Academic Excellence Award Student News

Academic Excellence Winner – Matthew Schafer, School of Engineering

“Helping others is something I think about, because you don’t know when you are going to need help.”

Growing up, Matthew Schafer spent time at his dad’s automotive shop in Burnsville and became hooked on not just cars — but understanding how things worked and the engineering behind them.

It’s an interest he carried with him through high school and one that led him to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

Schafer graduated from Eden Prairie High School and first attended Normandale with the intention of transferring into the engineering program at the University of Minnesota.

But when it came time to make the switch, he decided to take a tour of Dunwoody first.

Schafer said friends of the family had gone to Dunwoody so he had always known about the school, but had never considered it as an option before because there hadn’t been a mechanical engineering program.

It wasn’t until he toured the lab spaces and saw all of the projects students were working on that he made his decision.

“After touring Dunwoody, there was no question,” Schafer said. “Seeing all the hands-on equipment on display, I knew it was the place for me. My tour guide was [Robotics & Manufacturing Dean] E.J. Daigle. He got me excited about the school.”

Throughout his time at Dunwoody, Schafer has been able to utilize all of the tools and technology Dunwoody has to offer — from the 3D printers, to the CNC machines, to the tensile testing equipment.

Schafer, along with 12 other students, is part of the first-graduating class of Mechanical Engineering students at Dunwoody. And over the years the group has become close.

“I think my favorite thing about Dunwoody is the small class sizes,” he said. “There were 13 of us, and every one of us were friends.”

Schafer has always been a good student, but it wasn’t until he started at Dunwoody that things really began to “click” for him, and he went from being a good student — to the top of his class.

“A lot of it was, I really enjoyed the classes I was taking,” he said. “Everything was really interesting. I wanted to learn.”

The hands-on projects also kept things interesting. Schafer was part of a team designing and building Dunwoody’s first supermileage car that would have competed in the annual SAE Supermileage competition, this June in Michigan. The competition tests undergraduate and graduate students’ engineering design abilities and requires them to build a single-person, fuel-efficient vehicle with the goal of completing a specified course with the highest miles per gallon rating.

And while, the competition was canceled due to COVID-19, Schafer said designing and building the car was still his favorite project — even if they didn’t get to finish it.

“Maybe we’ll get to come in over the summer to get the car at least driving and say we did that,” Schafer said, adding that the group did document the entire project so next year’s team can pick it back up.

Even outside of the supermileage team, Schafer said there was a sense of teamwork among the Mechanical Engineering students. Helping each other was just part of the culture.

“Helping others is something I think about, because you don’t know when you are going to need help,” he said.

It’s an aspect of his education that Schafer took seriously, even staying after class to help his peers when he had already finished his assignments for the day.

“I didn’t want anyone else to be stuck,” Schafer said.

The faculty were also part of the team and Schafer said he always felt like they really cared about you, how you were doing, and they wanted you to succeed.

“I think the teachers want the students to learn just as much as the students want to learn,” he said. “Hard work pays off.”

For Schafer, all that hard work also earned him a Mechanical Engineering position at Marken Manufacturing, which he started in May.

Eventually, Schafer said he’d love to combine his love of cars with his engineering skills and design aftermarket parts, but for now he’s happy to be doing something he enjoys in a field he loves.

“What I have now is a great starting point,” Schafer said.