Purdue Cal offers Valpo man a degree, chance to broaden engineering skills

Mark Szuster demonstartes mechatronics equipmentMark Szuster, of Valparaiso, first earned a bachelor’s in engineering from Purdue University Calumet in 1988.

He and a friend partnered to open up an engineering company soon after, and the company flourished for many years. However, in 2001 the economy caused the company to close.

Szuster tried a variety of jobs including electrician, flipping houses and working as a production supervisor in a window manufacturing company. But what he really wanted to do was get back into engineering.

Szuster, 46, began to think about how he could work smarter, so he went back to Purdue Calumet in 2008 to earn a master’s in technology. He found his calling in the university’s new curriculum in mechatronics engineering technology. This curriculum prepares graduates for opportunities in the rapidly growing packaging industry.

Earlier this year, Szuster took a part-time job as an assembly technician with Morrison Container Handling Solutions of Glenwood, Ill. Morrison is one of several employers that encouraged, partnered with, and advised Purdue Calumet in developing its mechatronics engineering technology program. Szuster’s decision to enroll in the program placed him on track for career opportunities in packaging with Morrison. As Szuster puts it: “Mechatronics is a great fit for me.”

Akram Hossain, Purdue Calumet professor of electrical and computer engineering technology, said almost everything in the world is packaged somehow, including items like chips or soft drinks.

“Mechatronics is a cutting-edge area, and these are jobs that are going to stay in the United States,” he said. “Some companies can ship jobs outside, like a call center, but people who work with packaging machinery will be employed here.”

Szuster said engineering has not changed as much as broadened. A conveyor machine used in the mechatronics industry is like a robot with a level of “intelligence” in it, he said.

“There is so much out there, and these jobs call for a particular skill set. It may be necessary to go back to school so you can maintain your relevancy,” he said.