Gannon University: Putting careers in motion with biomedical and mechanical engineering

Disneyworld: the place that measures success in smiles and fireworks. Everyone knows the magic of Disney, but what people don’t always think of is the imagineers – the individuals who keep the company running like a well-oiled machine.

Alexa Littman, a fourth-year biomedical and mechanical engineering major, has always dreamed of being an imagineer and constructing the rollercoasters at the theme park. Now finishing her college career, she’s closer than ever to her goal.

What is biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering?
Biomedical engineering: using problem-solving techniques to design and deliver medical devices

Mechanical engineering: combining physics and mathematics to design, analyze, test, develop, research and manufacture products :

Throughout her time at Gannon, Littman placed second alongside her classmates in a national engineering competition, participated in national engineering conferences, and interned at Tesla. She attributes her success largely to her experience at Gannon and the close atmosphere between students and professors.

When students see professors so often, “it’s easier to understand, easier to create a relationship and therefore, learn better,” Littman said. “In other schools, you might not ever even meet the dean, and I’ve gone out to coffee with her. You can create personal relationships with those people who definitely will help with your networking in the end.”

Fast facts about Gannon’s engineering department
– Faculty are at the top of their field in research, consulting and teaching

– Student labs are open 16 hours a day, seven days a week

– The department is just blocks away from Erie’s Central Business and Innovation District

Close to graduating, Littman now finds herself torn between the biomedical and mechanical engineering fields. Littman draws inspiration from a close friend, who has a prosthetic leg and expresses the struggles she experiences daily.

This motivated Littman to enter the biomedical field, but she still holds fast to her dream of being a mechanical engineer. On the other hand, her experience at Tesla opened her eyes to a possible combination of the two.

What’s the difference between biomedical and mechanical engineering?
Biomedical engineering focuses on scientific applications in the medical field while mechanical engineering focuses on product manufacturing.

As a process engineer at Tesla, Littman worked on streamlining the production line.

“You wouldn’t think there would be a lot of biomedical applications to it — it was more of a mechanical-based atmosphere,” Littman said. “But really there was a lot of biomedical application as far as the process side of things, because you want to make the line ergonomically safe.”

Technology available to students
– Strength of materials, fluid mechanics, manufacturing, heat transfer and automatic control laboratories

– A Lap-Mentor Surgery simulator to practice performing virtual surgeries

– The only undergraduate virtual reality robotic system used to study how the brain controls movement

– State-of-the-art 3D printing labs on campus

An essential part of any engineering discipline is recognizing and responding to ethical and public issues, including safety, social and environmental concerns. Eric Scarpino, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major, said Gannon prepares its students well for this aspect of the field.

As a freshman, Scarpino was tasked to conceptualize a food-dehydrator to be used in third-world countries. His professor gave him a specific budget and guidelines to follow, then it was up to the students to come up with a product and write a manual for it.

Scarpino said “it’s come full circle,” as he’s now creating his own product as part of his senior project. He’s creating a bow and arrow stabilizer, something that speaks to his interests.

Other classmates are creating products for local business, like a water system for Because You Care, an animal shelter in the area.

Scarpino said Gannon gives its students the chance to have a lot of different opportunities – including employment opportunities.

“I think Erie has a lot of opportunities,” Scarpino said. “There are five or six companies that look specifically to Gannon or Behrend for engineering majors.”

Careers for biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering
Become a mechanical engineer, quality engineer or product development mechanic at places like Lord Corporation, Wabtec (formerly General Electric), Zurn Industries and more.

Become a biomedical engineer working at companies like Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, or continue your education in medical school, law school or graduate school.

As for his future, Scarpino is continuing his time at Gannon, receiving his master’s degree in business administration while he remains on the football team.

Scarpino said his biggest obstacle in college was managing his time between school and athletics and emphasized how important it is to use your resources. He often reached out to professors who were very understanding of his situation and worked with him to make assignments manageable.

Alexa Littman said the best resource for her was the Student Success Center.

“I’m a big proponent of the Student Success Center,” Littman said. “They helped me there to get my application in and successfully get that internship, and that helped me with my career.

“They helped me with everything from conferences, to building my resume, to sending in applications. (Assistant Director Stacy Ress) helped me when I’ve gotten rejected and been feeling down. I’ve created long-lasting relationships with these people who will be able to help me in the future.”

For these engineering students, their Gannon experience isn’t over yet, but it’s already paying off as they become young professionals. Disney may say dare to dream, but at Gannon, the students dare to succeed.

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