UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME) program offered online by the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering and Penn State World Campus has been ranked No. 2 by U.S. News & World Report for 2020. 

Announced January 14, the high ranking on the list of Best Online Master’s in Mechanical Engineering Programs reflects the MSME curriculum’s impact on students and its strong reputation with employers. 

“This new ranking demonstrates the program quality, through the dedication of our faculty and staff who lead the program. It also speaks to the excellent students we have been able to attract,” said Karen Thole, distinguished professor and mechanical engineering department head.

Launched in 2013, the online graduate program has grown significantly, with more than 100 students actively pursuing the degree each semester.  

“We don’t shy away from the rigor of an engineering graduate program, and our students are better prepared as a result,” Catherine Berdanier, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of online programs in mechanical engineering, said.

The online mechanical engineering graduate program stands out by uniquely infusing a research component into its academic course work, directly mirroring the residential program offered through the College of Engineering at Penn State University Park. 

“The academic research, conducted with a faculty member, is an additional facet that shows employers that our graduates have the ability to engage in an independent project, think critically about fundamental and complex engineering problems, and communicate that knowledge to a wider audience,” Berdanier said.

The guiding principles of both the online course work and research components are designed to be equivalent to a residential degree, which opens the door to many engineers who would not have otherwise been able to pursue an advanced education.  

“The essence of academia is that we are creating the knowledge that future textbooks will be written about,” Berdanier said. “If a student enrolls in the MSME online program with a thirst to not only explore the depths of the mechanical engineering discipline, but also to create new knowledge through the research component, they are likely to be successful.” 

In that spirit, the 32-credit program requires the same courses as the curriculum offered at University Park and is taught by the same graduate faculty who are experts in their fields of study. Through course work in topics such as heat transfer, the foundations of fluid mechanics, the principles of turbomachinery, automatic control systems, solid mechanics, and engineering optimization, World Campus graduates can learn an advanced mechanical engineering skill set that can help propel their career.   

These engineers can be found at the forefront of technological advances, furthering and applying fundamental concepts to fields such as the automotive, biomedical, robotics, power generation, and aerospace industries. 

With a majority of students pursuing advanced degrees in addition to working full-time, the program is designed to be flexible and allow students to more easily balance personal and educational priorities.

“For instance, one student split her time between Austria and Japan, so she was constantly on airplanes,” Berdanier said. “I made sure to publish my homework sets in advance, so while she was racking up those frequent flyer miles, she could also be getting her school work done.” 

According to Berdanier, around one-third of the students in this program publish their work at conferences or in peer-reviewed journals as a result. 

“That alone points to the equivalency and the quality of the research our World Campus students are doing,” she said. “They may not be located in University Park, but they are part of our academic team.” 

Alongside a dedicated team of professors and administrators in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the new rankings further inspire Berdanier to continue enhancing the experience for World Campus graduate students.

“In the department, the College of Engineering, and World Campus, we are all dedicated to this vision of academic excellence, which I believe is why our program has been successful,” she said.