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The idea of working with NASA or SpaceX has stuck with me — Nwanma

Twenty-one-year-old first class graduate speaks with Edugist on his long-term career goals and opportunities available in the field of engineering.
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Vincent Nwanma is a 21-year-old first class graduate from Adeleke University, Osun. He emerged as the best graduating student of the department of mechanical engineering for the 2022/2023 academic session. He speaks with Edugist on his long-term career goals and opportunities available in the field of engineering. Excerpts:

Please share with Edugist, a little about yourself and your background.

I am Vincent Chibueze Nwanma, a 21-year-old graduate of mechanical engineering. I hail from Abia state, Nigeria. I am the second of four children in my family. I’ve lived in Lagos since I was little. I also schooled in Lagos, having attended two primary schools and three secondary schools before being admitted into the university. I’ve always been enthusiastic when it comes to science and technology, which brought about my passion for engineering. I also have artistic skills such as drawing and singing. 

Could you tell us about your academic journey and achievements as a first-class graduate in engineering?

My academic journey has been both challenging and rewarding. I pursued a degree in mechanical engineering at Adeleke University. During my study, I acquired a solid foundation in topics such as fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, engineering mechanics, and material science. I was fortunate to have opportunities like being a part of the faculty association, the Nigerian Universities Engineering Students Association (NUESA), and also being a part of the school’s technical club. As for my achievements, I emerged as the best-graduating student in my department. Overall, I am proud of the knowledge and skills I’ve gained throughout my academic journey, and I am excited about the potential to apply them to create solutions to various problems in my career as an engineer.

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What motivated you to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, and how has your education prepared you for a career in the field?

My decision to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering was primarily motivated by my fascination with how things work and my desire to contribute to innovative solutions. From a young age, I have been intrigued by the mechanics behind everyday objects and the intricate systems that power them. This curiosity, coupled with my passion for problem-solving, led me to choose mechanical engineering as my path of study. 

Throughout my education, I have gained a strong foundation in fundamental engineering principles, which has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of mechanics, thermodynamics, materials science, and more. This knowledge has equipped me with the tools to analyse complex systems, identify design challenges, and develop creative solutions. In addition to technical expertise, my education has fostered my ability to collaborate effectively in team environments and communicate complex ideas to both technical and non-technical audiences. 

I have actively participated in various group projects that simulated real-world engineering challenges, allowing me to apply theoretical concepts to practical scenarios and improve my problem-solving skills. My education has emphasised hands-on learning experiences, which have included designing and building prototypes, conducting experiments, and utilising cutting-edge software and tools. These practical experiences have given me the confidence to approach engineering projects with a practical mindset and the ability to adapt to emerging technologies. Also, my degree in mechanical engineering has not only deepened my passion for the field but has also provided me with the skills, knowledge, and mindset needed to excel in a dynamic and ever-evolving industry. I am excited to leverage my education to contribute to meaningful advancements, tackle complex challenges, and make a positive impact in the world of mechanical engineering.

Can you explain a complex technical concept related to engineering in a way that would be understandable to a non-technical audience?

Let’s take the concept of “resonance” as it relates to engineering and explain it simply: Imagine you have a swing in a playground. When you give the swing a little push, it starts moving back and forth. If you push it at the right time and with the right amount of force, the swing goes higher and higher with each swing. This happens because you’re matching the natural rhythm at which the swing wants to move. Now, in engineering, there’s something similar called “resonance.” It’s like when you tap a glass and it makes a sound. Imagine you have a musical instrument, like a guitar. 

When you strum a guitar string, it vibrates and makes a specific sound. If you keep playing the same note or sound near the guitar, it can make the guitar string vibrate a lot more than usual. In the same way, in engineering, some objects or structures have a natural “vibration” or rhythm. When we apply forces or energy to them, if we match their natural vibration, they can vibrate a lot more than if we apply energy randomly. This can be a good thing when we want to make things move or generate sound, like in musical instruments. But sometimes, in engineering, we want to avoid resonance because it can cause unwanted vibrations or even damage to structures. So, resonance is like finding the right timing or rhythm to make something vibrate or move more than usual. Just like when you push a swing at the right time to make it go higher, engineers need to understand and control resonance to make things work correctly and safely.

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Have you participated in any internships or practical experiences during your time at university? How did these experiences contribute to your professional growth?

Yes, I have. As an engineering student, I participated in a programme called Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES). This programme lasted for ten months and was shared between the second to fourth years of my course. In this programme, I got to work for companies in automobile maintenance and repair, and also manufacturing and fabrication sectors. These companies provided me with basic knowledge of tools and equipment used in servicing and repairs of automobiles, fabrication of parts, as well as identification of faults and finding solutions to those faults. 

These practical experiences not only allowed me to apply classroom knowledge but also taught me valuable lessons in time management, adaptability, and effective communication within a professional setting. I learned how to handle challenges and unexpected hurdles, which are crucial skills in any engineering career. Moreover, interacting with professionals in the industry during these experiences exposed me to different viewpoints and helped me better understand the practical applications of engineering concepts. This insight has been invaluable as I continue to develop my skills and pursue my career goals.

In your opinion, what are the most significant challenges currently facing the field of engineering?

I believe that the field of engineering is constantly evolving, but specific challenges are being faced in the field of engineering, these include; sustainability and climate change, digital transformation, ageing infrastructure, global health and pandemic, and workforce diversity.

What are the opportunities available in the field of engineering?

The opportunities that are available in the field of engineering include: renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, smart cities, healthcare innovation, space exploration and technology, data science and analytics.

Could you share your views on the ethical responsibilities of an engineer?

Engineers have significant ethical responsibilities due to the impact of their work on society, the environment, and people’s lives. Some of the key ethical responsibilities of an engineer is safety. Engineers have a primary duty to ensure the safety of the public, users of their products, and the environment. They must design and create systems, products, and structures that minimise risks of harm or danger. Engineers must engage in lifelong learning and enhance their professional skills to ensure they are competent to undertake their tasks and projects effectively. They should only take on projects for which they have the necessary expertise.

Engineers must also maintain confidentiality of proprietary or sensitive information entrusted to them by clients, employers, or colleagues.

Do you have any role models you look up to in the field of engineering?

Well, the fun fact is that some of my role models don’t have a degree in any engineering field but they have helped shape the world of engineering in different ways. They include Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon and Blue Origin), some YouTube content creators like Mark Rober, Jeremy Fielding, Hacksmith Industries, and a lot of others who have influenced my decision on becoming an engineer.

The ability to adapt to new technologies and learn quickly is vital in STEM fields. Can you describe a time when you had to quickly learn a new framework to accomplish a task or project?

I took a course in automatic control systems in my fourth year, and it required me to use a software application called MATLAB, used for analysing data, developing algorithms, and creating models. We were almost at the end of the semester and we needed to learn this software before our exams. I had to learn the functions in less than a week before I sat the exams. It wasn’t easy but I pulled through. 

How do you stay updated with the latest advancements and trends in the field of engineering?

I stay updated on the latest advancements and trends in the field of engineering through online platforms, social media (preferably YouTube), webinars and workshops, networking, company news and research reports, among others.   

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What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

I’m still planning my next step, but I envision myself using my degree to create mind-blowing inventions and solve world problems. I want to work in the aerospace industry and if possible, in the space sector. The idea of working with companies like NASA or SpaceX has stuck with me for a long time. I have other goals that I also plan on working towards, and the best way to work towards those goals is to get enough knowledge in the fields I want to work in, get enough work experience, and meet new people that share my dreams and vision.

After your bachelor’s degree, what next?

I am waiting to start my national youth service, then after that, continue on my journey in the world of engineering, exploring new concepts, and inventions, and trying to design one myself. I’m hoping I get the most experience from a career in engineering.

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