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Grad Spotlight: Ben Forbes Discusses his Splashy Time at McCormick

Forbes is graduating this month with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering

Ben Forbes made a splash at Northwestern, and not just because of his career on the University’s swimming and diving team.

Forbes, a BS/MS student graduating this month from Northwestern Engineering with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering after earning a bachelor’s in the same discipline in 2023, served as a graduate student researcher at the Center for Robotics and Biosystems (CRB). While he worked at the CRB, Forbes investigated electroadhesives and created testing rigs and used sound data collection to validate theoretical mechanical equations.

And yes, during that time he was also a key part of the Wildcats’ swimming program, specializing in the freestyle stroke.

Ben Forbes

Knowing that, it won’t be a surprise to hear Forbes’s advice to McCormick School of Engineering students.

“Get to know the people around you and get involved,” Forbes said. “This experience only lasts a short amount of time, so take advantage of every opportunity you get.”

In a Q&A, Forbes reflected on his time at Northwestern Engineering. 

Why did you decide to pursue engineering at Northwestern?
I pursued engineering at Northwestern because of the welcoming department and the well-rounded curriculum. I felt like I could make an impact at Northwestern because of the school size and the immense amount of resources. 

How did the McCormick curriculum help build a balanced, whole-brain ecosystem around your studies in your major?
The McCormick curriculum opened my eyes to how interconnected engineering is to everything in our world. The hardest courses were the ones where I had to decide which project I wanted to explore, as there were too many ideas to pursue. Whether it was analyzing the landing gear of an F-18 aircraft in ME 362: Stress Analysis or reimagining the way we hold our keys DSGN 308: Human Centered Product Design, I am convinced my Northwestern Engineering education has set me up well to solve myriad problems.

What are some examples of collaborative or interdisciplinary experiences at Northwestern that were impactful to your education and/or research?
I took part in the Segal Summer Internship program in 2022, which gave me a chance to improve my fabrication skills and work with the Feinberg School of Medicine and Winnebago Industries. Mainly working in consumer product design, this experience challenged me to put myself in the user's shoes to understand their needs for a given product. This "user-first" perspective is something I try to bring to any project I work on.

What skills or knowledge did you learn in the undergraduate program that you think will stay with you for a lifetime?
In my undergraduate studies, I learned it was OK to ask questions and be curious. I learned it is OK to not know what is going on at first, but most importantly, to be persistent and ask questions. The staff and faculty at Northwestern were quick to answer my questions and entertain my curiosity, and I became a better engineer because of their help.

What's next? What are your short- and long-term plans/goals in terms of graduate studies and/or career path? 
I will be pursuing my PhD in mechanical engineering at UCLA next fall, with the goal of researching human-robot interactions.