Mechanical Engineering Grad Is Senior of the Year
May 6, 2019 / by Priyanka Champaneri
Alexander Walters was in his junior year at Virginia Commonwealth University, pursuing a BS in physics, when he realized he wasn’t quite on the path he was most passionate about.
“I’ve always been fascinated by technology, and physics is more theoretical,” he says. “I mean, I love the math and science aspect of physics, but I like to be actually able to design things and actually be able to make a—I guess an impact on the real world.”
That passion for design and desire to instigate change led him to mechanical engineering, which in turn led him to George Mason University. With a Mason alumnus father (Robert Walters, BS Computer Science ’88) urging him to take a look at the school, Walters finished up his first bachelor’s at VCU and then landed at Mason, determined to earn another one.
Making the decision was one thing—following through to reach his goal was another. “For me to be able to complete my degree in two [and-a-half] years, I was essentially doing 18 credits a semester,” he says. “That was pretty tough, so the majority of my week would be spent just studying, and I had a job teaching robotics as well, about two or three days a week, so outside of that I had really—there’s no time to do anything else.”
The grueling schedule did not go unnoticed among the faculty in the Volgenau School of Engineering. Colin Reagle, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Walters’s academic advisor, says, “Alex has been a model student since starting at Mason in spring of 2017. His focus and drive are evident in his attainment of a mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree in just two-and-a-half years.”
That focus and drive are part of the reason Walters was named Mason’s 2019 Senior of the Year. But the other part comes back to Walters’s desire to work on projects that make an impact, and while at Mason, he was able to do this far sooner than perhaps even he might have guessed.
As part of his senior capstone project, he was part of the team that created Thunder Rat, a robot designed to assist Mason Facilities with finding and assessing blockages in the drainage systems on campus.
The tool has the potential to save both time and money, given that similar tools can cost many times more. There’s also the advantage of getting personalized support from one of the creators: Walters graduated in December 2018 and now works with Lockheed Martin as a design engineer, but he still meets with Mason Facilities a few times each month to provide support for the robot as needed.
According to Walters, the project had lasting effects on his career. “With my senior design [project]—I think that was actually my biggest selling point for me to actually get a job at Lockheed, because obviously they work with a lot of technology and that experience kind of transitions a lot to what they work on.”
As for what’s coming up next for him, Walters hopes to eventually pursue graduate studies—although not just yet. “I’m probably just going to hang out for a little while, since I just finished two degrees.”