“Pay attention to what resonates with you and let that guide you in life,” Steve Mitchell ’01 instructs his students at the University of Maryland, College Park. “Be attentive to yourself and when something truly resonates with you, take note of that feeling.”
Steve has been chasing that feeling throughout his own career—one that he began as a studious young undergrad scribbling notes in the same lecture halls he now commands. After graduating from the University of Maryland in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering, Steve started working at a small startup that built laser instruments for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
As a mechanical engineer, he traveled around the country designing, integrating, and testing laser radar, or “lidar,” sensors. He also had the opportunity to go on a 10-day trip to Darwin, Australia, to install and test an atmospheric lidar for the Australian Meteorological Society.
“As much as I fell in love with the technology, I quickly realized I had a lot more to learn if I wanted to be a leader in the field during my career,” Steve says. “I wanted to be someone pushing the technology and discovering the next ‘thing,’ not just taking orders and building instruments. So, after two years of working full time, I resigned from the startup and drove everything I could fit into my Ford station wagon out to Boulder, Colorado, to begin my graduate studies in aerospace engineering, focusing on laser remote sensing.”
Steve earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and patented his doctoral thesis, a technology that uses laser beams to measure water depth in shallow regions. Then, he had the opportunity to return to the same startup, which had grown since his first stint at the company. He served for the next six years as a technical lead but began missing the academic environment, so he took up teaching after work hours as an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“I fell in love with teaching, mentoring, and the opportunity to bring my life experiences into the classroom,” Steve shares. In 2016, University of Maryland, College Park, offered Steve a position as full-time faculty in mechanical engineering and engineering in robotics, and he jumped at the chance to return to his alma mater. He has since received the 2017 Purple Camshaft Faculty Award for excellence in teaching and the 2019 Most Valuable Professor Award.
Steve has even had the opportunity to teach a number of fellow Gael grads. “Talk about life coming full circle,” he says.