For Mark Miller, life as a mechanical engineering student has been rigorous, demanding, time-consuming and personally stretching—primarily outside of the classroom.
“I was on the Design/Build/Fly team, the Solar Car Team and I was in the Dean’s Engineering Leadership Class. I pretty much said good-bye to my social life,” Mark says with a grin.
While non-engineering friends may not have seen much of him during his senior year, Mark argues that his extra-curricular responsibilities while at UK will factor into his job prospects and research ambitions just as much as the mechanical engineering curriculum. “I’d say you don’t have as full of an experience as an engineering student if you don’t have extra-curricular involvement. All kinds of opportunities are available, but only if you get involved,” says Mark.
One such opportunity has been the travel. This year, Mark participated on the Design/Build/Fly team, which produced a lightweight, unmanned aircraft and entered it in the national competition in Tucson, AZ. The previous month, Mark had traveled to Washington D.C. as part of the Engineering Leadership Class, which consists of a small group of students hand-picked by the Dean of the College of Engineering based on their initiative and potential for leadership in engineering. During finals week, he led the Solar Car Team to Indianapolis for the Formula Sun Grand Prix race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Extra-curricular involvement will really stretch you because in addition to studying so you can get good grades and have a good GPA, you’re also spending many hours outside the classroom working on projects. That’s what I found most challenging.”
Mark’s identifies his role as Team Lead for UK’s Solar Car Team as the most intensive and time-consuming aspect of his development. However, it has also taught him more than just engineering. “Through the Solar Car Team, I learned a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned in a classroom, like managing people,” states Mark. “I’ve learned that being a manager is about pushing people, yet providing an environment where they can create. It’s also about tying up a lot of loose ends.”
Serving as the Team Lead also required Mark to learn other non-engineering skills, such as securing sponsorships. “They don’t teach you how to get sponsorships in any class,” says Mark. “You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. You make a lot of phone calls that end with ‘no’ or ‘we’ll get back with you.’ Before becoming the Team Lead, I wasn’t really the kind of person to just walk up to people and start conversations, but this pushed me to it.”
In fact, Mark’s experience in Design/Build/Fly and the Solar Car Team has given him an edge when interviewing with companies. “Some people can say, ‘I studied really hard and got a 4.0.’ Well, that’s great, but I feel like if anybody applied themselves and took enough time, they could do that. I can say I went out and got sponsorships, designed parts, went to races and competed. In every interview I’ve had, I’ve ended up talking about the things I did outside of class.”
For now, landing a job will take a back seat to beginning a master’s program in mechanical engineering here at UK. He will begin conducting research in the fluids research lab with Dr. Sean Bailey this fall. Beyond graduate school?
“I don’t really know what I want to do yet. I love both automotive and aerodynamics, and I’m interested in hybrid electric vehicles and alternative transportation methods.” Whatever he settles on, Mark believes he is prepared. “I honestly feel that a mechanical engineering degree from UK is the best you can get in the state of Kentucky.”