By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend
When people find out that Sara Bell ’12 is a mechanical engineer, they usually say something like, “Oh, well, good for you!”
Bell said she doesn’t perceive the response to be patronizing; rather she thinks it reflects a general lack of understand about the field of engineering.
“They usually have no idea what being an engineer entails or what I actually do, so I think that’s why they say it,” Bell, who works at Eriez (formerly Eriez Magnetics) in Erie, said. “Sometimes they ask me about my job, but it’s often based on things they’ve seen about engineers on TV, and they ask if I work on a big team or make big machines and equipment. They seem disappointed when I tell them ‘no.’”
Bell works with detection systems, helping design conveyor systems and reject systems and working with metal detector heads. She says her job may not be as glamorous as that of a NASA engineer, but it’s no less important or rewarding.
“The world needs engineers for everything, even for things that don’t seem ‘cool,’” she said. “I really enjoy seeing my designs and ideas come to life.”
Born with an engineer’s mind
Bell says she has always had an aptitude for math and science. As an Erie-area native, she participated in some of Penn State Behrend’s outreach programs, including Math Options for Girls and the FIRST robotics league in her senior year.
“Robotics had the largest impact,” she said. “That’s where I saw how cool it was to see something come together and work.”
A friend suggested that Bell look into a career in engineering.
“I wanted to do something where I could learn and use my brain,” she said. “I chose mechanical engineering because it is a catch-all engineering field. I thought it would be a really versatile degree that would allow me to do a variety of things but still hone in on something specific down the road if I wanted to.”
She’s been a mechanical engineer at Eriez for two and a half years, though she’s worked there longer, having interned there for several semesters before graduating,” she said.
Encouraging future generations
Bell has returned to Behrend to volunteer at Women in Engineering Day for the past two years.
“I always feel the need to encourage more women to pursue any STEM-related career they are interested in,” she said. “I think you’re seeing more women in engineering because they have opportunities to explore and learn about these types of careers before they even reach college.”
Bell is quick to point out that education never really ends for engineers.
“I sometimes say that I didn’t earn my degree for engineering; I earned it for learning,” she said. “As an engineering student, you learn how to learn. With that knowledge, you can do pretty much anything you want to in life.”