Summer Engineering

Today I spoke to engineering student Karina Packer about her summer thermodynamics class, and her experiences at Thayer.

Karina Packer, '15

Karina Packer, ’15

ENGS 25: Introduction to thermodynamics seeks to teach the fundamental concepts and methods of thermodynamics around the first and second laws, while emphasizing the differences between concepts of heat, energy, and work. In it, students learn how to refrigerate, generate work or heat, and learn how the physical states of chemical elements and compounds change.

When I asked why she’s taking the class, Ms. Packer was quick to say that she thinks the subject is very interesting and applicable to her mechanical engineering concentration.

Packer says she enjoys the class because it’s objective and straightforward. Unlike other classes, there’s no room for interpretation. Thermodynamics is a hard science, making it a very black and white subject – her assignments yield numbers and are either right or wrong, something she says she really likes. Furthermore, the class involves making a stirling (heat-driven) engine, a project that clearly demonstrates the use and applicability of the subject matter and allows her to get a hands-on machining experience. Above all, however, the best part of the class is that she has a great professor. “Professor Richter is incredibly animated and clearly loves teaching the class … he loves the subject so much that he came out of retirement just to teach this class,” she says.

Packer shows off her original piece of metal and the part she made out of it on the Machine Shop's lathe

Packer shows off her original piece of metal and the part she made out of it on the Machine Shop’s lathe

In fact, Ms. Packer says that Professor Richter’s enthusiasm for the class reflects a common thread that is present in the engineering school. She says that more than anywhere else, “The professors in Thayer are more excited and more interested in their subjects… And when a professor loves their subject so much, it makes the students much more motivated and engaged in that class.”

The great thing about Thayer, she says, is that students are given access to resources that they wouldn’t have access to anywhere else. These include the machine shop, the many labs in Thayer, and, of course, the professors and TA’s that are always there to help the students. All these things combine to form a very hands-on engineering degree that mixes theory and experience in just the right amount.

Packer shows how her parts are meant to fit together in her stirling engine

Packer shows how her parts are meant to fit together in her stirling engine

When I asked her whether or not she feels like Thayer has prepared her for the corporate world, she immediately answered that “as far as [she] knows, it has prepared [her] 150% because the program makes you work so hard.” The engineering program teaches you how to prioritize and balance aspects of your academic, extracurricular and personal lives in a way that few others do.

Ms. Packer is planning on finishing the B.E. program in four years instead of five, with a concentration in mechanical engineering and electives in the environmental and earth sciences. She’s pursuing mechanical engineering and environmental issues because the two are of particular importance to Alaska, her home state. On campus, Packer is part of the Varsity Nordic Ski Team, a sister in Tri-Delta sorority, and a campus tour guide.

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