However, there are numerous online mechanical engineering programs that still provide students with an interactive experience without the need for in-classroom instruction. And these programs may be the best option for certain candidates; specifically, those who may benefit from an online mechanical engineering program may include those who lack physical access to a quality program or those with busy schedules and are interested in completing courses at night, on the weekends, or in other periods of free time. That being said, individuals interested in such an online program should be self-starters, those who thrive in situations without constant guidance and the benefits that come with a classroom full of peers. Furthermore, these students should be able to adhere to deadlines without constant reminders from professors or advisors on campus.
Fortunately for aspiring mechanical engineers, there is a wealth of accomplished professors who teach online programs in the discipline. Here are five exceptional mechanical engineering professors who teach at schools with notable distance-based programs.
Dr. Agrawal—a mechanical engineering professor from Columbia University—directs the Robotics and Rehabilitation Laboratory (ROAR) and the Robotic Systems Engineering Laboratory (ROSE). His multivariate, NSF-funded research projects include work with space robots, micro-air vehicles, robotic exoskeletons to enhance mobility, and "cable-actuated robotic platforms," among others. Dr. Agrawal earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and is the recipient of numerous awards such as the White House’s 1994 NSF Presidential Faculty Fellowship; the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s 2002 Bessel Prize; and the IEEE International Conference’s 2012 Best Student Paper Award.
Dr. Nisbett is an associate professor and associate chair in mechanical engineering at the Missouri University of Science & Technology, where he studies mechanical design, kinematics, and mechanism synthesis. He’s also the co-author of two editions of an influential textbook in the discipline: Mechanical Engineering Design. Additionally, he has earned several honors and awards, including the Academy of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineers Faculty Excellence Award (2000 and 2005); the UMR/S&T Outstanding Teaching Award (nine times since 1992); and the Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence (2002).
Dr. Ashrafiuon is a professor at Villanova University and the director of the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics & Control. His research interests include autonomous surface vessels, sliding mode control, underactuated systems, and kinematics and control of robots, among others. He has worked for several prominent companies and government entities such as the Office Naval Research and Naval Surface Warfare Center; the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research; and the Environmental Tectonics Corporation.
Dr. Aluru is the director of computational science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as the Richard W. Kritzer distinguished professor. His research explores biomechanics; fluid mechanics and thermal sciences; nanomechanics and nanomanufacturing; and solid mechanics and materials. In addition to numerous teaching honors since 2008, he’s the recipient of various awards and was a fellow of both the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME 2011) and the United States Association for Computational Mechanics (USACM 2011).
Dr. MacDonald is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. In her IRIS Design Lab, she focuses her research in three areas: 1) modeling how the public’s decisions affect sustainability initiatives, 2) assisting engineering designers with improving sustainability in accordance with customer preferences, and 3) evaluating how consumers approach and perceive products. Dovetailing with that experience, she teaches consumer analytical product design (CAPD) and design experiments, among other subjects.
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Prior to enrolling in an online mechanical engineering program, students are strongly encouraged to verify the program’s accreditation and “state authorization” statuses.
First, accreditation is the voluntary process whereby a program or school is evaluated by an external organization for markers of quality (e.g., student outcomes, comprehensiveness of curricula, prestige of faculty, condition of facilities, etc). There are two general types: programmatic and institutional. For programmatic accreditation of mechanical engineering programs, the gold standard is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which typically evaluates bachelor-level programs and a few master’s programs as well. There are limited distance-based programs which have secured ABET accreditation, but online schools are subject to institutional accreditation, the second type. For this, students are advised to seek out programs approved by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). A handful of these organizations include:
Online degree programs in mechanical engineering generally have the same coursework as their on-campus versions. Here is a sampling of coursework common to mechanical engineering programs.Bachelor’s degree (BS or BSME) level:
As mentioned above, a majority of online mechanical engineering programs are concentrated at the master’s degree level due to the essentially hands-on nature of the discipline. Once a student has mastered the fundamentals in an undergraduate program, he or she is generally better equipped for the relative autonomy of a distance-based degree program. That said, there are some exceptions (e.g., University of North Dakota’s online B.S. in mechanical engineering).
Here are five standout institutions which offer online mechanical engineering programs, as well as profiles of some exceptional professors in the field.
Purdue University of of West Lafayette, IN provides a distance-based master of mechanical engineering (M.S.M.E.) program, which consistently ranks among the top ten online programs according the U.S. News & World Report. Designed for working professionals, students learn about acoustics and noise control; automotive systems; design and computer-aided design; biomechanics; fluid mechanics; and heat transfer, among other subjects. This 30 credit-hour program is also offered as an interdisciplinary degree (M.S.E./M.S.) with an emphasis in mechanical engineering. Each three-credit course costs $3,416 for residents and $3,774 for non-residents (2017).
Dr. Ardekani is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University whose research interests include biofluid liquids; multiphase flows; microfluidics; complex fluids; and bioengineering, among other areas. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine and is the recipient of numerous prestigious honors, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE 2016); an NSF CAREER award (2012); and the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future Grant (2010).
Dr. Kramer is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue. She earned her Ph.D. in engineering sciences from Harvard University and her research interests include soft robotics; responsive material actuators; soft material manufacturing; and stretchable electronics. She was named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in 2015, and has garnered numerous honors such as an NSF Fellowship (2007-2010) and a NASA Early Career Faculty Award (2014).
Columbia University in New York City provides several distance-based engineering programs, including a master’s, a Ph.D., and a certificate in manufacturing engineering or sustainable energy. The 30-credit master’s degree program offers instruction in the principles of applied mathematics; partial differential equations; functions of a complex variable; and introduction to probability and statistics, among other subjects. For the 2016-17 year, tuition costs $1,858 per credit-hour. Additional fees may apply.
Dr. Ateshian is a professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Columbia University. He is also the director of the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Lab, where he studies MRI and CT technologies as they apply to musculoskeletal reconstruction; stereophotogrammetry; the biomechanics of the knee, shoulder, and hand; the modeling of diarthrodial joints; and other highly specialized topics.
Dr. Hone is the Wang Fon-Jen professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia. He studies nano-materials, particularly atomically thin 2-D materials such as graphene. He aims to establish new functionalities with these nano-structures such as their opto-electronic applications and how to create flexible electronics. He’s the recipient of various honors, including Columbia’s Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award (2015) and Caltech's Millikan Fellowship in Experimental Condensed Matter Physics.
The Georgia Institute of Technology of Atlanta has an online master of science (M.S.) in mechanical engineering with coursework in engineering design; vibration-mechanical systems; computer-aided design; robotics; inelastic deform solids; conduction heat transfer; acoustics; combustion; and wind engineering, among other topics. Since tuition varies by many factors, please check out the GA Tech Bursar’s Office for information on cost of attendance.
Dr. Aidun is a professor of fluid mechanics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on direct numerical simulation of suspension hydrodynamics, and he was previously a senior research consultant through NSF’s Supercomputer Center at Cornell University. His other interests include direct numerical simulation (DNS) of suspension hydrodynamics and how to enhance convective and boiling heat transfer, among many other topics. Notably, he pioneered the Lattice-Boltzmann (LB) technique for nonlinear dynamical systems.
Dr. Ghiaasiaan is a professor of heat transfer, combustion, and energy systems at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles and he’s interested in multiphase flow; nuclear reactor thermal-hydraulics and safety; microscale heat transfer; aerosol and particle transport; and cryogenics, among other areas of study.
Kansas State University of Manhattan, KS offers a 100 percent online master of science (M.S.) in mechanical engineering, ideal for working professionals who wish to advance their skills without relocating. Graduates of this program have gone on to work in electronics; product manufacturing; aerospace; and construction. Classes include indoor environmental engineering; intermediate fluid mechanics; finite element applications in mechanical engineering; thermal systems design; thermodynamics of modern power cycles; and intermediate heat transfer, among others. This 30-credit program is also relatively affordable at $826 per credit-hour (2016-17).
Dr. Beck is a professor of mechanical engineering at Kansas State University. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Oakland University in Rochester, MI. He is the co-founder of the Non-Contact Precision Measurements Laboratory and the co-inventor of a “Portable High-Resolution Non-contact Modular Sensor for Surface Strain Measurement.” He focuses his studies on heat transfer, fluid mechanics, laser velocimetry and optical measurements. Notably, he has (co-)authored more than 100 conference papers, presentations, and journal publications.
Dr. Dunn is the director of the Radiation Measurement Applications Laboratory; the department head; and the Steven. M. and Kay L. Theede chair in engineering. His research focuses on radiation measurement and applications; Monte Carlo methods and applications; radiation physics; mathematical modeling; inverse analysis; and probabilistic risk assessment. He’s been awarded over 35 research grants and contracts from renowned organizations such as the NSF, the Department of Energy, and the National Cancer Institute, among many others.
Colorado State University in Fort Collins provides a 30-credit online master of engineering (M.Eng) with a mechanical and materials engineering emphasis. Students take courses such as metals and alloys; materials issues in mechanical design; advanced composite materials; and various electives (e.g., reliability engineering, bioengineering, bio-inspired surfaces). This two-year program costs $909 per credit hour.
Dr. James is a professor and department head in mechanical engineering at CSU. She earned her Ph.D. in polymers at MIT and her research focuses on polymeric materials and their biomedical applications (e.g., orthopedic, cardiovascular, tissue regeneration, etc). Notably, she and her students invented BioPoly materials, which have various clinical applications in knee implants, and she continues to explore hyaluronan-enhanced plastics—materials that don’t cause blood clotting unlike synthetic plastics.
Dr. Gao is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CSU where she researches how to advance CFD algorithms, specifically their application to efficient, low-emission chemical propulsion systems. She previously worked as a postdoctoral scientist at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence National Laboratory. Also, she’s a lifetime member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
In addition to the programs covered at length above, here are some additional online mechanical engineering schools across the country:
Prior to enrolling in an online mechanical engineering program, students are strongly encouraged to check if there are any campus visits required. Many programs—particularly at the graduate degree level—are 100 percent online (e.g., Kansas State University) and all in-person assessments or research can be completed within a person’s place of work close to his or her home. Some programs, however, are hybrid—i.e., a blend of online and on-campus experiences—and require students to attend face-to-face sessions periodically for intensive training or testing purposes. If this information isn’t readily available on a program’s website, students should reach out to program coordinators.
As with other engineering disciplines, mechanical engineering is complex, and the success of a mechanical engineering project can often be mission-critical. Given that, it is essential to learn from the best, and these professors represent the most accomplished and involved in the field, ready to inspire and impart their knowledge to a new generation of engineers.