Fifteen University of South Carolina engineering students became the first-ever McNAIR Junior Fellows (MJF) after graduating recently from the new mentorship program at the McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, College of Engineering and Computing. The group represents the top undergraduates in the aerospace engineering program at the college.
The MJF program provides the best opportunity for engineering students to gain hands-on experience in the field of aerospace engineering. Students apply to participate in the program at the beginning of a semester and, if accepted, are awarded the title of McNAIR Junior Fellow after three semesters of exemplary work.
Students intern on teams with master’s and doctoral candidates on their research projects and more. Through the program, students get real-world experience in aerospace manufacturing processes, equipment and design. This program gives students a better understanding of the design process, fabrication, and elements of working on an engineering team.
The MJF program also gives students exposure to unique manufacturing equipment that is found within the aerospace industry, and which isn’t found at other S.C. colleges and universities. The experiences McNAIR Junior Fellows gain are highly desirable by future employers, and some participants already have job offers as a direct result of the mentorship program.
“We’re very proud of the amazing work from these students, who we’ve enjoyed mentoring through McNAIR Junior Fellows projects in addition to their regular course work,” says Ramy Harik, assistant professor of aerospace computer-aided design and manufacturing — and creator of the program. “Their exposure to real research projects as undergraduates will help propel their careers, giving them a leg up when pursuing engineering positions upon graduation from the university.
Students admitted to the MJF program commit to a serious workload. Members must submit a minimum of 200 hours — at least five hours a week — to the program over at least three academic semesters to complete the program. Juniors, sophomores and freshmen are eligible to apply from anywhere within the university.
Upon completion of the program, McNAIR Junior Fellows receive a personal letter of recommendation that includes details of the research work performed at McNAIR and can use the title of McNAIR Junior Fellow on their resumes. Fellows also can apply for leadership distinction at graduation from the university.
Graduating seniors Brandon Seay and Alex Zuloaga had already accepted job offers from Ingersoll Machine Tools and Northrup Grumman, respectively, based in part on research work they did as McNAIR Junior Fellows.
“The McNAIR Junior Fellows program has been invaluable in helping me begin my career in research, particularly in co-authoring my first article for a scientific publication,” says Alex Zuloaga, a 2017 graduate of the program and of the university. “This experience was enhanced by hands-on projects to develop and implement state-of-the-art technologies to solve real world challenges.”
The MJF program is onto something important and unique in the education of future aerospace engineers. The program creates an ecosystem that feeds into graduate programs at the college and gives students the type of experience employers are looking for in new hires.