With more than three decades of experience between industry and academia, mechanical engineering senior lecturer Michael Messman brings a unique perspective to the department. Messman joined the Iowa State faculty at the start of the 2016-17 academic year after spending nearly a decade at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville, South Carolina. Previous to Clemson, he had 21 years of experience between General Motors and John Deere. While Messman’s ISU position is considerably different than that at Clemson, he said he is enjoying the transition thus far. “I have found the transition to be relatively smooth. The automotive research program at Clemson was tightly integrated with outside industry, so I was able to basically live in both the academic and the industrial worlds simultaneously. I was interacting with faculty and students at Clemson and engineers from industry on a daily basis,” he said. “Now I am focused on teaching.” Messman added that he has felt welcomed by the ISU community during his transition. “The environment here at ISU is great,” said Messman. “Everyone has been so friendly, helpful, and supportive.” At Clemson, Messman managed a test laboratory with full-vehicle automotive testing equipment. His time was split three ways: providing engineering support to research projects, offering test engineering services to outside industry, and teaching. While teaching was about a third of his role at Clemson, he said he is eager to focus more on teaching in his role at ISU. “I’m looking forward to working with students and continuing to learn. I feel very strongly about engineering and hope to encourage the students to embrace the profession that they are entering,” he said.
Teaching actually runs in the Messman family as Michael’s wife Joanne recently joined the faculty of the English department at ISU as a lecturer. Prior to that, she taught English full-time at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina. Even though much of Messman’s prior experience has been in automotive engineering, he noted that many of the same principles apply to the field of mechanical engineering in general. “The typical engineering skills and equipment used in the auto industry are also found throughout other industries, so I don’t purposely make a distinction,” said Messman. “However, many examples I use while teaching are related to automotive or off-road equipment since that is my base of experience.” This semester, Messman is teaching Mechanical Systems Design (ME 415), which is the capstone project often taken by fourth year undergraduate students. Messman said that he likes that the course allows students to showcase the knowledge and skills they’ve learned from the ME curriculum. “The course, depending on individual projects, involves a wide range of engineering skills. That makes it a fun challenge. One of the things we emphasize is that the students follow practices that are common in industry. There is also a very strong project management element. We want to give the students a real world experience and apply the skills they have learned over the four years they have been studying engineering,” Messman said. Messman holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Engineering Mechanics, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Nebraska native said that he has observed many changes in the field of mechanical engineering over the years. “There is no question that the computer-electronic control and internet connectivity of nearly all engineered systems has been a huge change over the years,” said Messman. “In addition, advances in materials and processing have been significant. I also think the pace of work in industry has increased so much that engineers don’t always have enough time to put in as many engineering hours on projects that they would like or feel they need to.”
Messman has dabbled in various subfields and settings within mechanical engineering, and he encourages his students to explore the diverse range of professional opportunities that a degree in mechanical engineering can offer. “A degree in mechanical engineering can lead to a wide range of career opportunities as there are so many individual fields of practice under the mechanical engineering umbrella. I have observed colleagues staying ‘technical’ while others transition into management and have had very successful careers. Mechanical engineering is also a great degree for someone interested in pursuing advanced degrees in other fields such as business or law. There is a wide open world out there for a mechanical engineer.”