As a young girl growing up, I was always fascinated by the things around me. When I looked at human beings, birds, airplanes, ships and cars, one question constantly plagued my mind, “How do they function the way they do?” I remember asking my mom what makes cars move. Her response was that fuel made cars move. This was not convincing at all because I didn’t understand the process. From this moment, I decided I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, a decision further promoted by my neighbor who told me they make cars and all the machines I found fascinating.
My first day in a Mechanical engineering class was full of mixed emotions. I didn’t know what it would take for me to understand the machines. At the same time, I wondered if I would be allowed to construct one, and if allowed, whether I would be successful. I enjoyed the lectures which involved a lot of problem solving, which I could identify with. The course entailed a lot of units from thermodynamics, to fluid mechanics to mechanics of machines to engineering design to engineering economics, just but to mention a few. I realized that with mechanical engineering, my dream of inventing new machines and systems would finally come true.
I finally came to understand that cars move due to the combustion of fuel mixed with oxygen that occurs at the engine. This is like lighting a match stick. Ships stay afloat on water because of their streamlined body and they are able to maintain a state of buoyancy according to Archimedes principle, which simply means that they displace the same amount of water as their body weight, the same principle that enables one to swim, the fish and even partly the airplanes. I came to understand the science of most, if not all, machines around me, from household items to office and industry machines. Mechanical engineering has applications in almost everything around me, from medicine, construction, automobile, software, and IT. This implies that my skill is handy right from my house.
My journey as a mechanical engineer has been quite an adventure. I kept moving from known to unknowns, but my motivation was always that at the end of the day, I would understand all the machines in the universe and even invent better ones, still working on my inventions. It was filled with burning the midnight oil, endless cups of coffee with the library being the best building in campus. This said, I enjoyed the journey, and 10 years later, I would still choose mechanical engineering, given the same choice again.
I liken the Mechanical Engineering to Bolts and nuts because these are commonly known as fasteners. A fastener is simply a device that joins or fixes two things together. Why am I talking about fasteners? I see mechanical engineering as the mother of all other engineering disciplines. The basis. The cornerstone without which no other discipline stands on its own. A fastener, so to speak of the other disciplines. Not to say that mechanical engineering can do without physics and mathematics, these are core to mechanical. The range of skills acquired include electronics, structures, ergonomics, software development, environmental and economic issues. This means that the end product is a versatile problem-solving individual. The challenge of a new machine to build, a new building construction, a new speed car to build requires me. The multi-skilled engineer.
Just like the different bolts, nuts and screw available, mechanical engineering can lead to various specializations. Currently, I specialize in energy systems. One can specialize in air conditioning, process control, systems design, solid waste management, water treatment, and so on. The versatility of a mechanical engineer is endless. Mechanical engineering, therefore, gives you the freedom to define a career that fully expresses your personality just as Mahatma Gandhi puts it, “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality”. What about the sectors where you can be placed? Just to mention but a few, transport, health, energy sector, manufacturing, design, research and development and many more. This ensures that one can work anywhere and job availability is guaranteed. A mechanical engineer’s limits are only defined in her mind.
Design of machines: My passion is to create things. I get to do this on a different level. There are various research that are ongoing in various disciplines. Research in medical fields, energy sector, environment, materials, lean manufacturing processes, transport, banking and financial sector. All these involve mechanical equipment, thus mechanical engineers are involved in both the design and integration of the software and hardware of the equipment. Therefore, as a mechanical engineer, you will always be at the fore front of technology advancement.
Every field is touched by the work of a mechanical engineer. From piped water to nuclear power plants, from cooking pans to aero planes, the role of the mechanical engineer is undisputed. Even a look at the creation of human beings and a study of how the complex system works makes one appreciate mechanical engineering as a discipline. A look at the intricate creation of human beings by God, will show you that a lot of mechanical engineering was put into practice. From the motion of legs, arms to overall body coordination, the heart pumping blood that goes through all the veins in the body and never rupturing any. A lot of mechanics of machines, engineering mechanisms, and fluid dynamics was put in use. Now consider your body maintaining its body temperature at 37 degrees Celsius, considering the fact that human beings are homoeothermic. This involves thermodynamics, thermocouples to determine body temperature, then communicate to heat source and sink for temperature regulation. It is the understanding of the human system that robotics as a branch of mechanical engineering is based. Through robotics, systems and machines that solve societal problems and enhance quality of life are being developed.
Becoming a mechanical engineer requires one to have a purpose, a burning desire to and be determined and dedicated to your purpose. Thomas Carlyle once said that “a person without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder”. Keep your purpose alive. The price of success is hard work and determination. In my third year of study, things became tough and I almost threw in the towel. But my dad was quick to remind me that a dream doesn’t become a reality through magic, it takes hard work, sweat and perseverance.
Always keep your dream alive and believe in yourself, I have come to realize that only I can limit myself. Success is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Set goals and work towards achieving them, never procrastinate, because you are only sure of today’s time.
Last but not least, set time to play, remember all work but no play makes Jack a dull boy and surely, it can make Joyce a dull girl too. Always remember to do your best and as a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer. Ask God to bless the labor of your hands and mind. I wish you all the best in your journey as a mechanical engineer.
Meet the Author
Faridah Odhiambo is a mechanical engineer working at Plenser Ltd as a projects engineer. She received her first degree Bachelor of Technology, Production Engineering from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya in 2012. Currently she is pursuing her Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (Energy and Process Systems Engineering) from the University of Botswana in Botswana. She is currently carrying out a research on how to harness medium speed winds for power generation to provide rural farmers with power for vegetable preservation. Her interests are to enhance poverty eradication through establishment of conducive environment that can enhance sustainable development especially in Sub Saharan Africa.