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18 months at the University of Illinois for Sevan
Before the end of his engineering training at ISAE-SUPAERO, Sevan chose to do a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Back in December 2022, he tells us about the many courses he took there and the lessons he learned.
What was your primary goal when you arrived at the University of Illinois?
“When I arrived, my motivations were to find a thesis supervisor to join the Master of Science with thesis and complete the program in a total of three semesters, it was a way to perform well in a course taught by a professor whose research group was studying a topic that interested me. Nevertheless, I was unable to get into a research group and had to consider backup options to continue my education and graduate in a timely manner. At the end of the second semester, I decided to join the non-thesis Master of Science program, which lasts two semesters. At the beginning of my third semester, during an interview with a staff member of the aerospace engineering department I learned that it was possible to complete the program in one semester using credits validated last year. So, by choosing courses that allowed me to earn 20 credit hours this semester, coupled with 12 credit hours from last year, I earned my non-thesis Master of Science degree more quickly.”
How was your experience as a student there?
“My stay went very well, I’m quite satisfied with my academic performance in terms of grades. I particularly liked the different way the courses are organized in the United States. The weekly course load is lower than in France (20 hours maximum) but the workload outside of class is greater (often greater than or equal to the course load), so the courses are chosen by the student and continued throughout the semester with (sometimes) one (or more) exams during the semester and an exam at the end of the semester. Homework assignments are given fairly frequently to help with the current course and are often collections of problems that might be given on an exam. Some courses also include a more substantial assignment near the end of the semester that assesses overall understanding of the concepts studied in class. The long course lengths allow for more in-depth exploration of the course content, and the extensive homework encourages learning by doing. It also allows us to create tools to solve similar problems in the future (e.g. engine performance calculators).
The teachers are very accessible to answer questions about courses, assignments, exams and have a much more equal relationship with the students than in France.
The lecture cycle is stricter at this University, where Master’s students are required to attend at least ten lectures per semester, with lectures held almost every week. The course offerings are quite varied but some courses run concurrently and others are offered only once every two years which means that for participants in short programs some courses may not be available during the study period. Some exams allow full access to lectures, assignments, and other resources, so the aim is to assess the student’s ability to adapt the reasoning seen in lectures and assignments to a different problem.
Culturally, in addition to the different academic approach, presenteeism is much more lax in the United States. Add to this the individual course choices and it becomes quite rare to share more than two or three courses with more than one or two people.
The existence of clubs allows students to meet other students who share the same passions by collaborating on various projects, provided that they make the necessary time, which is not always easy considering the courses, research and others. I have found through various interpersonal relationships with other students on campus that they define themselves first by their first name, program, and level of study and that the answers provided can influence their image of another (some majors may garner more admiration).”
What did this trip allow you?
“On a personal level, I have met many American and international students with diverse experiences as well as professors whose competence and teaching excellence is unquestionable. My fluency in the English language has improved considerably (although it was already sufficient to study in the US). Some of the courses were based on scientific books that I could use in the future in addition to French books. Finally, I appreciated the work methods that are instilled in us in preparatory classes and in engineering school where it is important to know how to work as you go, to leave yourself time to come back to a task with a clear head later.”
What courses have you taken?
“The highlights and defining moments of my stay mainly revolve around classes, exams and various course projects. During the first semester, I took a course on advanced optical diagnostic methods for wind tunnel testing, which included many hands-on lab sessions during which I was able to perform Schlieren photography or flow visualization using fluorescence (as well as see the Rolls-Royce/SNECMA Olympus turbojet engine in static in the Talbot lab). The first semester systems engineering course culminated in a project to define the Operational Concept and write requirements for a Carrier Onboard Delivery system.
In the second semester, the optimization course led me to study trajectory-constrained optimization methods to reduce aircraft fuel consumption during climb, which exposed me to many methods such as genetic algorithms and non-linear programming. The combustion course led me to the study of hydrogen propulsion of land vehicles through a review of the scientific literature. The second system engineering course was a project to analyze an aerospace program from a system engineering point of view, I studied the precursor to the Rafale/Typhoon programs and the many incompatible requirements, disagreements on the articulation of the industrial fabric and the feedback in a written report.
Finally, the course on sustainable aviation that I took in the third semester allowed me to evaluate different options to reduce the carbon emissions of long-haul flights, which are the most difficult because of their high energy requirements. The numerical fluid mechanics project led to the analysis of a diamond profile in regimes ranging from subsonic compressible to hypersonic (see photo). The propulsion course was different in that the project consisted of writing exam problems and their solutions.”
How did your stay end?
“The final highlight of my stay was the American-style graduation ceremony, which had the distinction of taking place before the release of the semester grades, which meant that I attended this ceremony without being certain (but confident nonetheless) that I would graduate. This stay exposed me to the American way of working, to appreciate its benefits and to see its limits.
This stay also allowed me to add to my CV a degree from a prestigious university that could open doors for me if I decide to move abroad in the future. The constant practice of English and the reading of numerous research articles exposed me to technical language. I gained a lot of autonomy and curiosity thanks to this stay and met many contacts. In particular, this stay made me realize that I like face-to-face work much more than distance work
For the rest of my career, I intend to look for a contract of at least 6 months (short or long term) to simultaneously validate my company obligation and my end-of-studies internship in order to obtain my ISAE-SUPAERO engineering degree
In conclusion, I take an extremely positive view of my graduate experience abroad, I agree that some things could have gone better but I am satisfied with the way I faced failure, approached difficulties, and enjoyed the best moments. My goal of graduating in three semesters has been accomplished, I have learned about the culture and experience of a major American college campus, and am taking a positive personal toll.”