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Engineering Science in the Swanson School

The unique undergraduate offering, directed by program alumnus Prof. Paul Ohodnicki, rigorously trains students in both scientific and engineering disciplines

With more than one hundred undergraduate majors, choosing a field of study at the University of Pittsburgh can be a difficult decision. Some incoming students may enjoy exploring the physical and natural world through scientific experimentation but also want to practically apply that knowledge through engineering.

Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering offers a program that allows students to realize that goal. The Engineering Science Program, which is affiliated with the University Honors College, provides students with a personally optimized scientific and engineering training experience, allowing them to reach beyond and across traditional disciplines and boundaries.

The program is directed by Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, a 2005 alumnus of the original Engineering Physics program, now incorporated as one of the concentration options within the broader Engineering Science program.

“My time in the Engineering Physics program provided me with a broad perspective across scientific and engineering disciplines combined with a depth of understanding within the fields of my specialization that set me apart from colleagues -- even those who had graduated from top-ranked undergraduate programs,” he said. “I am thrilled at the opportunity to give back to the program and to Pitt as the Engineering Science Program Director and am committed to seeing the program realize its full potential in terms of both impact and stature moving into the future.”

Concentrations include

  • Engineering Physics
  • Engineering Mechanics
  • Nanotechnology : Materials / Physics
  • Nanotechnology : Chemistry / Bioengineering

Engineering Science offers four interdisciplinary areas of concentration and ultimately aims to prepare students to think analytically across disciplines to tackle future technical challenges.

“The students that graduate from the program are positioned to be competitive for top graduate programs across the country,” Ohodnicki added. “They are also well prepared for industrial or national laboratory engineering and research management positions and even non-traditional careers in policy, law, medicine, or business that interface directly with the engineering and scientific fields.

“Students who graduate from the program possess a unique combination of a top-tier rigorous technical education and an ability to tackle interdisciplinary challenges that distinguishes them from their peers,” he continued.

When Two Paths Collide

When searching for an undergraduate program, sophomore Anna Strauss wanted to find a way to marry her passion for physics and her love of engineering.

“I initially wanted to be a physics major; however, when looking into career options I pictured myself in an engineering job,” she said. “Engineering Physics enabled me to combine my two interests into a degree that has numerous career opportunities and allows me to still pursue a focus in physics.”

She hopes to one day work for the U.S. Department of Defense in the Navy’s development and application of defensive technologies, and the Engineering Science Program is helping to provide real-world experience in preparation for this journey. Strauss is currently working in the Talaat lab at the Swanson School, where she is researching the laser heating of amorphous and nanocrystalline alloys.

“My advisor from the program was able to help me transition into a research position, even amidst a pandemic,” she said. “I don’t think you would find the same level of individual opportunities in another major.”

Knowledge is Power

Joseph Kozak, a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech, graduated from the Engineering Physics program in 2014 before completing a master’s in electrical engineering at Pitt in 2016. He believes that the program significantly prepared him for his current role and for graduate school.

“Joining an interdisciplinary major helped broaden my perspective and enhanced my ability to analyze and solve complex problems,” he said. “Taking courses in related but different fields, I learned to extract and merge information from one discipline into another, which has progressed my technical skills and provided unique professional opportunities.”

The experiential learning component of the program helped Kozak develop and hone skills that he currently uses as a researcher in power electronics. During his junior year, he participated in a co-op position at GE Power Conversion, which inspired him to continue his studies in electrical engineering.

“This experience exposed me to both power converters and power semiconductor devices, as well as the research being conducted in these technical areas,” he said. “I continued my studies into the field of power electronics because of this experience and am now pursuing a PhD where I research both power semiconductor devices and converter circuits.”

Kozak credits the Engineering Science curriculum and his experiences at Pitt in preparing him for his career and life as a global citizen.

To learn more about the program and its offerings, visit: engineering.pitt.edu/engineeringscience.

Contact: Leah Russell