Academics Blog

Mechanical Engineering

Name: Ellen Berlinghof

Year: Class of 2010

Hometown: Dresher, Pennsylvania

Major: Mechanical Engineering


I chose mechanical engineering for a few reasons.  The first and least interesting is that I took one semester of chemistry and decided it was not for me.  That narrowed the engineering fields to civil and mechanical.  In my second semester I took a class in each and ended up really enjoying Computing in Mechanical Engineering.  The course taught MatLab, a programming language used in technical computing.  I have an aversion to computers, and had never before taken a programming class; so I figured this was a good sign.

I also chose mechanical engineering because it is a very broad major.  Graduating with a MechE degree opens a variety of career paths. Relevant post-grad job topics include cars, airplanes, heating and cooling systems, manufacturing plants, industrial equipment and machinery, robots, medical devices and much more.  I like the idea that I was leaving my options open by being a MechE.  Last, it seems to me that with the technology advancements and global problems of today, mechanical engineers will be at the forefront of these solutions.  I am not positive what I want to do when I graduate, but I am interested in alternative energy, especially wind technology.  I like to think I am going to solve the world’s energy problems.

Mechanical engineering was one of the three engineering concentrations first offered at Hopkins in the early 1900s.  Today, the department is comprised of seventeen full-time faculty members, fifteen staff members, and about one hundred and fifty undergraduates.  There are 35 students in my grade and thus this is the size of my core classes.  I am not sure if this number is considered large or small, but I can say that help from professors and TAs is always available to you if you ask.

The courses you take as a mechanical engineer start out as the typical science/engineering classes: physics, chemistry (only 1 semester), and calculus.  A lot of the second year classes are taken with civil and environmental engineers because they are overlapping topics, including statics, dynamics and strength of materials and thermodynamics.  As you get older the classes become more specialized and are only with people in your major.  There is the opportunity to have an Aerospace or Biomechanics concentration which requires students to take 5 specified electives.  For more information about requirements see the Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Advising Manual.

DSC00290 I chose not to have a concentration, because neither of them are in my field of interest.  Instead I take other engineering electives, such as Energy Engineering, Fluids II, and Computer Aided Design (CAD).  I also am working towards a minor in Mathematics, which is in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.  As you might have guessed, Hopkins offers a lot of flexibility in its majors and many opportunities outside the classroom.

One of the things that I love about Hopkins is the research.  According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), for 29 years in a row we have been the leading U.S. academic institution in research and development spending.  Hopkins spent $1.55 billion on research in science, medicine, and engineering in 2007, almost twice the amount of any other school.  Since so much research is being done, it is easy to get involved as an undergraduate.  This past summer I worked for Dr. Joseph Katz, a professor in the MechE department.  Prof. Katz is the head of the Laboratory for Experimental Fluid Dynamics which is working on over 8 research projects right now.

DSC00265 My project is examining turbulence in the coastal ocean.  The beginning of the summer was spent doing everything possible to prepare for a three week long trip we took at the end of the summer.  We spent this time aboard a research boat off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ (the picture is of my team and I lowering the system — pictured in the photo a couple paragraphs up — into the water to collect data).  Each night, if the weather permitted, we lowered our data collection system to the bottom of the ocean.  There, our sensors and computers accumulated measurements of pressure and temperature while taking images of the underwater particles in order to characterize their velocity fields.  Check out this website for more information (I apologize this is not an updated website).

DSC00298 The experience I had this summer was invaluable.  My dad kept telling me how lucky I was to have the opportunity to do hands on research, and that nothing like this was ever available to him.  The truth is, although I was very lucky, this type of experience is very common for Hopkins students.  Numerous undergraduates participate in research over the summer or during the school year, and many get published in scientific journals.  (That’s a picture of the team I worked with!)

There are lots of other things to get involved with as a MechE.  Some of these are the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Student Council (MUSC), the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).  There is also Engineers without Borders (EWB) and Baja SAE.  Hopkins’ EWB projects include: providing a water pump system for irrigation in South Africa, building a daycare center for a city in Ecuador which was destroyed by an earthquake, and designing a water piping system in Guatemala.  Baja SAE is a competition to build a single seat off road vehicle that is designed, built, and raced entirely by students.  The car’s engine is limited to a 10 hp Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine.  The 2009 Hopkins Baja team will compete in two competitions, one in mid April in Auburn, Alabama and the other in mid June in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Here’s the 2008 Baja car getting ready to race in a competition:

Mech e blog baja

Because mechanical and civil engineers share many of their classes together, both a friendship and a rivalry exist.  Therefore, we have annual flag football game, which encourages competition, fun, and trash talking.  One of my personal favorites is “MechEs build weapons, CivEs build targets”.  Although we have lost both of the games (they definitely cheated) it is always a good time.

I hope I have given you a helpful overview of mechanical engineering at Hopkins.  The department website is actually very informative and organized also so visit it if you have any additional questions.


Click here to access more information about the Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Mechanical Engineering question thread.