When Haley Smallwood of Oak Ridge first stepped onto Tennessee Tech University’s campus as a mechanical engineering student, she did so with her dream career in mind: to work on a design team for a high-end automotive company. She was excited to hit the ground running toward this goal with the opportunity of taking a graphics course during her very first semester.
“We learned to sketch in perspective and work with 3D software, and it assured me of my decision to study mechanical engineering,” Smallwood said. “Senior design is amazing as well, getting to work on a project that relates to my interests with a team that shares my interests and just being shown the whole process of designing and pitching an idea that you and your team started from scratch.”
She graduated this past May with her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering with a concentration in vehicle engineering with cum laude honors. Smallwood recalls her favorite project of her undergraduate studies came out of her Dynamics of Machines class. She was assigned to a team and given the project of redesigning a mechanical horse used for hippotherapy – a type of physical therapy using horseback riding to improve coordination, balance and strength in a patient.
“The final product was beyond what I had imagined, and my team and I had put so much effort into the horse that I was a little teary-eyed when we handed it over to the clients,” Smallwood said. “Every time I think back on it, I am overwhelmed with how proud and accomplished I feel. If I had any doubts about wanting to go into design before that project, they would have vanished.”
Smallwood says her time at Tech has improved her confidence in her abilities, especially by giving her the tools to solve problems herself without relying on step-by-step instructions by professors.
“The professors are wonderful and incredibly encouraging, and more than willing to answer questions but still pushing us to use our own ideas,” she said. “Having had so many opportunities to essentially ‘design’ my own solutions has been a wonderful experience, and while I still sometimes struggle with moving forward without instruction, I have an understanding of how I can lay those steps out for myself.”
Smallwood now plans to head into graduate studies for industrial design at Tech – the only university she applied to when she graduated high school, even though she had multiple options as to where to continue her education.
“I really liked Tech when I started looking into it,” Smallwood said. “The engineering program was known for its excellence, and better yet, it's a small college. The appeal was instant, and my decision was supported more when we were able to tour the campus. I know a lot of people like to fluff the appeal of small colleges and how ‘you're not just a number here,’ but I've found at Tech that is actually true. I've had so many professors express genuine interest in helping me succeed in my career, and I am very happy I chose Tech all those years ago.”