Andrew Schmidt said he knew the exact career path he wanted to follow after graduating from high school and entering Lewis-Clark State College.
And like what happens with about a third of college students, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education, Schmidt found something he liked even better and changed his major.
Growing up in Lewiston where his father taught machining at Lewiston High, Schmidt moved to Nezperce and was one of eight graduates from Nezperce High in the spring of 2015.
“I knew I liked mechanical drafting and design type of stuff so I wanted to be a mechanical engineer,” he said. “I’d always been aware of LC State. My mom has a degree from there. So, my intent was to go into the pre-engineering program at LC for two years and then transfer to Idaho or WSU (Washington State) to finish the degree.
“But as I got through the course work, especially calculus, I thought while this was all well and good, it isn’t what I thought it would be. Then I enrolled in a drafting class taught by Jack Hutson. I really liked it and got to talking to him about it. He told me what the prospects are coming out of engineering technology and what the field looks like. It seemed really desirable to me so by my sophomore year I had changed my major from pre-engineering to Engineering Technology with a Mechanical Emphasis. In hindsight, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Schmidt said because he really liked the programs, his classmates and his professors – especially Hutson and Rory Desjardin – it was an easy decision to remain at LC State and finish his four-year degree.
“Having that hands-on knowledge that was taught to me was so valuable,” Schmidt said. “Jack Hutson was just a wealth of knowledge. He worked as a designer outside of academia for many years and it definitely shows. He brought out old drawings that he did 25 years ago and told us why he was teaching certain stuff to us and how we can apply it. I owe, in no small way, a lot of thanks to him.”
With the mechanical emphasis to his degree, Schmidt learned 3D software for surface and solid modeling and shading techniques. He also learned how to use animation software along with Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Machining software programs.
Schmidt says for a final project in one class during his junior year, students received a planetary gear assembly out of a diesel pickup truck. They took measurements of the gear and then had to recreate one part of the assembly in a software program and print it out on the 3D printer.
“The intent was is that if we all did our job right, the printed parts would all click together and everything would function the same on a scale model of the planetary gear,” Schmidt said. “It was so satisfying to hold something that you created in your hand and working with 4-5 classmates to figure it out. You’d try to put it together and then have to figure out where did we go wrong. When we finally pulled it off, it really was a great feeling.”
While in the program, Schmidt said he learned that many of the designers and drafters at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, regarded in the electrical power industry as one of the top manufacturers of protective relays and other power distribution equipment, came out of LC’s program. One such former student, Reina Fujimoto, was a guest speaker at one of Hutson’s classes and talked about what she did and how they are always looking for interns. Schmidt decided to apply and wound up being hired with Fujimoto as his supervisor over the next two years of the paid internship.
When Schmidt was ready to graduate in the spring of 2019, SEL presented him with a job offer for what he was doing. The only catch was the job was in Albuquerque, N.M. Fortunately, SEL later had another opening that was similar in duties located in Pullman, and he was hired
Schmidt is a mechanical designer in the company’s Products Graphics department of the Research and Development division, which creates all Schweitzer product drawings, label and overlay art work, text, and lettering on the products, and provides 2D drawings and 3D models of SEL products for current or potential customers.
“My department is pretty small. There are only three other mechanical designers,” Schmidt said. “We are trained to be proficient in every process, but some of us are more experienced in a certain field. Me, for example, due to my training at LC, I work a lot more with SolidWorks (a 3D design software) and 3D models. But each one of us might be working with two product teams a day.
Schmidt says one of the best aspects of his job is turning a design into reality. He said he can spend several hours working on something to make sure all the little details are right and then a few weeks later, see and hold the final product.
“I see what I created and can look it over to see if there is something I want to improve on for the next part or to see if it is really working well,” he said. “And we have a great deal of team interfacing with our projects. I know I can ask one of my co-workers about something and they can with me. It’s a great team dynamic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a bit more challenging because the four mechanical designers have been working from home, but remain in touch daily with instant messaging and video conferencing. The one silver lining with this past year, Schmidt said, is that he did get married and he and his wife, Kaelee, are expecting a baby girl.
Schmidt said he loves working at SEL and envisions moving up the career ladder there. He said the training and education at LC State prepared him well for what he is doing.
“As far as someone who knows what they kind of want to do in the drafting and design area, I would say that LC is an excellent choice for them,” Schmidt said. “The knowledge I gained was incredible. I would tell a student to glean everything you can from the instructors who have that real-world knowledge and just learn all that you can.
“I cannot recommend this program enough to anyone seeking higher education, or to employers looking for well-trained candidates for drafting and design positions.”
Students looking to attend LC State this spring can apply online for free at www.lcsc.edu/apply. The admission application deadline is Jan. 8.