Engineering Field Provides Plenty Of Opportunities

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER| MIRROR REPORTER — Anthony Wayne High School graduates are making an impact in the automotive, construction, de-fense, manufacturing, medical and software industries because of their decisions to pursue careers in engineering.

As part of a series on Anthony Wayne graduates in different industries, this week The Mirror profiles those who are in various stages of engineering-related careers.

Mary Bahr

Mary Bahr, a 2015 graduate, is an Army engineer officer who earned her civil engineering degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Recently, her platoon did some dirt road improvements at the Yakima Training Center in Washington. The road, used by adjacent units to transport food and fuel, was in need of improvements. Her platoon was co-located with a bridging unit that was conducting training on the river, so she was able to see several sections of a floating bridge getting dropped into the water via helicopter.

“Not only was it cool to watch, but my soldiers were able to learn more about other Army engineer capabilities,” Bahr said. “It was also neat to get feedback from various convoys that appreciated the improvements to the road – it was a much smoother ride!”

In various positions, Bahr has utilized her civil engineering degree while doing calculations on a trench structure reconstruction, calculating work rates and reading plans for various earth moving projects. As an Army officer, her primary job is planning, training and leading soldiers.

“I get to work with some incredible people from such a wide variety of backgrounds. I like that some days I’m in the office but others I’m at the shooting range or doing overnight field training exercises,” she said.

While at Anthony Wayne, Bahr said, she enjoyed math classes and taking all of Todd Heslet’s construction technology and related classes.

Lance Cunningham

Lance Cunningham, a 2000 graduate, is a corporate strategy advisor for Marathon Petroleum.

“I began as a project engineer, managing projects on pipelines, terminals and above-ground storage tanks across the Midwest and Southeast.”

Cunningham also managed retail construction projects, building gas stations in the Chicago area, where, as a 25-year-old, he stood in front of city planning commissions to request rezoning or variances to building ordinances.

From there, his career has included positions in operations, maintenance, design and returning to engineering as a supervisor prior to his current assignment in business development. 

While no longer directly involved in engineering, Cunningham still uses analytical engineering skills to stay abreast of the evolving energy environment, which includes government policies, technology advancements, consumer behaviors and geopolitics. He then coordinates evaluations of the company’s strategy to make recommendations on mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures or organic growth projects that are executed by the engineering teams at the company’s refineries, terminals and pipeline pumping stations.

“Engineering has given me the opportunity to truly have a career, not just a job. I’ve learned different aspects of the business, traveled and experienced different cities and cultures,” he said.

As a maintenance supervisor, Cunningham got involved in the infancy of a program to install smart emission monitors on vapor control equipment. This saved energy costs and resulted in several terminals receiving the EPA’s Energy Star Challenge for Industry recognition for reducing energy intensity by 10 percent.

As an engineer, he can see the large investment of time and money in educating the public and keeping assets safe and reliable. Midstream energy companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year inspecting and maintaining pipelines – and this is something the public often doesn’t see, he said.

“Pipelines are the safest and most efficient mode of transportation for liquid fuels. I am proud to work for an energy company,” he said. 

“However, the energy industry, specifically coal, oil and natural gas is under attack. Truth is energy is what brings people out of poverty, and there are still millions of people burning wood and other combustible materials for energy today. Energy consumption has never declined in the world. While we should embrace the transition to cleaner energy solutions in the United States, new technologies, such as wind, solar and hydrogen, have limitations to their ability to keep up with growing demand, thus traditional energy sources are likely to continue to be critical to world prosperity for years to come.”

While he was in high school, Cunningham was interested in science. He remembers building an egg launcher for Dave Johnson’s physics class. 

After graduation, he began studying construction management at Bowling Green State University but switched to The University of Toledo for engineering in his junior year.

“Making that change was one of the best decisions of my life,” he said. “Engineers are valued across many industries for their ability to problem solve and improve things. Because of that, the opportunities are endless.”

Sean Fernandez

Sean Fernandez, a 2019 graduate, just finished his junior year at the University of Michigan, where he is studying chemical engineering. As part of the Lenert research group there, he is studying silica aerogel for applications in concentrated solar power systems to improve efficiencies.

This summer, he’s participating in the Research Experience for Undergrad-uates at Stanford Univer-sity, where he will be studying nanoparticles that can 3-D print soft magnetic composites that are necessary in electronic devices. After his undergraduate work, Fernandez plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

“Engineering research is exciting for me due to the potential to make real and lasting advancements in technology,” he said. “It is very motivating to know that my work will have a positive impact on sustainable energy and therefore the environment.”

Fernandez said he also enjoys long-term projects, even though it can be a challenge to stay on track. 

The AWHS classes taught by industrial technology teacher Todd Heslet were pivotal in getting him ready for a career in engineering, Fernandez said. 

“Not only were his classes enjoyable to design and build whatever your mind could think up, but it also allowed me to understand how to approach problems like an engineer. With rigorous testing, trial and error, even the most insurmountable assignment can be broken down into achievable tasks,” he said. “Even though I have not used much of the hard design or construction skills from his classes, Mr. Heslet helped me gain the mindset of an engineer.”

The field of engineering has so many career options, ranging from research and industry to business, law, medicine and management, but the engineering problem-solving process is useful in many fields, Fernandez added.

For students considering engineering, he suggests looking up professors at universities and reading about their research.

“If any of their work is remotely interesting to you, reach out to them and ask if they are looking for an undergraduate researcher,” he said. “Most labs are always looking for more help!”

Gerald (Jerry) Ochs, a 1986 graduate, is supervisor of clinical engineering with Trimedx. 

“Our group, commonly known as biomedical equipment technicians, maintain, repair and calibrate electronic medical equipment in the ProMedica facilities and McLaren St. Luke’s Hospital,” he explained.

Keeping up with always-improving technology requires regular training. The team also works with the staff in hospitals and clinics to make sure the equipment is working so they can focus on their priority: safe patient care.

The pandemic really challenged the industry, Ochs said, with the opening of new isolation and intensive care units to facilitate the surge of patients.

“We were instrumental in assisting, locating and relocating medical equipment to meet the needs of the hospitals,” he said. 

While he worked at The Ohio State University Medical Center, Ochs was part of a team to design and implement a new intra-operative MRI suite, planning everything from the electrical outlets and medical gas connections to an integrated video system. The staff and physician were pleased with the outcome.

“Our role in the hospital setting is mainly in the background. We are generally not seen unless there is a critical repair that is needed while the equipment is connected to the patient,” he said. “It is a positive thing – this means that the equipment is working properly because we have kept up with the inspections and the repairs.”

While he enjoyed math and science classes in high school – including algebra, geometry and biology – Ochs didn’t enter college right away. Instead, he served seven years in the U.S. Army before earning his associate of arts in biomedical electronics at Owens Community College. 

“The majority of the biomedical equipment technicians in the Toledo area have graduates with this associate degree from Owens,” he said. “There is currently a need in our area and the pay in this career field is very good.”

Paul Rohen

Paul Rohen, a 1976 graduate, just retired as senior program manager from Leidos, an international company that integrates information technology, engineering and science for customers in fields including aviation, defense and logistics.

He enjoyed building relationships with his team and customers.

“The challenges usually have to do with deadlines and making products work correctly,” he said. “As the manager, you don’t necessarily solve the problems, but you must be able to identify the needed resources and find ways to facilitate team success.”

As examples, Rohen shared two projects. In the 1990s, prior to heavy cell phone use, he and a team spent months installing and selling off an overseas combat training range. Working in a foreign country, learning some of the language and experiencing the culture made the project memorable, he said.

He’s also proud of winning a new $100 million client for the company.

“I spent five years leading the business capture, which required significant customer interaction and internal coordination,” he said. “That job resulted in seven years of revenue.”

In high school, two teachers influenced his path: math teacher Don Ondrus and music teacher Robert Shoemaker. Ondrus gave Rohen the confidence that he was decent in math.

“That allowed me to succeed in college when I had to take more complex math courses,” he said.

“Mr. Shoemaker got me really excited about music. I originally enrolled in college as a music major, transitioned to audio engineering and ended up in electrical engineering. I am not sure I would have gone to The Ohio State University – or gotten into engineering – if I hadn’t taken that original music path.”

With a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from The Ohio State University, Rohen landed a job with a major defense contractor right out of school, but he only did what he calls “hardcore engineering” for a decade. 

“No doubt many people stick with the technical/ engineering work throughout their careers, but a lot of us end up in different roles by the time they wind down their careers.”

For those interested in engineering careers, he encourages taking classes in math, physics and science, then and get experience. Coding and science clubs and troubleshooting – he points to www.arduino.cc – are ways to get some real hands-on experience.

Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz, a 1999 graduate, is an electrical professional engineer (P.E.) who works for Korda Engineering, a consulting firm that does building design for the construction industry.

“I lead our technology department, designing data/ voice structured cabling, A/V and security systems,” Schultz said.

While at AW, Schultz said his math and physics classes helped guide and prepare him for a career in engineering. He earned his degree in electrical engineering from Ohio Northern University. He encourages anyone with a strong interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes and a good work ethic to look into engineering, but to earn a degree from a university that is approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

In addition to a degree, engineers need to be detail-oriented and have good communication skills. Engineers can work in a variety of fields but working in the consulting field is a great fit for engineers who are sociable and are good communicators, Schultz said. 

“Client interactions and design meetings are an important part of the job,” he said. “We talk to a wide variety of people from very technical to not technical at all, and it is important that we can properly communicate with them all.”

Karl Shuman

Karl Shuman, a 1981 graduate, is a consultant for Keva Motion + Momentum Forensics in Camarillo, Calif., reconstructing accident scenes and advising clients on road safety measures.

During high school, he took career tests that showed engineering or forestry would be good career options, but he took a few detours – including working in maintenance at Snowbird Ski Resort and working as a licensed plumber – before earning his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara at age 37.

While still in college, Shuman landed an internship with Keva, where he began tagging along with other engineers as they reconstructed and investigated accidents for clients – mostly insurance companies and governmental agencies.

“I had experience in CAD (computer-aided design), so I started getting called to do jobs,” he said.

The job involves going to an accident scene, taking photos and collecting measurements such as gouge and skid marks. Shuman uses a laser scanner to do a detailed mapping of the area, then matches it with recordings gathered from security and other cameras in the area.

“It’s called photogrammetry. You can use photographs to place an object in a 2-D or 3-D space and determine where the collection happened and where the vehicle or physical evidence was located. The data collected can provide us the distance traveled post-accident and evidence of what happened pre-collision,” he explained.

He also looks at the deformation on a vehicle and compares it to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) documentation that shows the type of damage in collisions for each vehicle.

While computer programs are available to calculate the energy and speed lost during and after a collision, having a mechanical engineering background helps explain the math and physics behind the calculations – and helps to spot glitches in the program.

“Programs are not foolproof,” he said. “Also, performing hand calculations can provide additional methods for determining speeds.”

The job turned out to be ideal for Shuman, who said he prefers to be out in the field, reconstructing an accident – such as on the side of a road or in a junkyard.

“Occasionally we create full-scale tests, like running vehicles together,” he said. “We’ve even shaved down tires to replicate the vehicle as it was during the accident.”

One of the downsides is that he encounters photographs of injuries sustained in the incidents.

A perk of the job is the opportunity to present what he’s learned to his peers, including a trip a few years ago to Rwanda. While there, he shared accident reconstruction knowledge to local police and engineers as part of a study to track the impact of using helmets to reduce serious injury or death in motorcycle accidents.

For those interested in a career in accident reconstruction, a mechanical engineering degree is a must – as is as a desire to put together a puzzle.

Ryan Tanner, a 2019 graduate, is studying mechanical engineering technology at Ferris State University, a Division II school north of Grand Rapids, Mich.

“In high school, I took the drafting and design classes along with the workshop class available to juniors and seniors,” he said. “Those classes in particular got me interested in the field of engineering, but because I was always better at math and science, I knew I would get into a similar field.”

Through classes and internships, Tanner has learned how to use CAD more efficiently and how to operate mills, lathes and other machinery. He is currently an intern at Krauss Maffei in Brighton, Mich., where he does machine design work for customers.

“They send me CAD data to work on and I produce a machine in CAD that will complete the job they ask for,” he explained. “I then get to see my work made by the guys who run the workshop, which to me is a great feeling – to see your work come to life!”

Tanner said he feels like he has barely scratched the surface of the field and all there is to learn. He remembers how, as a high school senior, he looked at the massive list of engineering majors and was overwhelmed. He has recommendations for teens considering the career field:

“The best part about engineering is it is all connected, so pick an engineering major that you like and go with it for a semester. Schools typically have introductory classes for each major, where you can learn about the general idea of the major and decide from there to switch majors or not,” he said. “Engineering majors all use the same general education classes for the most part, so it is easy to switch to a different engineering major if you don’t quite feel like the one you initially chose is right for you.”

Ryan Tanner

Sage Tansel, a 2016 graduate, is a mechanical designer at Glassline Inc., which specializes in glass fabrication machinery and equipment manufacturing.

As a mechanical designer, his primary job is to custom-make machines to meet client requirements, but he also trains new mechanical co-ops in certain areas.

“It’s extremely gratifying to see something you’ve designed be produced and used in the real work,” he said. “Although design can be difficult, it’s also very rewarding – it helps me not only understand how our machines work, but how simple machines we use at home work, as well. It’s helped me gather an idea on how to fix things when they break at home.”

While in high school, two baseball coaches and teachers helped shape his career path. Bryce Graven, an anatomy, physiology and biology teacher, taught him how to work hard and efficiently. Mark Nell, a physical education teacher at the junior high and the head baseball coach while Tansel was on the team, helped him establish a work ethic that helped him excel in many areas.

“A lot of my focus in high school came via sports, so having these men in my life helped me grow as a young man and led me on the path to success,” Tansel said.

He advises any high schooler interested in engineering to take as many related courses as possible, including drafting, physics and chemistry, including college credit classes. Meet with university representatives to find out more about scholarships that are geared toward engineering students, he said. Lastly, he recommends finding co-ops and internships. 

At The University of Toledo, from which Tansel earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, co-ops are required. He completed several co-ops, including those at Surface Combustion, Tenneco and Ottawa Rubber Co.

Emma Vaughan

Emma Vaughan, a 2013 graduate, is a software engineer in Austin, Texas, working as a back-end developer in .NET/C# technologies.

“I’m learning something new every day. I like collaborating with members of my team to identify the problem and define the solution,” Vaughan said.

When working on an application with dozens of teams, it can be difficult to anticipate side effects of a feature update, she said. 

“It’s important that we have a clear line of communication between the teams to identify issues and solve them quickly in our testing environments,” she said. “Communication is a big part of my job. I spend a lot of my day on ad hoc phone calls and screen-sharing sessions, asking for help and to pair programming with other developers. Through this collaboration, our team can complete the best work because it allows for the opportunity to learn from senior developers and architects as well as share knowledge among the team about the current obstacles that we are facing “

While earning her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Case Western Reserve University, Vaughan was active in the Society of Women Engin-eers and had several internships, including those with GE Healthcare and Dell Technologies, where she was hired full time in August 2018. In June 2020, she joined Charles Schwab and just a year later was promoted to software engineer.

AWHS, with its AP math and science classes, helped her transition to college courses, including applied and theoretical math courses, but she didn’t have any experience with programming languages prior to taking her first class in college.

“It’s easy to be intimidated by peers who have had prior educational experience, but it’s important to know that it’s never too late to start programming,” she said. “The computer coursework in college gave me the foundational knowledge that I needed to be a competitive job candidate who had a job offer before my senior year of college even began.”

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