Ever since touring Viterbi as an admitted student, I have always heard of this infamous “mechoptronics” course. Mechoptronics is a yearlong, lab based course focusing on mechatronic systems, data analysis, and technical communication. It is a course unique to USC, and has somewhat of an infamous reputation for its heavy workload.
I thought I was going to take this class in the fall and spring semesters of my Junior year. Due to the pandemic, I decided to push the first part of the course (Mechop-A) forward into the summer. Since it was a last-second decision, I had very little time to mentally prepare for summer classes. But above all else, I was nervous because I had no clue what was in store for the class.
July 1 came, and the class began. Immediately, I was excited about the material I was learning and felt like it actually contributed to the engineering mindset. Lectures were balanced between two main topics: mechatronic systems and “becoming an engineer.” The latter topic was the most impactful for me as I started to understand how to approach a problem, analyze data, and communicate findings like an engineer rather than just an engineering student.
The largest component of the class is the lab section. Each week, we would have a 4 hour lab that would require some form of report due the next week. These labs ranged from simple things such as constructing a simple circuit to creating and testing an operational amplifier. Despite being online, the Mechops instructors made the most of the situation. Each student was sent a lab kit so we could create circuits at home and actually get the hands-on experience imperative to the course. Since many of the experiments use function generators and oscilloscopes, we used a remote client to control the experiments from the lab at USC. In these cases, we would submit a pre-lab photo of our constructed circuit, and the lab instructors would then create the same circuit at the USC lab so we could properly collect data. Yes, I would have much rather have worked in the lab myself, but I was so impressed with how Dr. Radovich and Dr. Potnuru handled the situation to give us the best learning experience possible.
Now that the class has been over for a month, I can safely say that it has been one of my favorite engineering courses thus far. Were the rumors true about the workload? Absolutely. While the class is a lot of work (sometimes more than 15 hours per week), it actually feels like you are doing something special. It is real work that is unlike any other classroom experience I have had thus far. You aren’t doing problems out of a textbook or studying for exams. You are creating graphs in MATLAB, making charts in Excel, and writing reports that represent your experience and what you have learned. Regardless of how much data analysis, formula deriving, or report writing I had to do, it was always exciting and felt like it had a purpose. I walked out of that class feeling like I am becoming a better engineer, and I am excited for the next semester so I can continue the process.