Connor McLean: "What really sets Mines apart from other universities are the people that help make all the success possible."
Advanced Manufacturing, Master's Student
Why did you choose to come to Mines? What have you enjoyed most about being here?
I chose to come to Mines for three reasons:
- Academics. I always knew I wanted to be an engineer. As one of the best engineering schools in the United States, it was a simple choice to attend once I was accepted!
- Athletics. Through high school, I wanted to compete as a college athlete. Mines has allowed me to compete on the varsity track and field team during the 3.5 years of my undergrad and now into my year as a master's student.
- Location. You can't beat Colorado... let alone Golden. No better place to go to school and live!
With the combination of those things, it was hard not to want to attend Mines. While at Mines I have enjoyed many things, from competing on the track team to enjoying mountain adventures. However, I think the thing I appreciate/enjoy most about Mines can be summed up from Mines'; mission statement. It says, “We, the Colorado School of Mines community, are united by our commitment to our timeless mission to educating and inspiring students from all backgrounds and advancing knowledge and innovations.” Through my time as an undergraduate and graduate student at Mines, I have learned to appreciate and adopt the mentality of a "lifelong learner"; I think it is one of the most important traits I have learned at Mines. I have found the faculty and staff exemplify this declaration. The environment they create helps facilitate a lifelong learning mentality. I have come to appreciate, to enjoy, and to know that Mines, and its environment, is the perfect place where I can learn, both on my own and with others.
Tell us about something you're working on right now that you find exciting, fulfilling or challenging?
As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to design and build a custom additive manufacturing machine for the Advanced Manufacturing Department at Mines which can 3D print materials ranging from biomaterials to ceramics. Now as a master's student, I get to continue and design/build another machine for Mines! This machine is a special 3D printer that uses high powered lasers to sinter metal powder together. What I am most excited about with these printers, is they will have a direct impact on the student population at Mines. I am designing the printers to be an open platform and research-oriented. That way, students at any level (undergrad, PhD or even post-doc) will be able to use them and learn more about additive manufacturing, materials and printing processes! Additionally, I am using the technology I develop with these printers to kickstart my own company. My advisor (Prof. Craig Brice) has been helping me explore the possibility of starting my own company and I am excited to see how the opportunity will develop!
Have you done an internship or co-op or been in a professional job while at Mines? Tell us who you worked for and what you were doing. What stands out?
I have worked quite a bit while at Mines. First I had an internship at Advanced Circuits, one of the largest multilayer PCB manufacturers in the country. While there I helped develop custom software that helped automate 2-14 layer circuit board design and manufacturing. The software allowed multi-layer PCB designs to be generated in minutes instead of taking hours for an engineer to do the work. After that, I was a Mines Undergraduate Research Fellow (MURF) for a year and a half. During that time I worked with Prof. Aaron Stebner and with his two research groups, ADAPT and the Beam Team. During that time my main focus was on additive manufacturing also known as 3D printing. I worked on several projects, but the two main ones I contributed to were optimization for bioprinting and the Quality Made Project. For the bioprinting project, I worked to produce a machine and method which could reliably print a biomaterial that could replicate Trabecular Meshwork found within the human eye. By replicating this structure, human cells could be embedded within a lattice structure and later used as a direct substitute for the eye's trabecular meshwork. For Quality Mades, I was on a national team that consisted of scientists from Lockheed Martin, Oakridge National Lab, Mines and other research institutions. The goal of this project was to use machine learning and other artificial intelligence structures to drive an additive manufacturing platform. The end goal was to produce a six-axis laser aided titanium additive manufacturing robot that could print large format titanium components for the Navy. The project is still ongoing. Finally, in addition to completing research at Mines, I also work as a department of a defense (DOD) contractor with a company called Rocky Mountain Scientific Laboratory. While there I work to design custom additive manufacturing solutions for the DOD. Unfortunately, I can't talk much of that as the projects I am on are classified.
What communities, groups or organizations—on- and off-campus—are important to you and why?
During my time at Mines, the most important group to me has been the track team. I have made many life long friends while on the team. In fact, one of my teammates, and best friends, Ali Artzberger (also a mechanical grad and now a master's student) and I have had lots of fun on the track team but have also been great study buddies! We have had almost every single class together since the second semester of sophomore year. Additionally, while being on the track team, I have been allowed the opportunity to win many achievements with the team. While on the team, my teammates, coaches and I have helped contribute to winning the first three RMAC conference track and field champions in school history. Additionally, with the help of my teammates and coaches, I have worked to earn four All-American titles (finishing top eight in the nation, my best finish was 2nd) in the heptathlon and pole vault.
In addition to being a place where my teammates, coaches and I have found success, the track team has also been a great relief from the stresses which come with attending Mines. The track team has provided coaches who are not only mentors but also my friends. It has provided teammates who I compete with/against but are also study buddies and my best friends.
What are your plans for the future? What's your dream job?
From my perspective, there are three routes an engineer can take for his career. They are teaching/academia, research at universities or national labs and industry. Thankfully through my internships, fellowships and job opportunities, I have gained a glimpse into all three. There are attributes of each which I find appealing. Teaching/academia and research have something in common, that is the people who work in those fields are always learning something new and then directly applying it to their fields of study! Then, industry is interesting because it maintains large projects with even larger budgets. Although those three routes are all interesting, I think my aspirations flow towards starting a company of my own. That way I can apply all the things I like about academia, research, and industry to a company and product I can call my own. I mentioned in a previous question that I have already started working toward this dream job of starting my own additive manufacturing company. The end goal is to fill a market gap and produce custom, open platform, additive manufacturing machines that can be used in industry, academia or research in order to further advance knowledge in the field of 3D printing.
What would you tell someone interested in joining your academic program or Mines in general?
As a member of the track team, I have hosted several recruited high school athletes. Basically, I have already been able to talk to several students who are interested in joining Mines... both for athletics and academics. It's easy talking about the academics and athletics at Mines because we excel at both! However, when they ask,
'what sets Mines apart from other schools;" I always give the same answer. I tell them that yes, Mines gives a great education, it makes getting a job after college possible, and it's sport's teams win when they face their opponents. But the real thing that sets Mines apart, is the people that make all of that success possible.
What's your favorite thing to do outside of class and coursework? How do you unwind, manage stress, find fulfillment, etc.?
I already mentioned that track is a great way to unwind and separate myself from work, school and the stress associated with them. However, I have several hobbies outside of that. To start, I love spending time with my family! My brother attends mines also, he is on the track team with me, and I live with him so it's not hard to spend time with him. But my parents and other extended families also live close by, so I often go see them. Other than that, I enjoy all types of mountain activities and adventure sports. My most recently found hobby is paragliding. As a freshman at Mines, I saw the paragliders and hang gliders launch from Mt. Zion right next to the Mines M; and told myself I would learn how to fly before I left Mines. I kept my promise, bought gear and became paragliding certified the summer before my senior year. Now (when the wind is blowing the correct direction!) I often finish up work/classes for the day, hike up lookout mountain to launch and take a quick flight before going track practice!
Tell us something about you that most people would be surprised to learn?
People always laugh when I tell them what got me interested in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Normally when asked, people would respond with "I saw it on the internet and thought it was cool" or "I took a class on the subject" but when I get asked that question, I always reply "fidget spinners!" Remember those? Well, before the market was flooded with them, I thought I could make some money selling them, so I bought a 3D printer and used it to print customized fidget spinners. I was able to sell them all over the U.S. and even to people as far as Dubai! Eventually, I paid off the 3D printer I used to make the spinners and ended up making a few thousand dollars on the side. But most importantly, buying a 3D printer got me interested in the technology and ultimately propelled me down a path of research into the topic, attending graduate school to learn more about it, and then working in industry to design and build custom 3D printers!