng. in engineering management?
I am being prepared for an engineering management position where I am working. The processes that I work on are continuously improving, and with new tools that I am developing through this program, I plan to make a greater impact on the capability of our processes and the engineers who work as my team members. This program is allowing me to develop the tools that I will use on a day-to-day basis and giving me the assurance and ability to know how to handle situations that may come up.
Why did you decide to pursue your degree online?
Due to the high demand of a 40-plus-hour workweek, it is difficult to balance work and school, especially since most in-person classes that are offered take place during the day. In person, I wouldn’t be able to participate in my 8-to-5 work schedule — earning the degree online was an easy choice. However, now that COVID-19 is hindering educational facilities across the nation, it seems that online schooling is now preferable. This way, we can still get the information required; however, we are still able to protect our families and ourselves.
Why did you choose Vanderbilt University?
Honestly, I saw an advertisement on Facebook detailing that Vanderbilt was seeking students for an online engineering management program. At that time, I was seeking admission into Western Kentucky University to attain a master’s degree, but given the reputation of Vanderbilt University, I thought I’d try to seek admittance into their program as well. I thought that the resources they could provide for research and alumni support would impact my life in a substantial way. Not to mention, the way that a Vanderbilt University graduate degree looks on a résumé will help me easily stand out if I am to seek higher employment opportunities.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your online education experience?
My relationship with my classmates. We are the first cohort of students, and as such, we’re all in this together. Since the first class, we’ve communicated with each other and helped in each other’s shortcomings. We provide advice and mentoring to one another if the situation calls for it. I couldn’t ask for a more productive and close-knit group of peers.
What has been your favorite course so far?
I would say that Technology Forecasting, though foreboding, was my favorite course so far. It delves into topics that I have never covered before and sparks imaginative utopian futures of technologies that you can put a date on. As an example, we can predict based on trends, expert analysis and patent research what technological improvements will be unleashed in the automotive field in the next three to five years. Working as an engineer for a company in that field, knowing this can increase our capability, and planning procedures to better prepare for what that future will look like and how we will handle the business it will bring our way.
With which professor or faculty member have you most enjoyed working?
I would have to say I enjoyed interacting with Professor Andy Van Schaack the most. He is so knowledgeable and excited about the topic (which happens to be technology forecasting), and he is so thorough with his feedback that it feels that you can’t help but improve as you go forward in the course.
How has the virtual campus helped you collaborate with faculty and classmates?
It makes it easy to progress through the weeks of class and helps you understand what topics and assignments apply to that week of studies. Interactions on discussion forums are intuitive and easy to manage. We, as a class, also decided to develop our own GroupMe and discuss on that outside of the virtual campus to be able to interact more with one another.
How are you applying what you’ve learned in classes to your current work? How will it move you closer to your long-term career goals?
I see our discussions and classroom topics play out in real time. Course work, for the most part, can be heavily based on what your career path is. As an example, in Technology Forecasting, we were given the ability to select any technology to write about. I ended up going to my colleagues at work and asking what technologies we are looking into purchasing on which we could use some extra insight. They stated that we were looking into extended reality devices as engineering and process tools. Therefore, I did my reports on extended realities as it pertains to the manufacturing industry. I presented that information to my colleagues, and we will be moving forward with our purchases before the year’s end.
Tell us about a project you’ve worked on or research you’ve conducted as part of your course work.
As an engineer who works with airbag inflators, it is important to understand the systems that will be implemented in the automotive industry in the near future. In a team of three, we delved into autonomous vehicles and wanted to understand the safety systems that would need to be in place for when vehicles became 100 percent automated with 0 percent user assistance. We developed a seat safety device for the changing structure of the vehicle (because when a steering column is no longer necessary, the seating of the vehicle will adjust with the interior of the vehicle). The project was extremely fast paced and difficult; however, it was rewarding, and my group is very close-knit now. We consider each other good friends and talk daily.
What advice would you give to incoming students or those considering this program?
It isn’t easy. How you do will be a direct reflection of how much time you put into it. That isn’t easy with a full-time job. It is, however, one of the most rewarding experiences that I have taken part in. I am building new friendships daily, the professors want you to succeed, and it can only build your stock when management positions open up in your business or you decide to seek bigger and better business opportunities. This program gives you the tools and the merit to achieve success. It is up to you how you develop and use those tools.