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With 91 days until I graduate from USC with my degree in Mechanical Engineering, the nostalgia is really kicking in, and I’ve taken some time to reflect on my experiences here the past 4 years. It can be a pretty nerve wracking experience to pick what engineering discipline as an 18 year old, with most likely no engineering experience. Like many others I was in this same position four years ago, and so I wanted to take a minute to reflect on why I chose mechanical engineering, what it has been like studying mechanical engineering, and hopefully provide helpful insight into the life of a mechanical engineer at USC! 

The Origin Story

As a senior in high school with almost no exposure to engineering, I applied as an environmental engineer as I had taken environmental science classes and was confident that it was the major for me. The summer before I started here I received an email that asked what major I would like to enroll in in the fall, and I decided that I really wanted to study mechanical engineering. This decision was influenced by additional research I had done in the 8 months since I had applied along with experiences from a spring internship at an environmental engineering firm my senior year. At that moment I realized I was more interested in the mechanics of how things work, and building/designing mechanical parts and systems.

The Experience

Fall semester you take an introduction to mechanical engineering course, that helps lay the foundation and understanding of what the major is. Mechanical engineering is incredibly broad as we take classes in statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, strength of materials, design, control systems, materials, and more. The breadth of the major is one of my favorite things about mechanical engineering as it can be utilized across so many different industries as well as sub disciplines within mechanical engineering. I have experienced this breadth both inside and outside of the classroom; I have had the opportunity to intern the past three summers in three different industries. My first summer I worked as a mechanical engineering intern at a development firm, my next summer I interned in the aerospace industry at Northrop Grumman, this past summer I interned in Tech as a product designer at Apple, and this next summer I will be interning in the automotive industry at Tesla. The ability to use what I’ve learned inside the classroom and love of mechanical design in 4 completely different industries has been an incredible experience that has provided immense growth as an engineer.

The People

I have made some of my best friends in college through mechanical engineering. The AME department here consists of astronautical engineering, aerospace engineering, and mechanical engineering. The three disciplines are fairly similar in core curriculum, and with our small class sizes we take most of our classes all together. This has created a great sense of camaraderie, and many epic group study session memories. In our junior year we all took one class together called Mechoptronics, which is a lab course where we conduct experiments, process the data, and write reports on these experiments. It was one of the most challenging classes I took, but was also one of the most rewarding experiences. It truly built a sense of cohort and camaraderie within my class of the AME department. 

The Highlight

This past fall semester I took AME 441 which is our Senior Design Capstone course. In teams of four, with a budget of 400 dollars we are tasked with proposing and completing a novel experimental project. My team designed a Shape Memory Alloy Suspension system that can be utilized on Mars and Lunar rovers. Current Mars rovers do not have traditional suspension systems, they have what is known as a rocker bogie system and thus can not achieve speeds over 0.1 mph. Our novel active suspension system is a fluid-less solution which makes it a very valuable asset for space applications. This was one of the most challenging projects I have ever worked on and was the culmination of four years of engineering courses and project experience. It was incredibly rewarding to see the results our device was able to achieve after lengthy project ideation, countless lab hours, and obstacles along the way. After our senior design showcase we were fortunate to be selected to compete in the AIAA conference this spring against schools across the state. I am excited to see all this last semester has in store for me here at USC and to attend this conference with my team! I am so incredibly grateful for the people, memories, lessons, and experiences I have gained through studying Mechanical Engineering here at USC Viterbi. 


Peyton Erickson

MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering YEAR: Class of 2024 HOMETOWN: Ventura, California I am involved with the W.V.T Rusch Honors Program, the Society of Women Engineers as a member of the Corporate Officer Council, I am a project manager for the design club USC Makers, I am on the women's club soccer team, and I am also on the USC Ski & Snowboard team.