Is an Online Masters in Mechanical Engineering Right for You?

Penn State World Campus student talks about his experiences in their online Masters in Mechanical Engineering program.

  • Name: Brian Edward Sevilla

  • School: Penn State University World Campus

  • Degrees: Ongoing Masters in Mechanical Engineering

  • Undergrad: Bachelors in Physical Sciences (emphasis in Mechanical Engineering) – U of Maryland

  • Employer: Conservation Technology

  • Industry: Green Technology

  • Job Title: Mechanical Engineer

  • Compensation: ~$50,000

  • Location: Baltimore, Maryland

A Complicated Path to a Masters in Mechanical Engineering

Brian Sevilla has had quite an interesting college career. After the music program he was aiming at started to close, a buddy told him how he can take his passion for cars and turn it into a career in mechanical engineering. However, life forced a transfer from the University of South California’s mechanical program to the University of Maryland’s physical science program. This has made Sevilla quite a special case when looking for a job and a masters in mechanical engineering.

“I wanted to go to somewhere that has the gravitas of Stanford or Penn State. I wanted a school with a name because one of my big problems looking for a job was that I didn’t have an engineering degree. So I had to look for smaller companies looking to hire. To move forward in my career I want something that will make employers overlook that it doesn’t say ‘Mechanical Engineering Bachelors’ on my resume,” explains Sevilla.

Looking for a School

Similarly, when looking for his masters Sevilla needed to find a school that wouldn’t hold his bachelors against him for the admissions process. Even with his FE exam and EIT certification some schools were adamant that he must have a bachelors in engineering. “There were only a few schools that would give me the time-of-day for application,” admitted Sevilla. “I spoke with various schools. Of the four I looked at, two had the most appropriate program for what I wanted to do. They were also the most organized at the time.”

Sevilla admits he was a special case. But that didn’t stop him from looking for the school that best matched his goals. Something he suggests all potential students do. “Do your research, there are a lot of great universities out there … Figure out what the schools are good at … I looked at the University of Washington which has a good aerospace program, something I really would like to get into. Penn State also has good connections with NASA, which is something on my mind … If you are looking into automotive for instance then look more at a Michigan school that has a formula SAE program. You can still help an SAE team even from afar,” says Sevilla.

Another factor that affected Sevilla’s choice is his location; he currently lives only 4 hours away from the Penn State campus. This means it is easy for him to visit if he needs to be on campus for a presentation, examination or administrative need.

How the Masters is Helping

Sevilla currently works for Conservation Technology, a small green technology company in the Baltimore area. There he serves as a mechanical engineer mostly working on rain water harvesting systems for irrigation and water usage reduction. He also spends a lot of time producing documentations for the company’s products.

“The masters has given me more insight into things. My first class was on the simulation of mechanisms and its helpful when working on little projects at work [to] consider the kinematics and dynamics of certain things I’m working on. It makes things click in a bit better,” explains Sevilla.

Sevilla’s position is also reacquainting him with fluid dynamics, pipe flow, pump design and dynamics. He says, “I need detailed information on how all of this works. If I skip a step in a manual it will make a lot of trouble for our customers installing and troubleshooting our equipment.”

He adds, “It might sound corny and idealistic but I want to do something that helps mankind. I don’t care if anyone remembers me later but I just want to help mankind move forward before we lose this planet. I would like to be able to say that about myself when I’m older. But I don’t care if people know who I am. I hope I can offset some of the self-centered aspects of our society.”

While Sevilla’s masters degree has made him more knowledgeable in mechanics and more capable of handling his work tasks, his current job doesn’t require a masters in mechanical engineering. Rather, his masters has more to do with his dream of working with NASA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and similar groups; there his masters is invaluable.

Thanks to his degree Sevilla feels better prepared to approach certain problems too. “Like my model rocket,” he explains, “I’m looking to add a wing system and wireless adapter to guide the capsule back to us as opposed to running after it. My mechanisms class has really helped with those calculations. My current class in finite element analysis (FEA) is also helping when I need to design something on paper even with my limited access to FEA programs,” expressed Sevilla.

Taking the Program Online

The reason Sevilla decided to take his masters online was due to his previous employment at roller coaster producer Premier Rides. “At that job I could be required to travel at any given moment. I could be at my desk and be told ‘You are going to India tomorrow. Here is your flight plan. Go pack.’ I wanted to make sure my masters can work around work,” says Sevilla.

He notes that a drawback to online learning is that sometimes there can be a lack of personal connections with the professor. This can be especially true when the classes are pre-recorded. “It’s tough going through email and trying to get a question across 100% without being able to stand there and explain it,” he clarifies.

However, Sevilla reassures us that this isn’t a factor with all professors. He had a very helpful professor during his online studies that is great at tutoring and assisting his students from a distance. He was even willing to help Sevilla set up the equations for his projects, essentially helping him with his homework.

Sevilla adds that “the online set up Penn State has is really well put together for the most part despite being really new to the game. The technical staff is really helpful if I have streaming or access issues. They are really top notch, one of the best tech supports I have dealt with,” says Sevilla.

Unfortunately, Sevilla is unable to get everything out of his current FEA course. His professor performs bonus lectures on ANSYS, a program he has no access too. Perhaps this is somewhere where on-campus classes are preferable as school computers often have all the programs a professor would use in class. Alternatively, distance education programs could allow students to access campus computers remotely, effectively solving this conundrum.

“I do miss being in a classroom with other students. Being able to walk up to a professor and say ‘Hey I don’t get this’ and clarify things. But for the most part I have been managing really well and online isn’t a major detractor,” admits Sevilla.

Online masters certainly aren’t perfect and they may not work for everyone. Yet in special cases, such as Brian Sevilla’s, they can offer the perfect solution.

Written by

Shawn Wasserman

For over 10 years, Shawn Wasserman has informed, inspired and engaged the engineering community through online content. As a senior writer at WTWH media, he produces branded content to help engineers streamline their operations via new tools, technologies and software. While a senior editor at, Shawn wrote stories about CAE, simulation, PLM, CAD, IoT, AI and more. During his time as the blog manager at Ansys, Shawn produced content featuring stories, tips, tricks and interesting use cases for CAE technologies. Shawn holds a master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.