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Erick Oberstar and family at his Spring 2021 PhD commencement
May 1, 2023

Onward & Upward for Dr. Erick Oberstar

Written By: Caitlin Scott



Mechanical Engineering Faculty Associate and Mechatronics Lab Manager/Engineer Erick L. Oberstar is moving into a new role with the College of Engineering! He is joining the Interdisciplinary Professional Programs (InterPro) office as the Director of the Electrification and Mechatronics Programs. He started with the ME Department in December 2000 and recently reflected on the highlights of his 20+ years here. We thank Erick for all he has done as a member of the College of Engineering community through his roles as both student and instructor!

Oberstar and Neil Duffie 2001 Johnson Space Center
Oberstar and Neil Duffie at the Johnson Space Center in 2001

What are some of the highlights of your time in the ME department?

Highlights include building cross disciplinary tools to teach mechatronics/controls for remote students & the infrastructure built in the lab. I enjoyed Covid-related work for the UW Hospital working on PPE, PAPRs/Battery/Filter replacements throughout the pandemic to solve problems for our care givers. My personal growth here was also big. I moved from an instrumentation specialist to teaching faculty, growing my own skills by completing MS and PhD degrees while working full time.

What will you miss about your role?

I will miss the people. Discussing challenging engineering problems with colleagues and learning from them. The students who realized they had to have breadth beyond pure ME topics and were like sponges for anything I could teach them. And most importantly their “Aaahhhaaa” and “Oooohhhh” moments.

Oberstar 2020 PPE testing
Oberstar testing PPE in 2020

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of our collaborative efforts for Covid PPE projects for UW Health and the Mechatronics Lab overall, the hardware and software I built or pulled together for students to learn on over my tenure & how the students I taught have impacted the world around us. I have had students work on a Mars rover, numerous life saving medical devices, spacecraft propulsion, semiconductor manufacturing, vehicle electrification, oil drilling, battery manufacturing, designing power tools, earth moving machines, haptic interfaces, pharmaceuticals, IP law, full stack software development, mobile robotics, entrepreneurship, motorcycles, national security, mobile gaming, and some that have gone on to be professors.

What are you doing next?

My new role is Director of the Electrification and Mechatronics Programs for the Interdisciplinary Professional Programs (InterPro) office in the College of Engineering here at UW. I will continue to teach albeit a different student demographic and delivery method. I will be teaching short courses for working professionals who need to gain electrical/controls/mechatronics skills as well as some online degree program courses for InterPro.

Oberstar Mechatronics lab
Mechatronics lab

Do you have any parting thoughts for students & colleagues?

As a parting message, I offer for your own reflection: the Oath of the Order of the Engineer:

“I am an Engineer. In my profession, I take deep pride. To it, I owe solemn obligations.

As an engineer, I pledge to practice integrity and fair dealing, tolerance and respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and dignity of my profession. I will always be conscious that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity by making the best use of the Earth’s precious wealth.

As an engineer, I shall participate in none but honest enterprises. When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given, without reservation, for the public good. In the performance of duty, and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give my utmost.”

I swore this oath during my Obligation of the Order ceremony when I first became an engineer and it has become a driving force behind who I am as a person and as a professional engineer. It motivates my approaches to teaching and engineering work and has guided my path in life in significant and profound ways. I would encourage the College of Engineering to facilitate this oath (and adopt the ceremony).

Oberstar Glacier Edge Elementary Visit 2013
Glacier Edge Elementary Visit in 2013

In closing I offer a few parting thoughts. Engineering is hard, but if I can do it, anyone can with the right approach. That approach is the one needed and taken when teaching or performing engineering work.

To my current students, just remember the answer to the childhood question to remember the approach. Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time. The engineering elephant requires you to break down the problem of learning a vast amount of information into little pieces & that is how engineers solve real world problems. Take a breath, take a bite, wash it down and take another.

To my former students, find inspiration in helping people with your skills and don’t forget to “read the favorite manual”.

To my all of my students and colleagues, identify and validate problems that matter. Then solve them. Strive to be agents of change to make the world a better place than you found it.

Thank you all for all of the experiences and memories.