Category Archives: mechanical engineering

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kevin Schmaltz

April 29, 2016


“It is perhaps one of the most challenging majors at WKU…but you get a lot for your hard work.” This is what Dr. Kevin Schmaltz says about Mechanical Engineering. A professor of Mechanical Engineering here at Western Kentucky University, Dr. Schmaltz is one of many instructors who works tirelessly to ensure an engaging undergraduate experience for his students. While most ME students will see him in as many as five or six classes throughout their years of schooling, some may not know the story behind his interest in engineering and what brought him to Western Kentucky University. Let’s take some time to get to know Dr. Schmaltz!

Dr. Schmaltz’s interest in engineering started, as he puts it, “back in the stone ages!” Throughout high school, he had an interest in math and science, as well as other engineering-related topics. His father being an engineer, it seemed natural for him to go into this field of study, as well. He went to Virginia Tech to study engineering without a second thought, and afterwards he worked as a practicing engineer for Shell Oil. He enjoyed his work and was good at making technical decisions and other necessary aspects of engineering. However, throughout his years of schooling, he realized that he wanted to be involved in the education of others. At the large undergraduate university he attended, Dr. Schmaltz learned that most engineering professors at such institutions focus on their own research, only doing a small amount of teaching. Many classes were taught by graduate students, and there was not a large emphasis put on teacher-student interaction. However, several experiences as he worked towards his doctorate helped him realize that he wanted to go in the direction of teaching. He valued the idea of teachers working to do a good job at teaching and universities that support this. He was able to teach a design class as a PhD candidate, where he actually spent a great deal of time in front of students, interacting with them. One of his advisors who put an emphasis on quality education also reinforced this idea for him.

So, Dr. Schmaltz went on to teach at a small university, Lake Superior State University, after finishing his doctorate. Five years later, he came to teach at Western Kentucky University. WKU was appealing to him because it is a school where professors are focused on teaching students well. He believes that many universities advertise teacher-student interaction, but they do not always employ strategies that allow for this kind of collaboration. However, he feels that Western does this in several ways:

  • its manageable size
  • project-based learning, which facilitates teacher-student interaction
  • more emphasis on professors teaching, rather than conducting research


Since coming to WKU, Dr. Schmaltz has enjoyed being involved with students, and he particularly enjoys doing projects with them. Many of the classes he teaches are project-based design classes, and he works with a wide range of students, from freshmen all the way up to seniors. Each semester brings him over 20 new student teams, over 125 students, and many new projects. While he is pleased with even the smallest project, he is also fond of working with students on some of the larger projects at WKU, such as the biodiesel facility. Currently in operation, the biodiesel project allows for all waste vegetable oil from WKU dining facilities to be made into biodiesel, which powers machinery out on the farm. While Dr. Schmaltz admits that all of the projects can get crazy and busy, he also finds it very rewarding.

2014.11.08_ high school robotics _lewis-0098Outreach is very important to Dr. Schmaltz, as well. He believes that engineering educators have a responsibility and a commitment to share what they do with others. Dr. Schmaltz makes it a point to get involved with the Bowling Green community and facilitate within it an interest in engineering. Dr. Schmaltz thinks that while many kids may have an aptitude for math and science, many of them may not be given the opportunity to learn about engineering and explore its possibilities as a career. Through the LEGO Competition and Robotics Competition for elementary through high school-aged students, he hopes to create and facilitate this interest. He loves being involved with this sort of outreach project, and he also encourages current WKU engineering students to volunteer, reminding them: “Something encouraged you to try engineering…Now, let’s go out and do that for someone else!”

Dr. Schmaltz is proud of the engineering program at Western Kentucky University. He feels that the mechanical engineering major challenges students and prepares them for life after graduation. The project-based learning method of teaching allows students to work on projects throughout all four years of their undergraduate degree. Additionally, many ME sophomores complete projects that are not less challenging than senior projects at other schools. While he does believe that mechanical engineering is one of the hardest majors at Western, he would encourage a freshman considering engineering to try it out. His students must work hard, but they will have the opportunity to do many interesting things. Dr. Schmaltz says that “the story of engineering is not that you get to use math and science…but you get to take on things that can improve the world…ideas that can change the world around you and improve the lives of people…You get a lot in return for your hard work.”

Steps for Success: Engineering Employment Opportunities

April 16, 2016

Graduation can be an exciting, but scary time for college seniors. As the time grows closer for students to enter the professional world and leave their university days behind, many questions and concerns arise. Did I make the most of my college experience? Will I attend grad school? Accept a full-time job? How will I find employment opportunities? I spent all this time in school…now, what? While these questions come along with difficult decisions, Western Kentucky University does the most that they can do to help students answer these questions. In the WKU Engineering Department, engineering faculty try their best to help students make the most of their college experience and prepare for life after graduation.

While many employment opportunities are available to engineering students, they must also keep in mind that they are entering a competitive field. One of the best ways to secure a job after graduation is to gain some industry experience while still in school. WKU’s Engineering Industrial Partnership Coordinator, Debbie Berry makes sure that students can take advantage of such opportunities.

showcaseOn any given day, Debbie Berry may receive word of three or more job opportunities. She then makes these opportunities known to students—during the 2015-16 academic year alone, she has sent out over 100 emails with employment opportunities for students. These include internships, co-op positions, and part-time or full-time jobs. Since gaining hands-on industry experience is so important for engineering students to make themselves marketable, such job openings are valuable. Past students have interned for companies including General Motors, Logan Aluminum, Pure Power Technologies, Berry Plastics, among many others. And they aren’t just limited to local companies. While regional partnerships are incredibly helpful, WKU students can and have extended their scope to work for national companies. Several Western students have completed one or more internships with NASA.

Over 100 students report their work experiences to the engineering department each year. While not all of the data is available, Ms. Berry would estimate that about 90% of engineering students graduate with an industry work experience under their belt. Much of this is thanks to Western’s Industrial Partnership Program. Connecting the university and currently 14 regional companies, this partnership benefits both the community and students. Companies pay $5000 a year to become an industrial partner and, in return, they get the chance to meet face-to-face with potential interns and employees. The fee helps pay for the industrial partnership program itself, student ambassador scholarships, and many of the networking events the engineering department offers.

expoSome of these events include industry showcases, career fairs, project expositions, resume workshops, and special industry partner-only events. WKU Engineering hosts more than ten showcase events each year, where students can come to learn about different industries and internships they may offer. The department also hosts one Dinnerview event per semester, where industry partners can attend to meet some of WKU’s top engineering students. After getting the chance to network, attendees will eat dinner together, engage in professional development table talks, and have the chance to share resumes. These events are special in that they allow employers to meet face-to-face with potential employees and give students the chance to see what opportunities are out there for them. Not only do students and companies benefit from such events through the Industrial Partnership, but the whole community of Bowling Green is allowed to flourish through increased community interaction and involvement.dinnerview 2

For engineering students looking for internships and jobs, the best thing to do is get involved. Hands-on experiences are some of the most impressive bullet points on a resume. Even if you have not yet completed an internship or co-op, class projects can serve as prime examples of real engineering experience. Skills and qualifications that employers are looking for, such as teamwork, leadership, presentation skills, and knowledge of engineering topics, can also help seal the deal. For engineering students, there are numerous jobs out there, and the Engineering Department is available to help throughout the whole process—from resume editing to providing the skills and connections to land the dream job.

Chandler Clark: Student Worker in the Engineering Prototype Facility

April 5, 2016

Threchandler clarke years ago, Chandler Clark saw advertising within the engineering building for a position in WKU’s Engineering Prototype Facility (EPF). Ever since then, she has been a student worker in this facility. She was excited to take the job because of the flexible hours, wide range of experiences she could gain, and the opportunity to learn about machines. Currently, she organizes the facility in order to complete all jobs for students and faculty. She also works to design projects for a variety of disciplines, support student projects, and is involved with Western’s biodiesel project. Chandler says that “working in the EPF has given [her] many hands-on experiences to better connect the theory and math to the actual product being completed” (Clark). She has also learned a great deal about time management and problem solving, all while gaining experience that will prepare her for her future career.

Her favorite part of the job is helping other students complete their projects, and she loves seeing the process through to the end. In fact, one of her most enjoyable experiences as a student worker has been working the Engineering Exposition each semester. At this event, WKU engineering students present their research and projects. Chandler says that it is “neat to see all of the hard work within the department being shown at once” (Clark.)

By having the opportunity to work with other students, Chandler has been able to learn about more than just engineering through her job. She has gained valuable interpersonal skills and made lifelong friends. She has met many people through the engineering department and feels that she can connect well with other engineering students, even if they aren’t specifically in the mechanical discipline like her. Some of her best friends have come from spending countless hours in the engineering building for classes and work. She has also had memorable experiences with the engineering department as a whole, such as frequent bowling trips with both students and professors, and their yearly paintball event.

Chandler is from Edgewood, Kentucky and will be graduating in May 2016 with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in systems engineering. She chose engineering because of encouragement from a high school teacher, who also happened to be a nun. As Chandler says, “if you can’t trust nuns, you can’t trust anyone!” (Clark). Glad that she followed her teacher’s advice, Chandler loves engineering and hopes to continue her education in the fall, where she will pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. As one of only a handful of females in engineering, Chandler admits that it can sometimes be a challenge to “keep up with the guys,” but she values every chance she gets to learn from teachers and other students (Clark). Clearly, nothing has held her back thus far—in addition to her job in the EPF, Chandler plays soccer for WKU, is president of the WKU branch of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a member of Tau Beta Pi, and a student researcher. She is excited to use the knowledge and skills learned through her job and other experiences at WKU to prepare her for her future education and career.



Works Cited:

Clark, Chandler. Personal Interview. 4 April 2016.

Dated Desk Development: Design Sprint in Progress

March 23, 2016


“Too much homework!” “Too early in the morning!” “Too many tests!” Students are not shy to make their complaints about school known. All the way from elementary school, where kids whine about not getting enough recess time, up to their senior year of high school, where they feel the homework, tests, and college applications weighing them down, students complain about school. Even throughout college, the criticisms continue, regardless of whether students enjoy school or not. However, some of these complaints are quite justified—including one such complaint concerning the size of desks in WKU’s Thompson Complex for Science.

This semester, Dr. Gordon 129Smith is teaching several engineering classes in the Thompson Complex that are typically taught in the building for Engineering and Biological Sciences. Classrooms 129 and 402 contain lecture hall-type seating, only providing students with small flip-up desks attached to the chairs. According to Dr. Smith, while it may be the “finest educational seating of 1954…it is awful” for the engineering classes he teaches currently. Students struggle to learn effectively in these environments, and taking exams is particularly difficult. In order to find a solution, Dr. Smith decided to give this problem to the students and allow them to solve it themselves through a design sprint.

In the engineering department, there are six design courses, where students have between a semester and a full year to analyze a problem and solve it. Oftentimes, these are high stake problems—industry partners provide factory problems and want applicable solutions from upperclassmen. However, design sprints give younger students an opportunity to gain similar experiences. Appropriately named a design “sprint,” these projects shorten the process down to only 6-8 weeks. For this particular project, Dr. Smith asked students to come up with some sort of desk modification to improve the quality of learning in his classrooms. His specifications: the desks must be able photo 1to be added and removed by students before and after class, easily stored within the classroom, and made from common materials. Two groups of students quickly got to work, eager to complete a project that would make their own lives and the lives of others much easier.

After exploring several design options, they were put to the test at the WKU Engineering Expo. Using chocolate to entice attendees to use and evaluate their desk prototypes, the students gained feedback to help them create a final design. Many of the testers thought the desks worked well, and others gave some helpful criticism. Getting comments ranging from “desks are a little tight” to “great for napping,” the students used this feedback and created the final design. The desk modifications were built so that, when several are used in a row, they will fit together and create one long tabletop surface. Currently in production, the desks are being created for a total of $1600, which was generously provided by the photo 2dean. Choosing inexpensive methods and working in a production line fashion, student volunteers are making the desk modifications become a reality.

It is exciting for current students to experience the production of the desks, and future students will not miss the benefits of this project either. Whether they get the opportunity to use the desks or not, they will get to see the results of a hands-on engineering project carried out by Western students. One of the most important things students are learning in this project is that nothing ever goes as perfectly as pictured, but this is ok and sometimes even leads to new, better ideas. The desk modification project should be completed in time for this semester’s students to utilize the new desks for their final exams. But, the work is never done! Dr. Smith hopes to maintain a list of projects that can be completed as design sprints to help the engineering department, as well as others on campus. Next on that list? To build a stand for the desks using only the scraps from this project! A challenging and meaningful task, it will be a project perfect for engineering students who love to dive in and get their hands dirty!



A Guest in EBS: Visiting WKU’s Engineering Department

March 14, 2016


Up on top of the hill at Western Kentucky University lies the Engineering department, which is headquartered in the Engineering and Biological Sciences building. Nestled in between Snell Hall and EST (an academic structure dedicated to science courses), EBS is not often visited by those who do not have class within its walls. However, a trip through its halls gives visitors an interesting glance into the on-goings of the engineering department. I had the opportunity to take this trip, guided by engineering department head Dr. Julie Ellis.

lab photoWalking down the halls, the huge lab located on the bottom floor definitely stands out. The glass walls of this room reach all the way to the top of the building, allowing one to stand on the second floor and watch the activities occurring in the lab. Filled with machinery, on-going projects, and complicated equipment, this lab piques the interest of anyone walking by. On the inside, one can get a closer look at some of the innovative projects WKU engineering students are working on at any given time. During my trip, Dr. Ellis pointed out a large stack of wooden planks. She explained that they were in production as desk modifications for a classroom in the Thompson Complex. A building that holds mostly labs rather than traditional classrooms, the current desks were far too small to be comfortable and useful to students. As a result, engineering faculty Dr. Gordon Smith challenged his students to create some sort of low-budget desk modifications that would help create a better learning environment in these classrooms. Now, his students are working to fix a real-world problem—one that even affects them and their classmates.

I was able to witness several other projects in action, as well. Stopping by a few classrooms, I saw many students busy at work. In one room, students worked on homework while a 3D printer whirred in the background. Eric Weaver, an engineering student, eagerly explained that the printer had been programmed to make small models of the WKU mascot Big Red. Three or four sat out on the table, already completed, while the printer continued the eleven hour process of creating one more softball-sized statue. In the materials lab, a group of students gathered around the concrete canoe, a project that occurs every year for the national concrete canoe competition. Several students sanded the canoe, which had recently been removed from its mold, while another explained the layers of the canoe and the display stand that would be built to go along with it. With regionals approaching in just a few weeks, the team was both nervous and excited to complete their final product.

Engineering & Biological SciencesSeeing engineering students in action helps create an understanding of the department at WKU. Many new students like me may be unaware of what exactly goes on behind the walls of the engineering building. However, after taking a walk around, one can easily see the energy and passion of these students for their field of study. Many students are eager to share about their projects with others, much like their passionate professors, who also love to speak about their courses and the accomplishments of their students. From seeing the construction of the concrete canoe to Dr. Ellis casually mentioning several tennis ball-throwing contraptions in the corner of the room, Western’s engineering department holds many surprises. In the end, one thing is definitely clear—WKU engineering is always up to something! Home to a diverse group of students involved with a variety of projects, WKU Engineering is a busy department with unique assignments occurring at any given moment.



Works Cited:

Engineering Sign. Digital Image. Carris Tech. List of Odgen College of Science and Engineering WKU Images. Web. 20 March 2016.

Engineering Building. Digital Image. WKU Map. Engineering and Biological Sciences. Web. 20 March 2016.

“Geek is Chic”: Women in Science and Engineering Fashion Show

February 29, 2016

fashion show 2


“What’s wrong with being confident?” It was only one of many songs played, but Demi Lovato’s hit seemed to blare louder than the rest at the 2016 Women in Science and Engineering Fashion Show. After all, the chorus carries a theme similar to that of the fashion show itself: be confident, and celebrate who you are! Dubbed with the title “Geek is Chic,” this unique fashion show celebrated the accomplishments and beauty of many women faculty members of Ogden College at Western Kentucky University.

An event like no other, this fashion show took place in the Hardin Planetarium. Floral arrangements were hung, and strings of lights bathed the dark venue in soft light. Spotlights shone onto each model as she made her circle around the planetarium, pausing to twirl and show off her outfit. Models for the fashion show came from the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which promotes women entering the fields of math and science. The program hopes to improve the balance between men and women in STEM fields; currently, 68% in these fields are male. The WISE program partnered with WKU’s Fashion Merchandising department to make the fashion show a reality. The IDFM 432 class of visual merchandising students put on the show—the goal of their class each semester is to plan and hold a fashion show of some sort. This semester yielded a show quite different from any show 3

The models dressed for three different occasions: A Very Busy Day on Campus (the category for casual attire), Testifying to Congress (professional clothing for presenting research), and Gala Wear. Some of the models appeared a bit nervous at first, but by the end of the evening, they were spinning around, whipping off jackets or glasses for a poised look at the crowd, and laughing happily as they paraded around the room. Prior to each model’s appearance, photographs of her family were projected onto the planetarium ceiling, and the audience got the chance to learn a little bit about this diverse group’s interests and accomplishments.

Dressed in a practical yet elegant black and white poncho, Linda Gonzales kicked off the show for the night. The first female faculty member to enter the agriculture department, she has worked there for 28 years and loves her field because it allows her to become closer to achieving her desire to feed the world. Many more impressive women followed her. With a confident spring in her step, fashion show 1Sharon Mutter showed off her pink, knee-length suede skirt. Proud of her scientific journal publications and her research grant, she thinks it is important for women to enter STEM fields because we need intelligent and creative people of both genders to help solve our world’s problems. Similarly, Naomi Rowland thinks that women can be in any field, regardless of stereotypes. Rong Yang, in a black and red dress, was celebrated for her beauty and her PhD in computer science. Julie Ellis, head of the engineering department, loves working with students and is proud of her son, a software engineer for Google. With a navy floral dress and her hands on her hips, Margaret Crowder, professor of geology, said that female voices need to be heard to empower women for society as a whole. Head of the psychological sciences department, Kelly Madole stated that no one is happy until they are in love with their job. It seems that all these women have indeed fallen in love with their jobs and found their place within the male-dominated world of science and engineering.

However, with events like this, the WISE program is working to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields and bring more women into the world of science and engineering. As shown by the fashion show, Ogden College has many impressive women faculty members, who are hoping to inspire other young girls to follow their dreams. If those dreams involve math and science, they don’t want any stereotypes to hold ambitious students back. In addition to inspiring young women, the fashion show also encouraged its models to have their own look and to continue to be confident in show 4 In the end, STEM topics may bring this diverse group together, but it is more than just that. Many similarities ran through the women’s bios throughout the night—their love for serving others, spending time with their families, hearing about the achievements of past students, and simply relaxing at the beach. Though their accomplishments are many, WKU’s women of science and engineering are regular people who share common hobbies and interests with others. And, they are just as beautiful as anyone else. After all, “what is beauty if the brain is empty?”



Works Cited:

Hicks, Sarah. Poster. Digital Image. WKU News. “Geek is Chic” Fashion Show Feb. 29 at Hardin Planetarium, 23 February 2016. Web. 8 March 2016.

Pederson, Miranda. Model. Digital Image. Bowling Green Daily News. Photos: Geek is Chic, 29 February 2016. Web. 8 March 2016.

LEGO Robotics Competition: Episode XVI, Star Wars Edition

February 27, 2016DSC_0729

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…the WKU Engineering LEGO Robotics Competition began! Now an annual event for WKU engineers and the Bowling Green community, Saturday’s occurrence marked the competition’s 16th year of existence. Each year, elementary and middle school-aged students form teams to create their very own robots, using LEGO Mindstorm kits. Their robots are then put to the test, as they go through obstacle courses and complete tasks, all judged by WKU Engineering faculty and students from the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society.

both coursesThis year’s theme brought a new level of excitement to the competition. Students had to take their robots through two Star Wars-themed courses, the first being the Death Star course. In this course, students could choose to either follow a zig-zagged line along a clear path or brave the asteroid belt, where they weren’t restricted to a certain path, but had to dodge obstacles and pop asteroid balloons. Teams had two minutes to try to make it to the center of the course and knock over Darth Vader, thus completing this course’s objective. The second course was the Star Wars (Over the Years) Course, where teams had to send their robots on missions to score points. Again they had two minutes, but in this course, teams tried to complete as many objectives as possible in the allotted time. One team “driver” was responsible for setting the robot in the start zone, sending it out on their mission of choice, and bringing it back to the start zone at the completion of each mission to begin again.

photo 3On February 27, Drake’s Creek Middle School gymnasium opened up for the 2016 competition. Excitement filled the air as students gathered with their teammates to discuss strategy for the day’s competition. Star Wars movies played from a screen in the center of the room, serving as entertainment for the parent-filled bleachers before the event began. Over 150 coaches and parents attended the competition, and 65 students competed on 23 teams. Some teams in official uniforms, others dressed in their best Star Wars attire, all participants were full of energy and enthusiasm. Teams sat on the floor, a few kids choosing to stretch in preparation, others reviewing their programming codes on computers. Soon, the competition began with a quick “May the Force be with you” from WKU’s engineering department head—the Star Wars equivalent of “Play ball!”

Teams gathered around their respective courses, waiting for their turn to pull their robot out of its numbered cardboard box. Most teams chose to travel through the asteroid belt on the first course, popping balloons with pointy objects affixed to the front of their robots. Applause filled the room, as teams experienced both successes and failures. “The Jaguar Awakens” team was eager to share about their experience.

From Natcher Elementary, photo 22 edited“The Jaguar Awakens” team included eight students, a parent volunteer as coach, and one team member’s sibling acting as a mascot. At their school, all students in the Gifted and Talented program are invited to participate in the contest. They worked together to build the robot, starting in January of this year. The team took advantage of the opportunity to practice running the course at WKU prior to the event and had a lot of fun throughout the whole process. They especially enjoyed building and naming the robot, as well as having a team pizza party the night before the competition. Impressive students, these team members are busy at school and in the community—many team members are not only in the GAT program, but they are involved with Beta club, cross country, competitive jump rope, academic team, and more. Like most kids, they love lunch and recess, but they also have high ambitions for the future. The team, like many others, experienced their share of successes and failures throughout the competition.

On their first run, “The Jaguar Awakens” robot managed to pop one asteroid balloon; however, the robot then got off track. Hitting the wall and almost flipping, the team did not make it through to attack photo 26Darth Vader on the Death Star course. After their rocky start, they were able to make a comeback on the second course, touching Anakin for 100 points.

The scoreboard went up halfway through the day (EIT Division winners: Johnson Homeschool team, PE Division winners: Drakes Creek team), but regardless of their places, everyone at the competition had something to learn—and not just the competition participants. WKU engineering students also had an opportunity to learn and give back to the community. By facilitating an event like this, they helped expose younger children to some of their own passions and continued to build a presence for their department in the Bowling Green community. Participating teams learned a great deal about working together and adapting to new situations, as they made adjustments to their robots in between rounds. As one team frantically tried to tweak their robot before their next run, chasing after the robot as it rode right out the door, one team member laughed and said what may accurately explain the positive attitude of the entire competition: “We had the most fun; I don’t care how we placed!” After all, as WKU engineering emphasizes, learning doesn’t come from test scores, but from fun, hands-on experiences.DSC_0723

Co-inventor of Wearable Robot Says WKU Engineering Program Prepared Him Well for Career

July 25, 2013

A co-inventor of the Indego, a lightweight mechanical pic 1wearable robot, credits WKU’s Department of Engineering with providing the hands-on, real world training to develop cutting edge technologies.

Dr. Ryan Farris, a 2007 mechanical engineering graduate, is Engineering Manager for the Human Motion and Control unit at Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. Farris earned his Ph.D at Vanderbilt University where he worked with another graduate student and a faculty member to develop the powered exoskeleton now called the Indego.

Farris noted it was his undergraduate work at WKU that prepared him for graduate school and for a career.

“My experience at WKU was a great one all around,” said Farris, who grew up near Cynthiana. “From the freshman year on, we were doing real projects and learning real project management skills.”

Farris said Dr. Chris Byrne and other WKU engineering faculty members brought their professional experience into the classrooms and laboratories and “taught us to be professional engineers.”

“What I observed in Ryan Farris was an ability to seize opportunities to produce results,” said Dr. Byrne, professor of mechanical engineering. “He had many such opportunities and he never failed to impress those he worked with or for. The research opportunities in the mechanical engineering laboratories provided him some visibility to the joys of generating new ideas, information and new devices.”

“At WKU, engineering professors taught you what you were capable of,” mechanical pic 2Farris said.

For Farris, that meant looking for ways to apply mechanical engineering skills for designing products that would improve the lives of others. “I wanted to think about the future, and the engineering program at WKU was structured to help me do just that,” he said.

“Ryan’s experience at WKU gave him insight and experience in the many facets of research and product development,” Dr. Byrne said. “He added to this education during summer internships where he designed, built and installed manufacturing assembly lines. This furthered his experience and abilities to create new devices and systems. By the time Ryan completed his mechanical engineering degree, he had gained as much experience in engineering as one might expect from several years of full-time work experience.”

During internships at area industries, Farris worked on several projects including the design of industrial automation equipment. “I was an engineer doing real work,” he said. “Those experiences really defined where I was going.”

His first stop after graduating from WKU was as an engineering research assistant at Vanderbilt University. As part of his master’s degree program, Farris worked on a project to develop a clutch/brake mechanism for medical devices. His doctoral research with Dr. Michael Goldfarb and others in Vanderbilt’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics resulted in the Indego.

mechanical pic 3The Indego allows individuals with severe spinal cord injury to walk and enhances rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. Parker Hannifin has licensed the technology and is working to further develop and test the system before a commercial launch of the product.

Farris expects to spend the next few years working to bring the Indego to market and hopes that thousands of individuals with walking impairments will soon be aided by this technology and others that are being developed by Parker’s Human Motion and Control unit.

“Ryan’s time at WKU was one of productivity and growth,” Dr. Byrne said. “While he may not have fully realized it at the time, his trajectory was one that was destined for advanced study leading to a position where he could contribute at the highest levels. He is now an international leader in robotic systems for augmenting human movement. His passion for creating new ideas and devices was fostered while at WKU and has led him to a rewarding career.”

Read more about the Indego technology at