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We had the pleasure of speaking with Frederick Leonardi, a recent graduate of our 100% online Master of Science in Engineering with a concentration in Mechanical Engineering program. Overcoming incredible challenges, including a lack of engineering training and the death of a beloved family member, Leonardi’s story is unique among graduates and must be read to be believed.  

The Journey to UT Austin 

Leonardi works for Occidental Petroleum Company, preparing annual budgets and monthly forecasts, and hopes to transition from a supporting role to an engineering role. A graduate education in mechanical engineering was the most practical option. “And it was much more versatile than, say, a petroleum engineering degree,” Leonardi began.  

Choosing a school was even easier. The University of Texas at Austin, Leonardi remarked, is arguably the best public university in the U.S. Not to mention our online program would allow him to attend class from the comfort of his home in Denver, Colorado.  

Just one problem: Leonardi doesn’t have a background in engineering, let alone mechanical engineering.  

Leonardi Finds a Champion at UT Austin 

Leonardi pleaded his case to Program Director Ofodike Ezekoye, Ph.D, asking him, “Do you have to have an undergraduate in engineering to get into your program?” Leonardi argued that his background, particularly the mathematics courses he took while pursuing his first master’s degree, proved that he could succeed as a graduate student at the Cockrell School of Engineering.  

Dr. Ezekoye agreed.  

“[H]e took a chance on me,” said Leonardi. “I owe it all to him.” Before giving his approval, Dr. Ezekoye was sure to tell Leonardi that he would have a challenging road ahead of him. How challenging? That was something Leonardi would have to find out on his own.  

The Rigors of UT Austin’s Engineering Program 

Leonardi faced what he calls his “litmus test”: Heat Transfer in Industrial Systems, one of ten courses that compose our online mechanical engineering program. Leonardi, in his own words, found the course “extremely tough, frustrating and difficult.”  

Dr. Ezekoye assured Leonardi that he had, in fact, passed the litmus test and that the remaining courses would be no more difficult. For Leonardi, that was the turning point.  

Summiting a mountain seems impossible when you’re standing at its base. Having reached the peak, Leonardi needed only maintain course to graduate with a mechanical engineering master’s degree from UT Austin. “That’s where the mental toughness comes in,” he said, “because (for) some people, you know, this might not be so difficult, but it was extremely difficult for me.”  

Leonardi’s Favorite Courses 

Along with Heat Transfer in Industrial Systems, Leonardi found Modeling, Simulation, and Control of Physical Systems and Fluid Mechanics in Industrial Processes a real test of his growing engineering prowess. “But to me,” he said, “they were the most fascinating courses out of the whole program.” 

Leonardi was particularly interested in dynamic control and feedback systems, as these are becoming increasingly common in everyday life. Autopilot is only one example. “These systems are talking to each other, and they’re making adjustments to instruments, the flight controls, the thrust, all of that,” he explained. “It’s highly complex, but it’s evolved tremendously, and I just think that’s fascinating.”  

The Benefits of Online Learning 

Thanks to our 100% online program, Leonardi was able to watch recorded lectures at his convenience, whether revisiting older lectures or pausing to taking notes. “And you definitely can’t get that in the classroom, right?” he commented.  

Many students wait until after work to study, but not Leonardi, who preferred starting on his lunchbreak. He said:   

“I close my office door, and I grind. I watch some videos or take some notes for an hour, or when I come home, I unwind for a bit, and then I go up in my study, and spend the next three or four hours every single night. And then ten or twelve to fifteen hours, if need be, or more on the weekend. This program allowed me to do this, otherwise there’s no way. I’d have to quit my job and go to school full time.” 

The Support From UT Austin’s Faculty 

In the fall of 2021, as he was beginning his studies at UT Austin, Leonardi sadly lost a brother to COVID-19. Our faculty members worked with him throughout this difficult time, allowing Leonardi time to grieve and catch up on his work. He said:  

“[T]hese professors made it possible for me to graduate when I did, and, you know, I’m forever thankful. So that was an extremely difficult time to be in school. And, you know, they worked with me, and Professor Ezekoye was … the whole program, I’m calling him, talking to him, and he’s giving me advice. He was my cheerleader. He was my champion. And for him to let me in the program, I’ll never forget it.” 

The Lasting Impact of UT Austin’s Mechanical Engineering Master’s Degree Program 

Leonardi faced incredible academic and professional challenges while continuing his education at UT Austin. Yet he prevailed, graduating with a mechanical engineering master’s degree that will lead to new opportunities, whether or not he remains in the oil and gas industry. “It’s given me the certification, if you will, that I am an engineer,” he explained. “And now I can have a lot more doors open up because I have that degree, otherwise … the doors wouldn’t open.”  

An executive MS in mechanical engineering can open the door to new opportunities in the field, with or without extensive experience. Apply now to our 100% online program to learn if you have what it takes to earn a mechanical engineering degree from UT Austin.  

No. 10
Best Mechanical Engineering Program in the United States.
esteemed faculty members, including one Nobel Prize winner.
alumni in one of the nation’s largest professional networks.
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