Sports Engineering: Feature on Diana Nelson

Oct 1, 2013

Diana at the USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals in 2012

Diana Nelson is a mechanical engineering student at the University of Florida (UF). Entering her fourth year at the university, Diana has participated in many activities that express her interest and passion for sports. These activities include rowing on the crew team during her freshman year; being a member of the triathlon team, TriGators at the university; getting involved with ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge (HPVC); and completing an internship with Specialized Bicycles. Her passion for sports and the technology behind designing running shoes and bicycles fuels her aspiration to become a sports engineer.

Sports engineering is a specialized field of engineering that is concerned with the research and development of technologies for the sports industry. Diana’s minor in Biomechanics is directly related to the field she wants to go into. The minor allows her to learn how an athlete’s interaction with their equipment affects their performance. For many people, sports engineering is a career that will allow them to combine their passion for sports and technology together.

Diana’s first interest in mechanical engineering began as a child when she watched Junkyard Wars, a TV show in which a team of contestants have a given amount of time to build a working machine that does a specific task, using the materials available in a junkyard.

During her childhood, she also found that she enjoyed putting together materials like furniture and basketball hoops, and even remembers using a dolly and scooter to create a derby-like vehicle. Although these creations may or may not have counted as mechanical engineering, these early activities showed her sparks of interest in the creation of mechanical equipment. In addition to that, her love of running, biking, and sports in general, further pointed her in that direction.

“I realized I wanted to become a sports engineer at some point during my senior year of high school. I worked at a running shoe store in high school where I got a glimpse of the technology that goes on behind running shoes. I must have had some sort of revelation that it would be an awesome job…When my research told me that most sports engineering jobs fell into the category of Mechanical Engineering, I made the easy decision that it was what I was majoring in,” said Diana.

To take further steps towards her career path, Diana contacted Leslie Voorhees, who at the time was featured in an article on her engineering internship experience at Nike.

“I contacted Leslie because she had the job that I wanted. And the best person to ask advice on how to get somewhere is someone who has already gotten there themselves.”

Through the contact, Diana was able to get some advice and a better idea on how Leslie got to where she was.

In order to get more of a hands-on experience in mechanical engineering, Diana became involved with the ASME HPVC during her sophomore year in college. As she initially went into engineering with a desire to engineer running shoes, the competition exposed her to opportunities available in the cycling industry as well. It provided students the opportunity to develop sustainable and practical transportation alternatives for underdeveloped and inaccessible parts of the world.

Diana competing in a drag race in an ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, where her team helped designed the bicycle seen here.

Recently, Diana completed an internship with Specialized Bicycle Components where she gained invaluable technical, business, and interpersonal skills.

“A lot of the manufacturing for Specialized is done in China and Taiwan, so I was able to observe how the engineers interacted with the manufacturers during the production cycle. Seeing all of the steps that happen in between an idea and marketable product was something I had never seen before, so that was very insightful.”

Specialized Bicycles also has an intern house where all of the interns in the company live together during the duration of their internship. Diana was able to connect with and meet other interns from different departments. This allowed her to learn and see all aspects of the company and how they work together. She was also able to experience being a part of the culture at Specialized.

“I love the sense of play that anybody can experience from being active and playing sports in both a recreational and competitive setting. I really like the idea of being able to make a product that someone is going to use when they are doing what makes them happy.”

In addition, she also enjoyed the perk of being able to ride her bike every day at lunchtime along with the other interns.

Diana expects to graduate in May 2015, as she enjoys dedicating her time to explore other activities outside of class. As for her plans after graduation, she is planning on keeping her options open.

“I definitely have goals to be an engineer at a sports corporation, so I am gaining experience while in college that can help me get there. However, I am aware that those goals could change if I discover a new passion in a different specialization or if I realize from practical experience that my dream job wasn’t all that I thought it was… I could see myself eventually going in the business/product management direction, but I think right after graduation I’d want to start on the technical side of things.”

For those interested in pursuing a career in sports engineering, Diana offers this advice:

“If you really think this is what you want to do and you feel passionate about it, then you have to believe in your dream job becoming a reality and commit to it. The companies you want to work for most likely are not going to be at your school’s career fair, so you have to do your own networking and reach out to companies. For example, when I saw that there was a bicycle wheel and component company that was located in my hometown, I emailed the owner and asked if there were any projects I could help out on. Then when I interviewed with Specialized, I was asked about this experience and they could see I had initiative to get into the industry. Every little bit counts. Little connections you make can eventually turn into big connections. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to career fairs or get practical experiences in other fields of engineering. Any experience that you can learn from is valuable.”