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6 High-Value Minor Degrees for Mechanical Engineers

6 High-Value Minor Degrees for Mechanical Engineers

Although they do not lead to higher salaries, minor degrees do provide additional knowledge that can expand an ME’s career.

“Declaring a minor to your engineering major is like ordering something on the side—it’s not a full course, but it can make the meal even better. Minors are areas of concentration requiring fewer courses than an undergraduate major. They’re optional, but can provide further depth or breadth to an engineering career.” —University of California-Berkeley Department of Engineering

As the world continues to make technology advancements at a rapid rate, mechanical engineering talent is evolving as well—making it increasingly valuable for MEs to differentiate themselves from the competition.

“In most cases, technology is outpacing talent,” said Mark Saltrelli, vice president of engineering recruiting for Kelly Science, Engineering, Technology, & Telecom. “Engineers can tackle this challenge by being more well-rounded and taking on challenges and experiences that level their skills. Now more than ever, engineers are being tasked to be more computer and programming literate while maintaining a core engineering function. Theoretical knowledge and understanding of physics and sciences also give engineers a competitive edge in today’s labor market.”

Computer programming, physics and other hard sciences, and business are all solid choices and add additional knowledge that can boost an ME’s skill set; however, many employers already expect their engineers to have these “standard” skills. “The goal is to advance yourself and gain experience and knowledge that will set you apart from other job seekers,” said Saltrelli.

“No hiring manager will choose a candidate based on a minor,” added Travis Ziebro, founder and CEO of Momenta Tech, a tech agency. “But they will choose a new engineer whose passion expresses itself through the achievement of a minor. As such, any minor must complement your personal passion and potential career path.”

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Below are six minors that have high-growth potential in the fields of manufacturing and engineering:

1. Additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing and 3D printing are hot technologies in the manufacturing world. Advances in AM techniques and materials are announced on a regular basis. MEs with a working knowledge of AM, who know how to set up and operate the equipment, are already in high demand. A minor in AM covers everything from part design through printer technology to material properties and component performance. Knowledge of metals additive manufacturing is especially valuable considering its rapidly growing impact across multiple industries. 

2. Environmental engineering and sustainability

Manufacturing companies are increasingly interested in sustainability and reducing their impacts on the environment and natural resources—not only does this save money, it builds brand image among consumers. A sustainability engineer integrates the principles of sustainability into all aspects of manufacturing operations. Courses for this minor include core sustainable engineering principles, life cycle assessment and design for sustainability, and key environmental and social/geopolitical considerations. Natural and human-made system modeling, dynamics, and adaptive behavior are also discussed.

3. Robotics

Robotics is one of the most revolutionizing technologies in manufacturing and seems to be evolving almost daily with the extra functions, capabilities, and high-precision controls. A robotics minor covers the fundamentals of designing, building, and programming robots, including embedded systems, motor, sensors, actuators, and interfaces. Course study includes intelligent physical systems, mechatronics, artificial intelligence human-robot interaction, intelligent sensor and planning control, and autonomous mobile robots.

4. Internet of Things (IoT)

Robotics is often considered to be part of the suite of IoT technologies. Sensor networks enable sophisticated, high-speed data retrieval and cloud-based analytics in real time to evaluate machine performance and efficiency. IoT -enabled systems can monitor, aggregate data, and perform analytics and control actuators in complex and empowering ways. Developed IoT systems have embedded processors that are connected to sensors and actuators; communication between nodes and cloud servers facilitate data storage and analytics. MEs with IoT experience will be in high demand by companies that build their own IoT solutions.

5. Smart cities

Take the IoT system for an advanced manufacturing facility and scale it up thousands of times to create a mega-scale network of digital systems that operate together to create a “smart” community. A smart cities minor explores the growing use of sensors, smart devices, real-time data analytics, and advancements in artificial intelligence in the fields of civil and environmental engineering. Students learn how to use data to design, analyze, and control smart, interconnected, and dynamic infrastructure systems. The impacts of the environment, climate change, and data science on smart city development are also discussed.

6. Artificial intelligence engineering

As part of the IoT world, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have advanced rapidly and their capabilities continue to evolve and astound. Courses for a minor in AI and ML include digital twins, applied fundamentals of deep learning, algorithms and data structures, data-based modelling for prediction and control, and natural language processing. Students also learn about applications of AI in vision, speech recognition and language understanding, robotics, human-AI interaction, and engineering.

Now Comes the Hard Part

How do you pick the right minor?

Unfortunately, minor degrees do not generally impact salary. However, “a minor that pairs nicely with your major shows employers that you are a well-rounded candidate,” said Saltrelli. “Job seekers typically lead with their major on their resumés and in interviews, but if you earned a minor of any kind, highlight it on your CV and explain during interviews how it diversifies you.

“Ideally, the best minor will provide a valuable ME capability that will be in high demand for years to come and is also exciting on a personal level.”

Mark Crawford is technology writer based in Corrales, N.M.

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