A Robotics Manipulator at the University of Cincinnati

The College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at the University of Cincinnati (UC) is the second oldest dedicated aerospace engineering program in the country (the University of Michigan has the first). It was founded in 1929, and its first curriculum was started by one of the Wright brothers.

Cincinnati Future had the opportunity to speak with Kelly Cohen, Ph.D., who is interim department head of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, as well as the Brian H. Rowe Endowed Chair in Aerospace Engineering at UC, about the program. Cohen also co-founded Cincinnati-based Genexia, a spinoff of his research at UC in the area of artificial intelligence (AI).

Describe what aerospace engineers do.

Cohen: Airplanes need to be designed by somebody. We look into the aerodynamics, the propulsion systems and the engine structures, as well as the control systems of aircrafts and rockets or ‘spaceships of the future.’

We’re a branch of mechanical engineers, but we don’t work on the regular car. Regular cars don’t get to supersonic speeds; they don’t drive faster than the speed of sound; and they don’t go to hypersonic areas. What aerospace does is allow us to design vehicles that would safely move people in a realm that is not conventional. They have to be lightweight and yet strong enough to explore in the air.

Is it a four-year degree program?

Cohen: [UC] has a mandatory core program, which makes it a five-year project. It includes a mandatory co-op, which gives our students an advantage in getting jobs after college. They become better engineers, because they see some of those engineering disciplines in action. They’re more confident about themselves, and they have some experience running the real-life program. They develop better soft skills and learn how to write reports. They work for a company during the co-op and get paid. Financially speaking, they can make $50,000 or more during those five years of work. In most cases, a student can recoup the cost of tuition with that and leave school debt-free.

Our students are relatively highly paid when they graduate because of that experience they have. There’s a good demand for them. We don’t have much unemployment among our students ranks.

UC has a legacy when it comes to aerospace, doesn’t it?

Cohen: Ohio has always been at the forefront of aviation, aerospace and space exploration. When Neil Armstrong came back from the moon, he decided to work at UC in this department for about eight years. If you visit, you’ll see a lot of artifacts that his family left for us to remember him by. Two years ago, we had a big celebration and brought in many of his old students to campus. We keep that history alive. Recently, UC created the Space Research Institute for Discovery and Exploration, called SRIDE, where we further preserve that legacy of space research.

Do you collaborate with other institutions?

Cohen: In our department we have our 22 members of faculty, and we work in different areas. In each area, you have faculty who collaborate. I collaborate on a couple of joint projects with the University of Texas-Austin and with the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I’m also working with Purdue University. There’s a program with Ohio State that is funded by the Department of Transportation. Each member of the faculty has their own collaborations.

What are the plans going forward?

Cohen: We are planning to grow. We have grown substantially in the last couple of years. In fact, we are about twice as big as what we were 10 years ago in terms of our undergraduate population. We currently have 500 students.

What’s great about the University of Cincinnati? 

Cohen: Overall, Cincinnati is a wonderful school. We have a top-10 football team with the Bearcats. The campus is among the Forbes top 10 most beautiful campuses in the world. So you’ve got affordability, an excellent education and a good return for your investment. If you’re interested in or excited about aerospace, then this is the place to go.