Mechanical engineering faculty help prepare students for licensing exam
As graduation nears, engineering students have more than just midterms and finals on their minds. For them, it’s also time to start on the process toward becoming licensed engineers. The first step is a comprehensive, six-hour Fundamentals Engineering Exam, or FE Exam, that covers all aspects of a particular engineering field; for mechanical engineering it includes professional ethics, fluid dynamics and machine design.
It’s a test that can be difficult but manageable as long as you know your engineering field. Fulton Schools students learn a lot over four years, so studying and reviewing all that engineering knowledge can be daunting. Test takers do have access to a handbook, but they need more than just reference materials. Commercial prep courses exist, but can cost more than $1,000 per student.
Students didn’t need to look far to find the help they needed. The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering mechanical engineering faculty went above and beyond to provide their own free, eight-week workshop to prepare their students for this milestone in their engineering careers.
Working together for success beyond the classroom
After finding students needed some help preparing for the FE Exam where the standard mechanical engineering curriculum had gaps, Professor of Practice Steven Trimble came up with the idea of bringing the faculty together for a FE Preparation Workshop. His students, including Jeremiah Dwight, a mechanical engineering student graduating this spring who is planning on taking the FE Exam this summer, jumped at the opportunity.
“In [Trimble’s] Internal Combustion Engines class last fall we had a discussion about our plans for the future and he asked whether we’d appreciate help from the Fulton Schools in preparing for the FE exam,” Dwight says. “My peers and I were very enthusiastic about this idea because commercial workshops are very expensive and we knew it’d be good to have a refresher course on everything we’ve learned the past four years.”
Additionally, students might not be able to fit a course on all the exam’s topics into the 120-credit-hour maximum the four-year program allows, so Trimble’s workshop helps fill in what students may have missed.
Trimble provided preparation materials for presenters and organized workshop meetings for two hours each Tuesday and Thursday evenings in February through the first week of March in the Schwada Building. Each session centered on one or two exam topics with presentations by faculty who specialized in those areas.
Associate Professor Kangping Chen had conducted FE Exam reviews for civil engineering students in the past and was happy to help the mechanical engineering students.
“Dr. Trimble mentioned to me that he was organizing this workshop to help students prepare for the FE Exam when he saw me making thermodynamics midterm exam copies,” Chen says. “I told him that I have conducted such reviews before and he then asked if I was willing to help the mechanical engineering students this time. I thought it was a good idea so I joined his efforts.”
Professor of Practice Timothy Takahashi recalled his own experience as an undergraduate mechanical engineering student encouraged to take the FE Exam his senior year and his passion for practical applications of engineering as a basis for wanting to help this year’s mechanical engineering seniors.
“I believe passionately in engineering as a profession that encompasses more than just ‘applied science,’” Takahashi says. “I understand that much of our academic curriculum is quite abstract. Conversely, the FE Exam tests one’s ability to address practical problems with the straightforward application of mathematical principles. To help bridge the gap, I felt duty-bound to help prepare our students for this ‘Bar Exam.’”
Participating faculty also included Faculty Associates William Gest and Ron Roedel (also emeritus electrical engineering professor), Professor of Practice Abdelrahman Shuaib, Professors James Middleton and Pedro Peralta and Assistant Professors Yi Ren, Spring Berman and Owen Hildreth; Ph.D. candidate Nicholas Fette also helped out by covering the topic of heat transfer. All were happy to provide this service for their students, most of whom express interest in taking the FE Exam.
License is key for more opportunities
Beginning the licensing process is an important step for many students to becoming Professional Engineer (PE) and can mean further job opportunities, as energy environmental mechanical engineering student Aaron Zehe — who graduates this spring and plans on taking the FE Exam in the fall — finds.
“I’m an HVAC balance superintendent now and the company’s Energy Engineering team has already explained that a PE is a much needed requirement for functioning within their various roles,” Zehe says. “Various colleagues have also expressed the freedom and job security that a PE license provides.”
Not all companies require the PE certification, but it’s still an important step and can give them a leg up in the job market.
“It shows I take my profession very seriously, and it proves my competence,” Dwight says.
Refreshing their knowledge for a new challenge
Taking their time out of busy midterm schedules, more than 60 students enrolled in the workshop series. Twenty students attended at least seven of eight sessions and took away valuable information.
“I learned a few new things, but mostly it was a refresher of stuff I’d already learned before,” says Dwight, who attended seven sessions. “I also learned what to expect on the exam and how to best study for it.”
Zehe attended all eight sessions and agreed that it was helpful for preparing for the exam beyond engineering concepts.
“I learned very good general information about the structure and most importantly some of the tactics that one should sharpen themselves on,” Zehe says. “For example, unit conversion and navigation of the tables should be routine by the time the test is taken.”
They also got a warning on what subjects they needed more work in, like fluid mechanics for Dwight and statistics for Zehe.
Takahashi emphasizes that the difficulty of the test is more than just knowing what to expect and knowing your mechanical engineering concepts.
“Time management is the most difficult part of the exam,” Takahashi says. “The test is structured so that you have two or four minutes to answer each question; although the subject matter is practical, most questions are quite tricky to answer correctly.”
Helping to prepare for success beyond ASU
The mechanical engineering faculty helped students prepare beyond what they learn in class. They saw they had allies in their future success.
“This workshop not only helped students prepare for the FE Exam, but it also let students know that the faculty is willing to make time in their busy days of research and teaching to help students with a special need,” Trimble says.
And it means a lot to students that their professors took the time to help.
“Dr. Trimble in particular has showed selfless devotion to our success, and it’s great to see other faculty members follow suit,” Dwight says. “It shows that they think of their roles as professors as more than just a job — they’re truly investing in our success as engineers, even beyond the the time that we spend at ASU.”
“The effort speaks volumes about ASU, the faculty, engineering as a profession and the type of people who organize their lives around something they believe in,” Zehe says. “It should also inspire students to work together and help others when given the chance.”
Chen and Takahashi would be happy to help more students prepare to pass this rigorous test of their practical skills, and Trimble hopes other faculty, students and administration also see it as an activity worth replicating.
The next steps in the process
Dwight and Zehe plan to spend the two to three months before the exam studying up based on what they’ve learned in class and through Trimble’s supplementary workshop.
They both feel more certain about what the exam will entail now that they’ve completed the workshop, but with greater understanding can also come more trepidation.
“Ironically, I think I’m actually more intimidated now that the workshop is over,” Dwight says. “But that’s because I had such a poor understanding of the exam in the first place. This was a wake-up call to the fact that I can’t just cram in the night or two before the way so many of us are used to in college; it will take lots of planning and commitment. So even though I’m more intimidated, I also feel more prepared to succeed.”
After the FE Exam, graduates need four years of industry experience supervised by a licensed PE before they can go on to take the Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam.
Though for both students, celebration is first on the agenda after completing the exam. Dwight then plans to finish the 4+1 program after graduation to earn a master’s in mechanical engineering before entering the industry, he hopes in the field of medical devices. Zehe hopes to take some time to explore his options, work on his own projects and those of his company, and then work on his PE roadmap and higher education plans.
Monique Clement, [email protected]
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering