A Mecca of Mechatronics: Assistant Professor Nathir Rawashdeh’s Perspective on MTU Mechatronics’ No. 2 Ranking

Nathir Rawashdeh, Applied Computing

By James Townsend; Institute of Computing and Cybersystems’s (ICC) News Blog

Over the summer, Michigan Tech’s Mechatronics Department was ranked as the second best of its kind in the country by Knowinsiders. Secured by the hard work of many, this recognition embodies the rapid growth and compelling success the program has shown since its inception in 2021.

Aleksandr Sergeyev and Nathir Rawashdeh have contributed greatly to the department, who both cite Dan Fuhrmann and Dennis Livesay as key components in the development of the program. Sergeyev acknowledges the former Dean of the School of Technology Adrienne Minerick as a reason for the department’s success as well, regarding that as Dean, Minerick set the program up to grow rapidly from the beginning.

Expansion led to more diverse options for Mechatronics at MTU, including a Master’s program. Paniz Hazeveh recently became the director for the undergraduate Electrical Engineering Technology and Mechatronics programs to account for this growth

To get a better understanding of these developments, we interviewed Dr. Nathir Rawashdeh about aspects of the Mechatronics Department, including what additional factors have attracted this success:

1.What are your primary responsibilities in the Mechatronics program, and how do you contribute to the overall growth and success of the program?

Nathir Rawashdeh: My focus is on teaching two industrial control (PLC) courses – introductory and advanced. I also mentor students in this area to publish research papers and work with industry on funded projects, most recently Orbion Space Technology, and Donald Engineering. 

2. Can you provide us with an overview of the Mechatronics program at MTU and its journey to becoming the second-ranked program of its kind in the USA?

Nathir Rawashdeh: The mechatronics programs at Michigan Tech, both Master of Science and Bachelor of Science were developed around 2019. The programs have since proved to be very popular with students and employers alike. Our students readily find internships and employment in various manufacturing industries including, automotive, and aerospace. With our focus on automation control, electrical and mechanical engineering fundamentals, data acquisition, industrial robots, and software technologies, our graduates are well prepared for a broad range of jobs in engineering, manufacturing, and technology

3. What sets the Mechatronics program at MTU apart from other institutions? Are there any unique features or approaches that have contributed to its ranking?

Nathir Rawashdeh: We prepare students for the job market and adapt our programs to their needs, as they come from various technical backgrounds. I think we focus on introducing students to technology, such as a specific model industrial controller and robotic arm, but we do not neglect to convey how these systems work such that graduates can build on their understanding to work on systems that they have never seen before, but work in a similar manner.   

4. Mechatronics is an interdisciplinary field that merges mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. How does the Mechatronics program ensure a balanced curriculum that covers all these areas effectively?

Nathir Rawashdeh: In my view, any mechatronics bachelor curriculum must cover the basics of electrical, mechanical, and computer science. Beyond that there should be a focus on some of these areas, as it is impossible to cover them all in a detailed manner within a bachelor curriculum. At Michigan Tech, we currently focus on industrial automation and robotics.  

5. Could you highlight any research projects or initiatives within the Mechatronics program that have garnered significant attention or recognition?

Nathir Rawashdeh: This 2023 summer, I have received funding from Orbion Space Technology, a local high-tech satellite thruster manufacturer to expand their vacuum chamber cooling system controllers. We implemented some custom functionality using programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and interfaced these with the human operator supervisory control room. The student who worked on this project was in my Spring 2023 advanced PLC class, and built on the knowledge gained there to develop the new functionality.

6. With rapid advancements in technology, how does the Mechatronics program stay up to date with the latest trends and ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills for future success?

Nathir Rawashdeh: I think staying in touch with industry is crucial to the development of the programs. We do this by regularly meeting with our industry advisory board, inviting companies to our classes during career fair week, and by having students present about their industry internship experiences. There are also several professional online networks which we follow and administer.  

7. Could you elaborate on the role of experiential learning and hands-on projects in the Mechatronics program? How does it benefit students and prepare them for their future careers?

Nathir Rawashdeh: I believe hands-on learning is a very attractive mode for both students and instructors because it is an efficient and enjoyable way to learn. Theoretical knowledge is very important, but practical application is becoming an ever increasing skill employers seek. At Michigan Tech, we keep the laboratories updated and the section small to ensure every student has adequate exposure to the equipment. We also assign many open-ended classroom projects for students to test and hone their skills while feeling ownership and being creative. 

8. Mechatronics is a rapidly evolving field. What do you envision for the future of mechatronics education, and how is the Mechatronics program at MTU preparing students to thrive in this dynamic industry?

Nathir Rawashdeh: I believe that the future of mechatronics lies in the integration of more computing technologies and artificial intelligence. Areas of importance in my view include cyber security, cyber physical systems, collaborative robots, artificial intelligence in cloud computing and manufacturing supply chains.

9. Anything else you would like to share? 

Nathir Rawashdeh: I first heard the term “mechatronics” when I was a bachelor student in Germany about 30 years ago. Since then, I have spent 14 years in the field of mechatronics education, establishing many curricula, laboratories and international collaborations.

Because of the insight of Dr. Rawashdeh and others, the Mechatronics department at Michigan Tech is set up to continue its pace. Featuring a state-of-the-art robotics lab and genius leaders, educators, and problem solvers, it will be exciting to see what is in store from MTU Mechatronics.