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Open House Showcases MechSE for Prospective and Current Students

right to left: a high school student and her father
Right to left: A high school student and her father interact with students at the Rheology Zoo exhibit during MechSE's Open House.

October 23, 2014

On Friday, October 17, 2014, Illinois’ Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) held its 3rd MechSE High School Visit Day/Open House so prospective high school students, plus new MechSE students (both freshmen and transfers), and their family members, could discover what Mechanical Engineering at Illinois is all about.

Sort of a mini-EOH (Engineering Open House), the event, held at the Mechanical Engineering Lab (MEL) gave visitors the chance to visit exhibits and lab demonstrations that showcase some of the exciting things that go on in the department, as well as meet some MechSE students, staff, and even some faculty.

The event was divided into two time periods to best accommodate the two target groups. The High School Visit Day portion, which at least 20 prospective students and their family members attended, was from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm; from 3:00 to 5:00 pm was the MechSE Open House for new freshmen, transfer students, and any of their parents who might be able to attend. In addition, the MechSE Undergraduate Programs Office also gave presentations during the High School Visit Day at 12:00 pm and again at 1:00.

Why the extra open house? Since many of the labs/exhibits that participated in the event will be on hand again in the spring for EOH, why not just wait and have them deliver their spiel then?


A student in the Heat Transfer Lab demonstrates how the thermal image on the monitor shows the temperature difference between the cold cup of water she's holding (blue on the screen) and herself.

According to Melissa Biehl, the Undergraduate Programs Coordinator and an Academic Advisor for the department, MechSE receives numerous requests for student visits and tours from prospective students. She goes on to explain that since students start applying to colleges early in the fall, by the time EOH rolls around in the spring, many have already made their decisions. So three years ago, MechSE began its fall Open House, hoping to wow high-schoolers early to help them with their decision.

“This is a way to really showcase our department to interested students,” says Biehl.


Right to left: MechSE's Joe Muskin does some hands-on activities with a high school student and his grandfather. The student indicated that he was leaning toward Computer Science but came to the event to see if MechSE could change his mind.

The event not only targets prospective students, but, according to Biehl, is “a great way to welcome our new freshman and transfer students and their families and to get them excited as to what lies ahead for them in MechSE!”

MechSE also hosted their annual scholarship/ fellowship banquet the evening of the 17th, making it convenient for students and their families who were on campus to attend both events.

The Open House featured 23 different exhibits, which introduced visitors/current students to a number of student societies, labs, and professors' research. Greeting the visitors were at least 75 MechSE students, staff, and professors, according to Biehl’s estimate.

“The students and staff really enjoy working together on showcasing our department,” says Biehl.


Several members of the Illini Formula Electric team.

For example, just outside MEL's west doors on Engineering Quad were several members of the Illini Motorsports student organization, who obliged visitors by posing for photo opps near the Formula SAE, Formula Electric, and Baja cars which were parked there. Members of these teams, as well as the Illini Eco Concept and Shell Eco Marathon teams, were on hand at the Open House to share with visitors about their passion—designing, building, and racing cars—as well as the benefits and skills students could gain by joining their organization.


Keith Harris, MechSE junior and Chassis Team leader for the Formula SAE racing team.

So what motivates students—such as MechSE junior Keith Harris—to take time out from their busy schedules to participate in the open house? Harris indicates that the program has been so meaningful to him that he signed up so he could do some recruiting.

"The Formula SAE program is something I'm very passionate about. As a team leader, I have a lot of involvement with the team in every aspect, and I think that it's a great way to become involved on campus. It's one of the only programs that combines both a strong social group and intense engineering practice, and it's one of my favorite things about being here at U of I. I wanted to attend the open house in order to promote the program and get new people interested in joining."

Harris, who hopes to work in the automotive or motorsports industry once he graduates, says to get the most out of Formula SAE, students need to join early in their career at Illinois; thus, he's targeting high schoolers.

"It is important to us to start working with students from the beginning of their time at the university in order to ensure that they get the most out of it and can contribute back to the team as well."

Harris also says the Formula SAE had a major impact on his attending Illinois: "When I was in high school and visiting the university, I was drawn in by the Formula team, and it ended up being one of the deciding factors on my final choice of school. I wanted to give this same opportunity to the high schoolers who stopped by to speak with us."


Left to right: A high school visitor to the Open House chats with a member of the Formula SAE team.

And based on interactions with visitors, Harris believes he and his teammates had a similar impact on some prospective students.

"Both the parents and students that visited our booth were impressed with the team. Most had no idea that this program existed and were surprised to see just how much involvement the students had with regards to the design and manufacture of a racecar. Many families stayed and spoke with us about opportunities for the students, and they were adamant about joining should they choose to attend the university. We even had one family come back to our workshop with us for a private tour."

Johanna Bober
MechSE senior Joanna Bober shows some examples of the types of robots Engineering 100 students build with Lego robotics kits.

MechSE student Joanna Bober helped staff the Engineering 100 Projects booth and the welcome booth. She explains why she wanted to help out:

"It's very common for students in our department to want to share what we do—it's some really amazing stuff that we like to share with others, whether they are engineers or not."

At the Student Aircraft Builders’ (SAB) exhibit, Open House visitors got to handle an actual aircraft wing. SAB is an interdisciplinary team of Illinois students who construct kit aircrafts. In addition to advocating green aviation, SAB offers hands-on engineering opportunities and undergraduate research, as well as opportunities for educational outreach.


A MechSE student at the Student Aircraft Builders’ (SAB) exhibit shows visitors an actual aircraft wing that SAB members built.

And in the Ford Lab, visitors could experience rapid prototyping, learn about the various machines, and see some of the products that can be made with them.  

In the Heat Transfer Lab, visitors could learn about thermal imaging, and even see a thermal image of the student who was staffing the exhibit—even of themselves—on some of the equipment.

Quite a few members of Randy Ewoldt’s Rheology Lab were present, eagerly sharing with visitors about some of the interesting properties of non-Newtonian fluids as they demonstrated the various materials in Ewoldt’s Rheology Zoo.

Also present was MechSE Education Coordinator Joe Muskin, who manned an exhibit which gave visitors the opportunity to do some hands-on rapid prototyping.  

Says Biehl, “We hope that this event will give prospective and current students insight on the top notch labs we offer and can see the amazing opportunities that come with being a MechSE student! I think this does have a positive impact on prospective and current students.”

Story and photos by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: K-12 Outreach, MechSE, Open House/Expo, 2014


Students at Randy Ewoldt's Rheology Zoo exhibit demonstrate how a non-Newtonian fluid differs from a Newtonian fluid, such as water.