Mechanical Engineering Major Shares Juggling Academics and Being a Student-Athlete

Rowan mechanical engineering student Abby smiles in front of her engineering equipment in the lab.

Today we feature graduating senior mechanical engineering major and student-athlete Abby Hainsworth from Williamstown, NJ (Gloucester County). Abby shares her experience while being an engineering major and a member of Rowan’s Field Hockey Team and how she navigates academic workload with her involvement in collegiate athletics.

What is mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineering is problem-solving different things in the world that have to do with moving parts. Within this field, you learn the science, math, and physics behind the way things work, and then you work to design new things or upkeep things that have already been designed to help keep the world going.

Why did you get an interest in mechanical engineering?

I chose mechanical engineering because it is such a broad field. You could really go into so many different professions with a background in mechanical engineering. Moreover, I have always been passionate about aerospace or sustainable energy, which are two areas that I knew mechanical engineering would help me get into as I progress into my professional career. I also knew it would be a secure field to go into.

I originally was a civil engineering major. As time progressed, I realized my sophomore year that I was more interested in mechanical engineering because it focused on moving things versus static things. 

Was there something specific whenever you were growing up that sparked your interest?

I was always interested in math and science. Outer space was the number one thing that sparked my interest. I was always interested in documentaries on TV, looking up at the stars, or just the possibility of working for NASA one day. That combination of things really inspired me.

Can you discuss the educational process? What is the major like when you first come in as a first-year up until your senior year?

In the first year, you usually go hands-on. We have a first-year and sophomore engineering clinic in which you combine with other engineering majors at Rowan and go through hands-on projects. Within these, students are creating different things, learning how to 3D print and 3D model, and learning how to use machines to manufacture things. In your first year as a mechanical engineering major, you take Intro to Mechanical Design, so you learn all the machines; you even build a mechanical clock in which you learn how to pick up a block and move it to a set position.

During sophomore year, you move more into more specific mechanical engineering courses. For example, you start taking your thermodynamics courses and Statics and Dynamics, which are more physics-based courses.

Junior and senior year, you switch to the junior and senior clinic, which are project-based courses where you pick something you’re interested in, whether in your field or another field of engineering.

You get to do a student-led project and something you are passionate about, which is a great experience. You learn a lot of hands-on things; about areas that you might not be more familiar with, and those skills transfer once you graduate.

I’m taking Internal Combustion Engines now as an elective, which I’ve always been interested in and wanted to learn more about. There is a lot of room to learn what you want to learn.

Abby Hainesworth headshot.

What does Internal Combustion Engines focus on?

Internal combustion engine is what really drives your car or anything that is moving nowadays. In the class we learn about the design of the engine, the fuel that goes in the engine, all the different components of your car that help make your car run and work.

Then, we get to research an engine at the end of it and give them back a report about what the engine is and applications of what we’ve learned in a car or something that we are interested in ourselves.

Throughout your career, what courses really stuck out to you in which you gained the most knowledge from?

I gained a lot of knowledge from my mechanical design course. This course really taught us about different ways to design linkages and moving mechanisms, but it also went into a Manufacturing and Measurement Techniques class where I was able to design a scale from scratch.

I had to learn Arduino to code a little controller and then build a kitchen scale that actually was able to measure something; I was even able to change the units on it. This course gave me a lot of experience that went into my junior and senior courses.

Additionally, I would say a lot of the physics courses. I’ve always been passionate about physics and what I do on a daily basis is primarily all physics. So I would say that statics, dynamics, thermodynamics are my most enjoyable classes.

Can you talk more about the faculty and how they help you get better in your field?

The faculty here are very supportive; they really want to see students succeed. I have reached out to my professors about classwork, I’ve gone to office hours where they work through my homework with me or talk with me about exams, but I’ve also reached out to them for personal things.

When it comes to career advice, looking for my job or an internship, or advice on how to even navigate the field after graduation, I’ve reached out to a lot of professors here and they are so willing to help students. They’re truly passionate about our successes. 

One of my biggest pieces of advice to other students is not to be afraid to talk to professors because that’s what they’re here for.

As you wrap up your final semester, what is it that you want to do?

I want to go into sustainable energy or clean energy. I am currently looking into going into nuclear power. However, even if I am not in nuclear power in the future, I want to do something clean for the earth.

I have a job lined up after graduation at the PSEG Nuclear Power Plant in Salem, NJ. I am looking into working there, probably in mechanical systems engineering. In my role, I will be helping upkeep the mechanical systems in the group. Many of the pumps, valves, and different parts help the plant work; our job is to ensure that they are running correctly to power New Jersey.

Abby Hainesworth utilizing equipment in mechanical engineering lab.
Abby Hainesworth utilizing equipment in mechanical engineering lab.

How did you find out about the job? Were there other jobs that you were looking out to?

I am still seeing what else is out there, but I basically had two internships there over the summer. One internship went from my sophomore year to my junior year. Then, I returned from my junior to senior year; I found the internship independently.

Many resources at Rowan help students find internships. With internship opportunities, there are multiple career fairs here at Rowan. I know PSEG has come to the career fairs before, so although I found it on my own, I have also attended these professional development things that Rowan to help me better my resume and assist me in networking.

Do you have a dream job? Is so, what is it?

My dream job is to work for NASA and aerospace. It has always been something that I have been interested in and passionate about ever since I was a little kid. So that is hopefully what I can do one day.

What was the what was the most difficult thing about being in this major?

The most challenging thing about being a mechanical engineering major and a student-athlete was balancing their individual requirements. A lot is asked of you as a student regarding your classes, homework, and exams. Additionally, the athletics requirements are like a part-time job with the amount of practice I have, games, and extra team commitments. Sometimes it can be challenging to do your classwork and still perform on the field.

How was being a mechanical engineering major during Covid-19?

Mechanical engineering during COVID was definitely difficult, but it was not impossible. Everything switched online, so I was learning Zoom from my bedroom, but it was okay. Many of our hands-on projects shifted to creating something on the computer, but I could still learn successfully.

Some professors did projects where you could pick them up and work on them at home. We also did things where if we were to do it at home, we would be given the supplies for it. Usually, we found ways to do it in our house with our own supplies.

Rowan mechanical engineering student Abby sits in an engineering lab surrounded by equipment.

As we transition to talk about your involvement with athletics, can you share the position you play as a member of the Rowan Field Hockey Team?

I am a goalie on the Rowan Field Hockey Team.

When did you become a goalie?

I was a little late to the game. I joined field hockey during my junior year of high school. I initially was playing a different sport, and when I joined the team, they also needed a new goalie. Something in my gut told me I should try it and could be good at it.

When I put on the pads and started making saves, I realized I wanted to be a goalie and did not want to be a field player.

What sport did you play before?

I originally played volleyball when I was in high school. I also played soccer when I was younger. Those sports were the perfect combination for me to be a goalie because I knew how to dive from volleyball, and I knew how to kick from soccer.

Can you talk about what the Elite 90 Award is? 

The Elite 90 Award is awarded to the student-athlete at the national championship with the highest GPA. It is called Elite 90 because there are 90 national championships across Division III athletics. One Elite 90 Award is given to one student at each school for each sport.

Abby Hainesworth standing behind the Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 90 championships.
Abby Hainesworth standing behind the Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 90 championships.

You won the Elite 90 Award back-to-back seasons. Can you share what this recognition means to you?

Winning the Elite 90 award back to back is an amazing feeling. I was not expecting to win it in my junior year when we went to the national championship in Connecticut. We had just gotten to the field to do our practice, and the NCAA commissioners came on the field and gave me the award in front of my whole team.

I remember being estatic and shocked; I did not see it coming. Senior year, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to win it again if we got back there. This past year we had a banquet with all Final Four teams, and they gave me the award in front of all the teams.

It was just a fantastic feeling to be there and receive recognition for what I have been doing on the field and in the classroom. To be there with my teammates to celebrate it was very special.

So one of the more difficult majors that you can pack on top of their starter every day for field hockey. How do you balance out life?

Balancing athletics and academics is challenging. It comes down to a lot of time management and looking at your schedule and knowing when you have class when you have practices or games, and when you can get your homework done between them. So a lot of it comes down to being very self-motivated.

Another critical key is finding a way to self-motivate and stick to a schedule. For example, I look at my week before my week starts and see when I am busy and my workload, then plan what I will do at the beginning of the week.

When you say you are going to do your homework and give yourself a rest when you say you are going to give yourself a rest, it is really easy to get burnt out and overwork yourself. However, you have to find a way to balance schoolwork, your other life, and other responsibilities and preserve your mental health.
There are resources, coaches, teammates, and classmates to support you through it; building a support system is very important as well.

What are the most memorable moments from your athletic career?

The most memorable moment of my career was winning the NJAC championship in my junior year against Kean in overtime. In my first year, we did not win; in my sophomore year, we did not have a season due to COVID. So, that was the first championship I had won with the team. It was such a surreal feeling; I remember when Rice scored, and everyone just ran on the field. The celebration was just an amazing feeling. Thankfully we were able to do it again during my senior year. However, the first time was just a surreal feeling.

Another great memory was making it to the Final Four back-to-back seasons. A lot of other teams do not get to experience that, and to reach that level and be one of the top four teams in the country, was really special. We truly put in the work for it and deserved it; I am so lucky to have had that experience with my teammates.

What did you learn by being part of a team?

Being on a team made me a better person throughout my four years here. I came into college, and I was really shy; I was afraid to speak to others and afraid to be judged. Being placed on a team with such supportive other athletes helped me develop into who I am today because they taught me that I should be myself and then I will be accepted.

No matter what is happening in my life, I can contact them for help. They motivate me on and off the field to be the best person I can be. I am eternally thankful for this experience and the relationships that I have made. I would not be who I am today without athletics or my teammates, my coaches, athletic trainers, and the whole support system I have been given here; I am so thankful for it.

Close-up of equipment Abby uses in mechanical engineering.
Close-up of equipment Abby uses in mechanical engineering.

Why did you decide to come to Rowan University?

I decided to come to Rowan because of our excellent engineering program here. In addition, I like the fact that the class sizes are small. Most class sizes only have about 20 students, and I knew I could not learn at a university where I was in a lecture-style classroom. If I was in a hall with about 100 other students, I knew that that learning experience would not be for me.

Furthermore, to be at Rowan and have relationships with my professors and to be able to speak to them, go to office hours, and utilize their resources is special. It helps me learn rather than just being another number because of that. At Rowan, you are not another number. Every student is valued and has the opportunity to cultivate relations with their professors.

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Story by: Natalie DePersia, senior public relations major