Student testing a small electronic vehicle
Story Education

Mechatronics: The Highest-Paid Engineering Degree

Michelle Baik

Three CSU campuses are helping to produce job-ready graduates in the white-hot field of mechatronics engineering.

Student testing a small electronic vehicle

CSU students practice different engineering skills to prepare for a career in mechatronics. Photo courtesy of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

 

​​Google's self-driving cars. IBM's "Dr. Watson." The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars 2020 Rover.

Behind these huge technological leaps is mechatronics, an interdisciplinary field that mixes a wide array of engineering disciplines—mechanical, electrical, computer and software.

According to the
National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) "Class of 2015 First-Destination Survey," mechatronics engineering majors were the highest-paid class of 2015 engineering graduates among those who received a bachelor's degree.

"[Mechatronics] is changing the world," says Ramesh Varahamurti, Ph.D., professor of mechanical and mechatronic engineering at
California State University, Chico, and coordinator of the school's mechatronic engineering program.

Chico State: A Leader in Mechatronics Education

Chico State's
mechatronic engineering program was the first U.S. bachelor's degree program in mechatronic engineering to be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

Local companies often come to Chico State to recruit students to work on real business problems, sponsoring projects that essentially serve as year-long internships.

"[Students] get exposure to the types of problems and customers they may run into in the real world," says Dr. Varahamurti.

Chico State
students have worked on drones for agricultural use, where autonomous (uncontrolled) drones are used to identify water-deprived areas and can communicate with sprinkler systems to provide water to that precise area.

Most recently, students developed a prosthetic hand that allowed a burn victim to regain a sense of touch.

Hands-on Learning at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

At
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, students "learn by doing" in the mechatronics concentration of the mechanical engineering program, gaining essential skills through the school's emphasis on hands-on learning.

T
hrough senior projects and other research opportunities, students regularly design control systems and mechanical devices. The program's robust curriculum prepares students to apply difficult concepts into the real world.

"The field of mechatronics is a broad one, with many components, all of which students need to really understand," says John Ridgely, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "So the program's big curriculum, which integrates mechanical systems, electronics, computer programming and controls in engineering, heavily emphasizes hands-on opportunities through labs and senior projects."

Channel Islands Meeting the Needs of the Workforce

CSU Channel Islands will be the latest California State University campus to implement a mechatronics engineering program, which is planned to begin in September 2018. It was created in response to the demand for mechatronics engineers in Ventura County.

As a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) and with a student body that's more than 50 percent female, the new program will also focus on increasing access to engineering for historically underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), says Michael Soltys, Ph.D., professor and chair of the computer science program. 

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