What is Mechanical Engineering?

Mechanical Engineering is a diverse subject that derives its breadth from the need to design and manufacture everything from small individual parts and devices (e.g., microscale sensors, inkjet printer nozzles) to large systems (e.g., spacecraft and machine tools). The role of a mechanical engineer is to take a product from an idea to the marketplace. To accomplish this, a broad range of skills are needed. Required skills include the ability to understand the forces and the thermal environment that a product, its parts, or its subsystems will encounter; to design them for functionality, aesthetics, and the ability to withstand the forces and the thermal environment they will be subjected to; and to determine the best way to manufacture them and ensure they will operate without failure. Perhaps the one skill that is within the mechanical engineer’s exclusive domain is the ability to analyze and design objects and systems with motion.

Since these skills are required for virtually everything that is made, mechanical engineering is perhaps the broadest and most diverse engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers play a central role in such industries as automotive (from the car chassis to all its subsystems—engine, transmission, sensors); aerospace (airplanes, aircraft engines, control systems for airplanes and spacecraft); biotechnology (implants, prosthetic devices, fluidic systems for pharmaceutical industries); computers and electronics (disk drives, printers, cooling systems, semiconductor tools); microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS (sensors, actuators, micropower generation); energy conversion (gas turbines, wind turbines, solar energy, fuel cells); environmental control (HVAC, air-conditioning, refrigeration, compressors); automation (robots, data/image acquisition, recognition, and control); and manufacturing (machining, machine tools, prototyping, microfabrication).

What subjects are addressed in the Mechanical Engineering curriculum?

The diverse field of mechanical engineering deals with anything that moves, including the human body, a very complex machine. Mechanical engineering students learn about materials, solid and fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, control, instrumentation, design, and manufacturing to realize/understand mechanical systems. Specialized mechanical engineering subjects include biomechanics, cartilage tissue engineering, energy conversion, laser-assisted materials processing, combustion, MEMS, microfluidic devices, fracture mechanics, nanomechanics, mechanisms, micropower generation, tribology (friction and wear), and vibrations. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) currently lists 36 technical divisions, from advanced energy systems and aerospace engineering to solid waste engineering and textile engineering.

What nontechnical skills does a Mechanical Engineering education at Columbia provide?

Beyond technical skills, a mechanical engineering education at Columbia will provide students with the creative thinking that allows them to design an exciting product or system, the analytical tools to achieve their design goals, the ability to meet several possibly conflicting constraints, and the teamwork needed to design, market, and produce a system. These skills also prove to be valuable in other endeavors and can help launch a career in medicine, law, consulting, management, banking, finance, and so on.

For those interested in applied scientific and mathematical aspects of the discipline, graduate study in mechanical engineering can lead to a career of research and teaching.

When was the department established and what are its distinguishing areas of expertise?

The Mechanical Engineering Department at Columbia was established in 1897, and has enjoyed a national and international reputation for much of its history. Between 1950 and 1980, Professors Dudley D. Fuller, Harold G. Elrod, and Vittorio Castelli were the foremost leaders in the field of lubrication theory and practice. In the 1960s, Professor Ferdinand Freudenstein (known as the "Father of Modern Kinematics") revolutionized the field of mechanical design by ushering in the computer age in kinematics synthesis and the design of mechanism.

More recently, the department has been known for its research contributions in the fields of control theory, manufacturing and thermofluids and biomechanics. Many of our faculty members in these fields have delivered keynote lectures at national and international conferences and have received best paper and professional society awards.

How big is the department?

The department currently has 14 full-time, 8 adjunct, and 2 affiliated faculty members. There are currently approximately 120 undergraduate and 200 graduate mechanical engineering majors. Additionally, 34 sophomores declared as mechanical engineering majors this year.

Why should I attend Columbia for mechanical engineering? What distinguishes Columbia's program from other institutions?

We are a relatively small department with a student/faculty ratio of about 8 to 1 for undergraduates. In your mechanical engineering core curriculum classes and laboratory courses, you will probably have a class size of 60 to 65. This allows our students to actively participate in the learning process and provides many opportunities to be involved in design competitions, projects and research.

The mechanical engineering program at Columbia University has been designed to take advantage of the unique and outstanding liberal arts education provided by Columbia College. There are 27 nontechnical points required for which students can choose from an extensive list of available courses from the college and the school. Many outstanding students in the school have chosen to major in mechanical engineering. Within the last five years, two valedictorians of our engineering school were mechanical engineering students. Among the 14 faculty members in the department, five have received teaching awards within the last five years.

The department has over 6,000 square feet of undergraduate laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment including microcomputers and microprocessors, data acquisition, lasers and optics for holography and interferometry, a laser-Doppler velocimetry system, a Schlieren system, dynamic strain indicators, a servo-hydraulic material testing machine, a lead-screw Instron testing machine, photo-elastic demonstrations, subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels, pool boiling, HVAC, Digital Image Correlation (DIC), Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV), process control, hydrogen fuel cell, solar energy, Westinghouse steam turbine, air compressor, Fanuc robotic arms, Fanuc delta robot, heat exchangers, strain measurement, metrology instruments, flow measurement, micro hardness testing, compressed air engine.

The CAD Lab is a modern computer-aided design laboratory equipped with 30 Dell Precision 670/650 workstations with Wildcat 6100 or Quadro FX 3400 video cards. Machines have software for design, CAD, FEM, and CFD, including Pro Engineer, Maya, IDEAS, FLUENT, and FEMLAB.

All faculty members are active in research and in professional societies. Most have served as editors/associate editors of professional journals.

What kinds of career opportunities would this major or elective concentration prepare me for?

In general, engineering forms a solid foundation for students who undertake careers in many areas requiring good problem-solving skills, not only in engineering but also in medicine, law, or business. Mechanical engineers are especially well-prepared to play central engineering and management roles in industries that involve parts in motion and energy conversion, such as the automotive, aerospace, biomedical, and manufacturing industries. Most high-growth areas, such as fuel cell power generation and semiconductor manufacturing, rely heavily on mechanical engineers to develop high-performance and cost-efficient systems. Mechanical engineers are often responsible for taking concepts to market and overseeing mechanical, thermal, and fluidic design, as well as manufacturing. Due to the broad and global perspective of the mechanical engineering curriculum, mechanical engineers often take top-level roles such as leading the system-level design of products as well as management positions. More information on mechanical engineering careers can be found at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Web site:

The following is a partial list of companies that have hired our graduates within the last five years:

Air Products Flack & Kurtz Motorola
Allied Signal General Electric Open Microsystems
AMS General Motors Parker Hanifin Corp.
Andersen Consulting Grant Thornton, NYC Pratt and Whitney
Applied Recycling Grey Pilgrim (Robotics) Procter and Gamble Corp.
AT&T Honda, OH Raytheon, E&C
BearStearn IBM SEER Technologies
Boeing International Paper Schlumberger
Burns & Roe Hyman Construction, MD Stone & Webster
Carthage Machine Co. Kidder, Peabody & Co., NY Symbol Technology
NY, Cessna Lucent Technology Technovation Inc.
Computer Science Corp. Market Data Corp. Texas Instruments
Con Edison Martin Marietta Tyco Submarine Systems, Ltd.
Ernst & Young Merrill Lynch Ward Leonard Electric
Exxon Merck WCW Consulting
Ford Motor Co. Mid-west Automation Weidlinger Consulting

In addition, about one-quarter to one-third of our students go on to graduate study.


What are the requirements for a major or elective concentration?

The mechanical engineering undergraduate program is designed to provide a broad background in all areas of mechanical engineering while allowing flexibility for students to choose electives from within the Mechanical Engineering Department as well as other departments. The following conditions must be satisfied for the B.S. degree in mechanical engineering:

  • Completion of the Mechanical Engineering Core Curriculum. Of the core curriculum, it is strongly recommended that one course, ENME E3105 be taken in the sophomore year.
  • Completion of 27 points of nontechnical electives during undergraduate study.
  • Completion of 21 points of elective content in the third and fourth years, at least 9 points of technical courses, including 6 points from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Those remaining points of electives are intended primarily as an opportunity to complete the four-year, 27-point nontechnical requirement. Consistent with professional accreditation standards, courses in engineering science and courses in design must have a combined credit of 48 points. Students should see their advisers for details.

Note: A maximum of up to 6 points of ME E3900 and/or ME E3901 and/or ME E3998 can be counted toward the 9-point technical elective requirement.

  • Courses in engineering science and courses in engineering design must have a combined credit of 48 points. Completion of the core curriculum in mechanical engineering leads to satisfying 44.5 out of these 48 points. The technical elective requirement allows you to satisfy the remaining 3.5 points.

Highly qualified students are permitted to pursue an honors course consisting of independent study under the guidance of a member of the faculty.

  • First- and second-year students are required to take the Art of Engineering course, ENGI E1102.

In addition, at least one professional-level course is required from the list here. This requirement is satisfied automatically by Intro to Electrical Engineering, ELEN E1201.

  • First- and second-year students must also complete math, physics, chemistry, computer science, and physical education requirements.

Mechanical Engineering Core Curriculum

MECE E1008: Intro to Machining
MECE E3018: Mechanical Engineering Laboratory I
MECE E3028: Mechanical Engineering Laboratory II
ELEN E1201: Introduction to Electrical Engineering
MECE E3100: Fluid Mechanics
MECE E3301: Thermodynamics
MECE E3311: Heat Transfer
MECE E3408: Computer Graphics and Design
MECE E3409: Machine Design
MECE E3414: Mechanics of Solids for Mechanical Engineers 
MECE E3420: Engineering Concept & Design
MECE E3430: Engineering Design
MECE E3610: Materials and Processes in Manufacturing
ENME E3105: Engineering Mechanics
ENME E3106: Dynamics and Vibrations
MECE E3601: Classical Control Systems

In what semester/year should I begin taking courses toward the major/elective concentration? What is the first course I should take?

All those who are interested in mechanical engineering are strongly recommended to take the course ENME E3105 Engineering Mechanics in the sophomore year.

What is the structure of the major or elective concentration?

With the exception of one course (ENME E3105 Mechanics) that ME majors are encouraged to complete during the sophomore year, the first two years of study is an introduction to general principles of science and engineering and a broad range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. There is, however, room in the program to complete ENME E3105 Mechanics in the junior year if you are not able to complete it during the sophomore year.

In your junior and senior years, you begin to study courses specific to your major. This consists of the core curriculum which includes: ME laboratory I, II, Intro to Machining, Introduction to Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, Computer Graphics and Design, Machine Design, Engineering Design, Circuits and Systems, Applied Mathematics I, Engineering Mechanics, Dynamics and Vibrations, Mechanics of Solids, Classical Control Systems, and Materials and Processes in Manufacturing. In addition, a total of 9 points of technical electives, including 6 from the ME Department, must be taken. A valid technical elective is any course offered by SEAS at the 3000 level or above. The required junior and senior courses allow room for both nontechnical electives (towards the 27-point total) as well as the technical electives. Through these technical electives you will have an opportunity to explore subject areas beyond the core. Your advisor can assist you in providing an overview of the subject matter covered in the elective courses.

How do I declare a major or elective concentration in this department?

To declare a major, a student must complete a form in the Sophomore Class Center. Prior to that, each department, including the Mechanical Engineering Department, will have an open house for the prospective students to visit the department, the department's laboratories, senior students, and faculty members. An information packet will be distributed at the open house. Students interested in mechanical engineering are strongly advised to attend the open house.

How does the department allocate advisers?

Undergraduate students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering are advised by the faculty of the Undergraduate Committee, consisting of:

Qiao Lin 
Gerard Ateshian
Mike Massimino 
Kristin Myers (Director of Undergraduate Studies)
Arvind Narayanaswamy
Sinisa Vukelic  

Yevgeniy Yelisevskiy

Each student is assigned a faculty adviser from the committee upon declaring their ME major (typically during their sophomore year). This advisor will meet with the student regularly to help with many issues, both academic and otherwise.

Please contact our Student Affairs Manager, Mel Francis, at [email protected] with any questions.

Will studying abroad enhance this major/elective concentration?

The department currently does not have a “study abroad program,” but students are encouraged to gain a unique experience by studying abroad, particularly during their sophomore year. The Student Affairs Office manages the study abroad program. More information on studying abroad can be found here.

What research opportunities exist in or through the department during the academic year?

Along with teaching, the mechanical engineering faculty members are actively engaged in research and offer the opportunity for undergraduate students to participate. Pursuing research activities as an undergraduate student can be very exciting and complement your educational experience. The activities can range from setting up and running an experiment to conducting analytical or numerical analyses. Work is directly under the supervision of a faculty member and often involves graduate students. This opportunity allows students to gain unique hands-on experience in world-class basic and applied research. It is also a highly recommended addition to the resumes of students who intend to pursue graduate studies and research.

To find a research opportunity, visit the department's Web page, and browse through the faculty research activities to identify an area that you find interesting. You should then contact the faculty member directly to learn more about their area of research and inquire if undergraduate research positions are available. Such opportunities are also listed in the URIP booklet (undergraduate research involvement program) compiled and published annually by SEAS, although most recent information is best found by contacting the faculty directly.

Every year, the department will also post work-study positions with the work-study office.

To formalize this involvement, the department offers two courses: "Projects in Mechanical Engineering" (MECE E3998) and "Honors Tutorial in Mechanical Engineering" (MECE E3900/E3901), both of which are worth up to 3 points of research credit. Credits and scope of work are to be arranged with a faculty advisor, following the guidelines in the bulletin. However, research activities are not only limited to these junior and senior courses. Interested students are encouraged to pursue the possibility of research at any point during their undergraduate years, because summer research positions in the department's laboratories and activities for freshmen and sophomores might also be available.

What research, internship, and fellowship opportunities exist during the summer months and how do I participate?

The summer break is the ideal time to gain experience in industry and can effectively prepare students for an exciting career. A summer internship working for a company can have many benefits, such as providing insight in the field, making a valuable addition to your resume when you apply for jobs at graduation, establishing extremely valuable contacts, and providing summer income. It also gives you the chance to actually practice the engineering and science you have been learning in courses at Columbia.

To find summer internship opportunities, you can ask individual faculty members if they have industry contacts in your areas of interest, or you can contact our Career Placement Office. The Career Placement office maintains a database of alumni with their work contact information. Students can submit their resume with a cover letter, inquiring if summer internships are available.

Another important source of help is the Columbia Center for Career Education (CCE). CCE exists as a bridge for students between the academic world and their future careers ( When you register to use the programs and services at CCE you will receive email notices from CCE when potential employers of interest are visiting the campus to conduct interviews, etc. Your resume will be needed by CCE by certain deadlines depending on the date of the companies’ visits. Registering with CCE also entitles you to access its internship databases and other services including career counseling, alumni connections, information about other upcoming events, etc.

An alternative and highly stimulating way to spend the summer is by participating in an REU program (Research Experience for Undergraduates). The admission criteria may be quite stringent, but participation in these programs is a prestigious addition to the student's resume. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the REU program provides opportunities for undergraduates to participate in state-of-the-art research either in the department or at REU sites in other institutions throughout the country for about ten weeks. REU sites are established in all fields of science, mathematics, and engineering. Students work with graduate students and a faculty mentor on a current research project. The experience is enriched by seminars as well as extracurricular social interactions. Students are granted stipends, and in some cases, assistance with housing and travel. You will find the full list of REU sites, as well as application procedures and deadlines, at the following website:

For those preferring to remain at Columbia during the summer, there may be several Columbia University REUs. These will be listed at the NSF Web site.

Finally, students can also gain experience in world-class research by working in the research group of a member of faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Department or other department on campus. For mechanical engineering, go to the departmental Web page and browse through the faculty research activities to find areas of interest. Contact faculty directly to find out more about their research and to establish if they have summer positions available. Positions may also be posted on the department’s web site.

What is the best way to prepare for graduate school?

Two things a student should do in order to prepare himself/herself for graduate studies: (1) have a GPA of more than 3.0 for admission to graduate programs in reputable graduate schools and more than 3.5 to compete for a teaching/research assistantship and (2) take a project course(s) to do research in the area that might interest you in your graduate studies. To be successful in graduate studies, the student needs to have good analytical ability, creativity, and independence. Any courses you take and/or any research you do that can enhance these qualities will help you get into a good graduate program and be successful in your study.

What student clubs, committees, and/or activities are offered within or through the department?

The Mechanical Engineering Department at Columbia University hosts an impressive range of student-led clubs and activities. First, there is an ASME student chapter, through which mechanical engineering undergraduates organize professional and social activities, such as plant tours, conference visits, and happy hours with faculty. All ME students are strongly urged to become a member of the student chapter and actively participate. Elections are held annually to fulfill the club's positions. Visit their Web site for up-to-date information on activities and how to get involved:

The department also has two very successful project-oriented clubs: the AIAA and the Formula SAE racing team. The Columbia University American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) branch is committed to participating in the annual AIAA DBF competition. The offical website for the AIAA Design-Build-Fly competition describes the event as one that "will provide a real-world aircraft design experience for engineering students by giving them the opportunity to validate their analytic studies". Visit the club’s website to learn more about the its activities at

Students in the SAE club, also known as Knickerbocker Motorsports Club, also conceive, build, and race their own vehicle: a single seat, Formula-type racecar.

Students in all majors are highly encouraged to participate, since these projects require skills from various disciplines. These clubs provide a unique and exciting engineering experience, requiring multidisciplinary teamwork to drive the project from start to finish. All interested students should contact the student team leaders and attend a club meeting. More information can be found on the club Web pages (listed above), or through the faculty advisors: Mr. Stark for the Solar Splash boat club and Professor Hong for the SAE race car club.

Other organizations specifically concerned with student engineers, include:
Engineering Student's Council (;
Society for Women Engineers (;
Society for Black Engineers (;
Society for Hispanic Engineers (

How does one receive departmental honors in this department?

Several departmental honors are awarded to students each year. These are listed in the next item along with the criteria used for each honor. Some of the awards are based on GPA. Others are initiated by nominations from the faculty and staff, with input from any relevant source welcome. Decisions are made by the entire faculty at one of their meetings toward the end of the spring semester.

What awards and prizes are sponsored by the department?

The department has established the following awards, given annually to awardees on Class Day in May:

The Edward A. Darling Prize in Mechanical Engineering: Established in 1903 by a gift from the late Edward A. Darling, formerly superintendent of buildings and grounds, this certificate and prize is awarded annually to the most faithful and deserving student of the graduating class in mechanical engineering who has contributed significantly to his or her classes and department.

The William A. Hadley Award in Mechanical Engineering: Established in 1973 by Lucy Hadley in memory of her husband, this certificate and prize is given to a student in the graduating class in mechanical engineering who has exemplified the ideals of character, scholarship, and service of Professor Hadley. The award is given to the student who demonstrates both scholarship and engineering professionalism.

The James F. Parker Memorial Award (The Mechanical Engineering Design Award): James F. Parker served and represented Columbia engineering students as their dean from 1975 to 1984. He also distinguished himself in the pursuit and analysis of two-dimensional art. In recognition of his special combination of talents and their integration, the School of Engineering and Applied Science salutes the graduating student who has distinguished herself or himself as a designer. A person of creative and innovative inclination receives the James Parker award, as evidenced by outstanding performance in courses integrating engineering analysis and design.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers Award: This is awarded in recognition of outstanding efforts and accomplishments on behalf of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Student Section at Columbia, either as an officer of ASME or as a member making significant contributions.

Mechanical Engineering Certificate of Merit: This is awarded in recognition of excellence in undergraduate studies.

Mechanical Engineering Faculty Award in Leadership, Service, and Scholarly Work: The Mechanical Engineering faculty makes this award annually to a student of the graduating class in mechanical engineering for dedication and contributions to leadership service and scholarly work.

Mechanical Engineering Excellence in Undergraduate Research: The Mechanical Engineering Department makes this award to a student of the graduating class in mechanical engineering for participating in and contributions to research.