Mechanical engineers are often referred to as the general practitioners of the engineering profession. They work in nearly every area of technology, from aerospace and automotive to computers and biotechnology. Mechanical engineering is a core discipline that encompasses the general areas of design and manufacturing, fluid and solid mechanics, and thermal and materials science.
As a mechanical engineer, you might develop a bike lock or an aircraft carrier, a child’s toy or a hybrid car engine, a wheelchair or a sailboat—in other words, just about anything you can think of that involves a mechanical process, whether it’s a cutting-edge product or a life-saving medical device. You could develop new energy technology, improve the functionality of artificial limbs, or design the next race car. Mechanical engineers work in a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, chemical, computer, electronic, industrial machinery, manufacturing, mining, oceanographic, petroleum, pharmaceutical, power, printing, publishing, and textile.
Curious about the classes you'll take as a mechanical engineering major? Have a look at the sample undergraduate curriculum.
The mechanical engineering undergraduate curriculum at CU-Boulder incorporates a broad range of courses to provide a balanced education in the fundamentals of the profession. Students can choose from two technical elective plans — one provides a broad, general education in mechanical engineering, while the other allows students to specialize in the technical area of biomedical or environmental engineering. Both paths prepare students for successful careers in industry or government or to continue on to graduate education.
Mechanical engineering senior design projects are sponsored by local and national industry, providing hands-on, relevant design experiences. Students also can participate in undergraduate research internships and industry co-ops, and gain professional exposure through the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on campus.
Graduate and undergraduate research may involve participation in one of the department’s major research centers, which include the Center for Combustion and Environmental Research; DARPA Focus Center on Nanoscale Science and Technology; NSF Membrane and Applied Science Center; Nanomaterials Characterization Facility; and the Collaborative for Air Quality Research.
Independent study and research assistantships also are available through individual faculty, whose work is grouped into three areas—biomechanical engineering, energy and environmental engineering, and micro/nanoscale engineering. Specific research topics range from studying the loss of bone mass experienced by astronauts during long periods of space flight, to inverse-modeling to track the source of greenhouse gases, to discovering the mechanical properties of exciting new nanomaterials such as graphene.
Mechanical engineers can work in anything from research, development, design, and testing to manufacturing, operations, marketing, sales, and administration. CU-Boulder graduates are employed at a wide range of companies, including Anheuser Busch, Covidien, Gates, Goodyear Tire, Hewlett Packard, Honda, Ball Aerospace & Technologies, ABSL Space Products, Lockheed Martin, Schlumberger, and United Airlines. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Institute for Standards and Technology also hire CU mechanical engineering graduates.
About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Mechanical engineers are expected to have a slower than average growth rate with employment projected to increase 6 percent through 2018. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The average salary nationally for bachelor’s degree mechanical engineering graduates in 2010 was $50,550. CU-Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering reported an average starting offer of $53,129.