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Student Spotlight: Daniel Prater

Where is your hometown?

“I am from Hilliard which is like 20 minutes west of here.”

What made you come to Ohio State?

“Well I didn’t get into the school I wanted to go to but I think that was a blessing in disguise. It was kind of like I didn’t give my due diligence to college applications and I applied to OSU and thankfully I got in. At the end of the day, OSU is a great school.”

What is your area of study and why did you pursue it?

“Mechanical engineering. I actually came in as a computer scientist, but mechanical is very versatile and you can take it a lot of different directions, and you learn about a lot of different areas of engineering even within mechanical. I think that was definitely part of the appeal and just made the most sense. There are a lot of mechanical engineers in my family. I can’t remember if it had anything to do with wanting to become a pilot, but I wouldn’t put much emphasis on that.”

Was there anything specific that drew you to mechanical engineering?

“Initially, I came in as part of Air Force ROTC. I still wanted to become a pilot and it was just a lot balancing engineering with ROTC and also maintaining involvement in the church I am part of. All of that was too much for me so I dropped out of my computer science class and then I dropped out of ROTC shortly after that. Then, I guess I was in this period of reevaluating. I think it was probably the versatility, and as a kid, I’ve was pretty mechanically minded. I used to build a lot of things like I built a Rube Goldberg machine in my room and I used to pick locks and I made my own lock picking set. I was just attracted toward very physical engineering and building things. Mechanical can certainly be taken in that direction. It was just me moving in the direction of my passions or interests you could say.”

What was the task for your Rube Goldberg machine?

“It was to turn off my lights. So I took these paper towel cardboard tubes and cut those and lined them up in series going from right beside my bed all the way across my walls. Then I think I had like part of a train track and then there was this little cup and it had a string through a hole on opposite sides of the lip and it would wrap around the light switch and I had it where I weighted it down with just enough marbles to where it didn’t turn the switch, but when one more small marble fell down and that impulse would turn the lights off. It wouldn’t turn the lights on though. It would only turn them off.”

Do you feel like mechanical engineering is where you were supposed to end up?

“Yea, I think it is a good fit. Definitely.”

What do you like most about the major and the opportunities that it allows you?

“I really like the exposure that you get to multiple different sub-disciplines within engineering. For instance, we deal with heat transfer, system integration and controls, fluids, dynamics, machine element design, acoustics, and we do a fair amount with electrical work and measurements. So you get your hands in a lot of different areas and I think that can help you understand where your skillsets lie and also how integrated the world really is. Now-a-days with things that are being invented it is really integrated systems. You typically are not going to find one strictly mechanical system. It will typically be integrated with electrical and computer. There is a lot of intertwining of different disciplines and I think the curriculum that is presented here is a good gateway into seeing some of these different areas.”

What is the best class you have taken here so far?

“I am taking an applied finite elements methods class right now and I really enjoy that. In that class were using computers to model and solve physically complex problems. I enjoyed heat transfer a lot. When I took controls I enjoyed it but I have forgotten a lot about controls. Now I am starting to become more interested in the field of structural mechanics. So, classes like the machine elements and I took an experimental mechanics class last semester which was a technical elective that was offered. That was a good course. So I don’t know that is really tough to answer. I don’t know if I could pick a best class.”

Why do you think you can’t pick a best class?

“Maybe I just struggle figuring out what I like the most. But there are so many cool things within the realm of engineering. The more I learn the more I realize how little I actually know so I think it is cool learning about new things.”

What advice would you give to high school students considering engineering as a major?

“I think for a lot of students they come from high schools where they are probably part of the top of their class and they are used to getting good grades. Depending on how rigorous your high school curriculum was determined how much work you had to put in to some degree, but I think it can be really challenging getting used to the college workload when you are not used to having to put in a lot more work than you expect to. That is the bottom line because you will have a lot of brilliant people coming together and that is wonderful, but the bar gets raised accordingly. I know for me it was a really intense learning curve because I didn’t take calculus or physics when I was in high school. I took a couple of AP classes, but I definitely, coming into the first semester taking calculus and physics, I had to really put in a lot of effort to catch up to the other students. I also did not really have good work ethic in high school so I think another good bit of advice to incoming students is start setting good habits early on and that will pay dividends to you the rest of your college career if you stay in engineering or go elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and go to office hours! That is so important. I am a huge proponent of office hours. They are very, very, very important. It is literally your professor opening their door to you for questions. They are these extremely brilliant people and they have put so much time and energy into their field of study and have a lot of wisdom to pass on to you. They are also great connections.”

What actor would be cast to play you in a movie about your life and why?

Hugh Jackman. I really admire his flexibility as an actor, and I think for someone to act my life they would need flexibility. Also, I just really liked The Greatest Showman.