Graduate Nick Barbeau strives to help others through engineering work

BSEE grad Nick Barbeau’s time at UMSL was marked by his involvement with on-campus life both through Joint Engineering and the Honors College. He graduates this week with a job lined up at Burns & McDonell. (Photo courtesy of Nick Barbeau)

His cell phone is what first interested Nick Barbeau in engineering.

As he grew up, the electrical engineering student looked on with interest as phone technology progressed from a flip phone only able to make calls to having some elements of smart technology to becoming a tiny computer by the time he made it to the University of Missouri­–St. Louis. He wanted to know how the technology worked and how people were able to create it. He wanted to be part of it in the future.

“I got to learn how the circuits work, and I know I’ll be doing something with the technological revolution right now,” he said. “We’re in this time period where people are able to advance technology more and more and more. We’re seeing engineers develop ideas such as advanced smart cars and a Hyperloop for significantly reduced travel time.”

“I want to be part of creating more technology for the future, something that benefits people. That’s the most important part of being an engineer: You’re doing something to benefit the lives of other people using your knowledge.”

Barbeau is poised to do just that as he completes his UMSL/Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program BSEE and Pierre Laclede Honors College certificate this week with a job lined up in the water and wastewater treatment division of Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City, Missouri. In addition to his academics, his time at UMSL has been marked by his involvement, which runs the spectrum from being a resident advisor and mentoring students in the joint engineering program to starting a new engineering student organization.

The desire to help others is what ties together Barbeau’s disparate activities. That’s part of what draws him to his work at Burns & McDonnell, which he’s looking forward to starting in August.

“Knowing that the work I’ll be doing is electrical design on water and wastewater treatment so that people have access to clean water is very satisfying,” he said. “It makes me feel good about the work I’m going to do.”

The first step toward finding that job came during his freshman year, when Barbeau took Introduction to Engineering with Mary McManus, Joint Engineering associate director of advising and student services. He enjoyed the class and applied to become a teaching assistant and ended up working with her for the next three years. The result was an opportunity to mentor more than 100 different students and finding a mentor for himself in McManus.

“Nick is great,” McManus said. “Throughout his career at UMSL, he has distinguished himself as an excellent student with outstanding character. Nick contributes to the Joint Engineering Program and UMSL community as a peer mentor and leader–sharing his time and enthusiasm for engineering.”

When Barbeau started looking for his first real-world engineering experience, he sought McManus’ advice. That led to a co-op at Nidec Motors in the fall of 2018 as a software engineer. He contributed to procedures for motor performance tests and worked in the heat run laboratory helping with heat resistance tests.

The experience at Nidec gave Barbeau the push to apply for an internship in his hometown of Kansas City at Burns & McDonnell. That 11-week summer internship turned into an opportunity to interview and then a full-time job offer.

Working as a TA for the intro class was not the only way Barbeau contributed to the engineering program. He also served as a TA for Introduction to Electrical Networks and was on the Student Advisory Board for three years. He was involved for all four years with the Society of Future Engineers and served as president as a senior. He also started an UMSL chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers this year.

Then there’s Barbeau’s contributions to on-campus life, first as an RA and then as a peer mentor, tutoring students in his dorm. Those experiences – in addition to the Boeing Engineering, Peter W. and Helen M. Goode Scholarship, Curators’ and Engineering Alumni scholarships – helped him pay for school.

Though it might seem like the liberal arts education provided by the Honors College would be an odd fit for an engineering student, Barbeau says it was a perfect match that married his passion for math and his love of reading.

“Math is problem solving,” Barbeau said. “I’ve always been interested in puzzles, figuring out the solution to things. I don’t think people realize you have to read a lot as an engineer to understand the subject. You have to write well, too. You’re not just doing the calculations. You must be able to explain what you’re doing to someone else. I felt like the Honors College helped me immensely with being able to communicate my results and how I arrived at the results.”

It was actually the Honors College that drew Barbeau to UMSL in the first place. He stumbled upon UMSL at a college fair in high school and it reminded him of Hogwarts, the setting of the Harry Potter novels.

He enjoyed classes such as favorites History of Conspiracy Theories and Writing in the Sciences.

“Classes that I never would have taken as an engineering major normally,” Barbeau said. “I like that I had to communicate in those classes. I was kind of shy when I came into college. My first Honors class, I don’t think I said very much, but I found the confidence to speak up.”