George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

The Power of Many: Empowering mechanical engineering students to succeed

March 4, 2020   /   by Ryley McGinnis

They say it takes a village to raise a person, but in Mason’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, they’ve made their own village that builds successful college graduates.

Moises Angulo, a senior mechanical engineering major, received an internship this summer doing plasma diagnostic development at the Naval Research Lab in Washington D.C. through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program.

“I’m essentially working on electric propulsion for space exploration, which is where you use plasma to steer and increase the thrust of a rocket,” says Angulo. “Most current rockets are chemically propelled. This research supports an electronic method.”

But the journey of how he got this far, found his passion for research, and succeeded in earning this internship is telling of the mechanical engineering department as a whole and their ability to work in tandem to help students succeed.

Angulo points to Assistant Professor Jeff Moran and Associate Professors Leigh McCue and Colin Reagle as three mentors who helped guide him to this point in his college career but in different ways.  

“I fell in love with plasma research while working in professor Moran’s lab on microparticles research,” says Angulo. He cites that experience as what led him to pursue this internship and apply to PhD programs that focused on the same research area.

“Moises was a key part of that process,” says Moran. “He worked on a couple of different projects for me, and I had him in a couple of my classes--heat transfer and thermodynamics.”

It was in those classes that Angulo connected with Moran. “I asked him if there were any ways I could get involved with his research, and he gave me a chance,” says Angulo. “He later helped me realize that the area I was passionate about is good for academia and higher education, so I decided to pursue my PhD.”

Giving students opportunities in research and guidance to find internship opportunities is a part of the overall goal of the department. These experiences help students figure out what they want to do and help them succeed. “Mechanical engineering is a broad field. If it moves or uses energy, a mechanical engineer is involved,” says Moran.

Reagle, Angulo’s advisor and the associate chair for the department, echoes the sentiment. “It’s hard to know everything that’s out there,” says Reagle. “I always recommend students gain experience, and I try and show them examples of these different areas and give them some guidance.”

Reagle, McCue, and Moran stress that their department not only provides academic advising but career advising and courses that prepare students for their professional careers.

“Our Developing a Societal Engineer [O1] class is a really novel course in our program. It covers a bunch of different topics and gives them a network and information they need to succeed,” says McCue.

The department accomplishes all of this by keeping a line of communication open between instructors to share experiences and how they tackle problems. “We are a very collegial environment. For the most part, our doors are open, and we mentor together,” says McCue. [O2] “What our program has is something really special--everyone is student-centric. We want to see students succeed and that is what we base our mission around.”

Angulo agrees. “They want us to succeed, and they’ve made it [the degree program] interesting. It feels rewarding when you do well in the classes, like you accomplished something,” he says.