When Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack came to Iowa State this March, campus was a flurry of excitement as final preparations were pulled together. Students, faculty, and staff at the university partnered with secret service and governmental administrators to coordinate an event that ran seamlessly.
Among the commotion were Katie Goebel, senior in mechanical engineering; Jared Juel, junior in aerospace engineering; Shannon Krogmeier, freshman in agricultural engineering; Thomas Naert, senior in agricultural engineering; and John Solomon, senior in materials science and engineering. While countless student volunteers helped coordinate the day’s events, these five got a chance to talk with Biden and Vilsack, sharing their experiences of studying engineering at Iowa State.
“Regardless of one’s political affiliation, having Vice President Biden and Secretary Vilsack at Iowa State University was an incredible experience for me and many other students,” Solomon says. “It was a great day for the university, college, and state of Iowa, and I was proud to be a part of it.”
Manufacturing at Iowa State
Before Biden delivered an hour-long talk to a crowd of more than 700, he looked at some of the ways the college was promoting manufacturing through its programs.
Juel and Krogmeier explained to the Vice President how rapid prototype machines are used in coursework and industry. Within engineering classes, students use rapid prototyping to build models of real products ranging from wind turbine blades to football tees. Overall, the technology speeds up the design process and helps get new products to market faster.
Naert talked about his senior design project with Ames-based Ag Leader, a manufacturer of agricultural sprayers, to improve fluid flow through the sprayer system. Naert and his mechanical engineering colleagues are helping ensure that only the minimum amount of chemicals are used on crops.
Goebel demonstrated how students use tooling machinery to create components for conveyors and other belted systems. She also uses her engineering skills with Iowa State’s Lunabotics club, where students create a lunar rover to mine materials from the surface of the moon.
Solomon served as an example of a student who is taking what he learned at Iowa State to a manufacturing company. He will be working at Caterpillar, Inc. after graduation in May 2012. Solomon is also active in student government and other activities that create well-rounded students ready to make a difference in the world.
Part of the bigger picture
As the Vice President commended the projects going on at Iowa State, he emphasized that lessons like these will help reshape the American economy. The students appreciated his encouraging words that promoted both manufacturing and education within the country.
“I agree with Biden that manufacturing jobs will help spur our economy, says Juel, adding that the recovery from the Great Depression is a good example of how important manufacturing is. “It was only through the government’s development of manufacturing jobs for the war effort, a sad necessity, that we were able to get the economy back on its feet and moving again.”
Goebel adds that manufacturing and new technology go hand-in-hand. “When more new technology is created, more jobs are created to manufacture and sell it,” she explains. “As long as there is demand for technology and engineers to create it, the economy will be significantly helped along.”
She also says that Biden’s discussion about bringing jobs back to the U.S. must be carried out. “When more of the manufacturing is in the U.S., it is easier to create better manufacturing processes, which makes companies more efficient,” Goebel explains.
Biden also talked about how the U.S. is unique in that it offers the freedom to think creatively.
“He put freedom into a whole new context that I had never thought of before,” Goebel says. “Everyone cherishes the freedom to gather and to speak freely, but no one usually thinks to cherish the freedom to create. His point that freedom is directly correlated to America’s innovation and ingenuity makes me appreciate this country’s values.”
Solomon agrees that freedom of thinking holds a great deal of value. “It is true, we have environments set up to teach young students how to ‘think different’ which allow innovative thinking and creative projects to progress,” he says.
Underlying Biden’s call for more innovation and push to get more companies to bring their manufacturing facilities back to the U.S. is the role engineers will have in such an effort.
“The methodology of thinking that is taught to engineers can be used to solve any problem, and when combined with other motivated individuals can foster incredible collaborative environments,” Solomon says, noting that engineers can help in a variety of areas including government. “An engineering mindset is a powerful tool if combined with motivation to do something for the good of others. Engineers shouldn’t only care about how machines work but how people work, how economies work, and how we can work to change the status quo for the betterment of all.”
Juel adds that engineers will help push us to a more globally aware society—one that constantly strives for efficiency in all things and the care of this planet. “In the past Engineers have mainly focused on the safety of the public, from seat belts to F-35 fighter jets,” he says. “In the future, I hope they will focus on the well being of our grandchildren through the development of a sustainable society.”
With an understanding of the influence engineering can have both locally and globally, these students are excited about what their future holds. From creating new technologies to solving important problems, they will be using their skills and way of thinking to make an impact on the world around them.
“We have to keep envisioning and creating solutions to problems like always,” Goebel says. “When more people are involved with generating breakthroughs, we will have access to more advanced science and technology.”