Young woman smiles, Oakland University's clock tower is reflected in the glass window behind her

The Art of Mechanical Engineering

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By Robert Kilgore

Run, run, run… Run. This is the life of Mackenzie Hill. She is a super senior who has been active in over 25 organizations over the past five years at Oakland University. Hill is a mechanical engineering major with a focus in automation and computer-aided design. Balancing schoolwork, student organizations, work with the Student Program Board, and designing assembly lines for Fori Automation, she doesn’t have much time to herself. Nonetheless, she took the time to sit down and answer a few questions about Oakland University and what led her here.

Young woman smiles, Oakland University's clock tower is reflected in the glass window behind her
Mechanical engineering major Mackenzie Hill poses in Oakland University’s Engineering Center, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Rochester, Mich. Photo credit: Robert Kilgore

When did you realize that you wanted to be an engineer?

That’s a fun question! In middle school I was part of the Future City Competition. Well, I made it to Nationals, and in Nationals they actually script your questions. So, if someone [a judge] asks you, “what do you want to be when you grow up?,” you have a scripted answer; you don’t actually answer fluidly. Because you want [your answer] to be perfect, you can get points docked for any little thing. My answer was that I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. That wasn’t true at the time, I wanted to be an architect. However, I learned that architects have projects with lifespans that are too long.

So I “downsized” to mechanical engineering where I learned about computer-aided design (CAD) and making smaller scale projects that’s still [similar to] architecture, it’s still art, but it’s definitely a lot more math-focused, which was neat. The last step I realized now [designing] assembly lines, is that these are projects with lifespans of about a month or so. In a month I’m done with it, it’s off my desk, [then] I have a new one. It’s a really fast paced occupation, where you get to see something new come in the door every single day. I don’t like to stay stagnant and just go through the motions.

You like the faster project turnover time?

Yeah, faster turnover in addition to the mix of math and useful art. There’s a right way of doing art, but if it’s fluid art, I’m out.

In middle school, were you aware that as a woman you would be a minority in the field of mechanical engineering?

I didn’t even know if I wanted to go into engineering, but I was someone who, even in middle school during the Future City competition, knew that females were the minority. But also, I was definitely the tomboy; it wasn’t that I was worried about being a minority; it was the opposite. I didn’t want to be in a group with all women.

What was your favorite subject in grade school?

I took one extracurricular class in 5th grade; it was drafting. Drafting was my favorite, it really changed everything because it was an artform that was actually useful. It was math, angles; it was all problem solving. It was a mix between geometry and art.

How has diversity on Oakland University’s campus shaped your growth as an individual?

The main thing with any organization or class or major is there’s always going to be that first step of, “I don’t look [or feel] like I belong and therefore I shouldn’t be here.” However, at Oakland University, once you get past that first step, it’s easy to fit in. You do need to do a little work to reach out, but I don’t think that’s on the university, that’s on you. If you want to be involved with something, be confident, put your foot in the door and you’re good. Once you’re in, you’re in; you can fit [in] anywhere on this campus. At Oakland University you have the ability to be diverse.

Where do you feel you belong on campus?

Everywhere!

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