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National Engineers Week student feature: Tavon Johnson

February 21-27 is National Engineers Week, and WVU Tech is celebrating by sharing the stories of students who are preparing to launch their careers and alumni who are doing great things in theirs. Part 2 of our 5-part series introduces Golden Bears from WVU Tech’s mechanical engineering program.
Tavon Johnson    

Mechanical engineering student, Tavon Johnson.

Tavon Johnson grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and it’s in Charm City where he first discovered his passion for mechanical engineering.

As a high school student considering his career options, Johnson participated in a handful of STEM and robotics programs. He credits them with sparking his interest in the field of engineering.

“Through those programs, I was able to learn a lot about STEM and what engineering encompassed. I learned about mechanical engineering and how engineering drives the everyday things that impact society and the quality of life we have come to expect,” he said.

After deciding on a career in mechanical engineering, Johnson said he spent months researching and visiting college campuses. He was attracted to WVU Tech because of the small campus and the fact that he felt an immediate connection to the faculty and administration that met with him on his first visit.

Now a senior in the mechanical engineering program, Johnson is in the final phase of his education: he’s learning how to apply the fundamentals of engineering to real-world problems.

“At first, as an engineering student, you’re learning principles and basic laws that are the foundations of engineering. The structure of materials. Statics and dynamics. Then you’re trying to master those laws to figure out how things are operating in the world. Finally, you start performing research to prove those laws and to see how you can apply what you’ve learned to real-life situations,” he said.

In addition to his coursework and research, Johnson serves as president emeritus of the WVU Tech student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is an active member of the Pi Tau Sigma mechanical engineering honors society. He is involved in the WVU Tech Student Government Association and the Student Activities Board. He also works in WVU Tech’s Student Support Services program as a peer mentor and tutor.

Johnson is known on campus for his leadership in organizing a campus-wide student design exposition. The expo highlights the research and design work of WVU Tech engineering students and invites attendees from regional business and industry to network with these students and discuss their work. Johnson launched the first expo in 2015 and is now working on the second exposition to be held in late April.

Johnson graduates in May, and he’s currently studying for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, the first of two required exams graduates must take if they wish to become a licensed professional engineer. As he looks beyond graduation, he said that he faces two career paths: defense and robotics technology or construction and project management.

The first path is driven largely by Johnson’s interest in robotics and the summer he spent working as an intern for a cybersecurity firm in Maryland.

“In my internship, I learned a lot about how engineering products help the men and women who are serving overseas. I can’t go out there and do what they do, but if I can aid them with the engineering knowledge and ability I do have, I think that would be very beneficial,” he said.

The construction and project management career course stems from Johnson’s experience working summers with a crew that performed line striping on state roads, highways, crosswalks and shopping centers. He said the experience allowed him to cross paths with the many types of professionals involved in construction projects.

“That has always amazed me, seeing how a project is built from nothing – from an empty field, for instance – into something beautiful and functional where people will be shopping, educating their children or curing diseases. That’s why I’m drawn to the field of project management,” he said.

For Johnson, the most exciting aspect of mechanical engineering is the way innovation within the field can impact someone’s life.

“I think that’s one of the most fascinating things, not only about mechanical engineering, but about engineering in general – being able to make people’s lives so much easier just because you’re able to see complex problems in a way that they don’t,” he said. “That’s not to say engineers are smarter, but because they’ve gained that background knowledge and they understand those fundamentals, they can see how things are working and how to make them work in a better way.”

Johnson said that he and his fellow mechanical engineering students have a lot to look forward to in terms of cutting-edge work in the field, including autonomous vehicles and drone technology.

“Drones are breaking ground every day. There are drones in development that can lift and transport human beings. They are delivering packages. They are being used in filmmaking and in land surveying,” Johnson said.

“There is a lot of mechanical engineering that goes into this technology. We’re looking at blades in flight, and how air and friction is impacting the wings. We’re examining things like material strength, weight and mechanics. Mechanical engineers are involved in the testing process and their work ensures that the structures and components of these machines are sound. That they’ll actually work the way they were designed to work,” he said.

For students following Johnson’s path into mechanical engineering, he paints a picture of an industry where there is a great range of work to be done.

“Mechanical engineering is one of the widest fields in engineering. We can go into so many areas of specialization or industries that you might not associate with engineering. If you’re building an engineering team, there’s almost always a space for a mechanical,” he said.

“Just make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. Don’t enroll in any degree program because you think it will be easy or because you’ll make money. Do it because it’s something you love. If this field is what you want and you’re willing to fight for it, it’s completely worth it,” he said.