Zachary LairdZachary Laird never really planned on going to college. Thanks to a lacrosse scholarship, he gave it a try, but after his first year, he still didn’t think it was for him. In 2014, he enlisted with the Marine Corps where he served as a traditional reservist for six years. After his artillery training, though, he decided college was a good idea after all.

“I realized I didn’t want to work in construction through the family business forever, so I went back. I ended up at Kennesaw State University where I transferred from business to engineering and fell in love with it.” Zachary graduated with his bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and Technology in 2018.

Zachary Laird in uniform

During the last semester of his undergraduate coursework, he decided a master’s was next. “I started thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I really love research, but it’s hard to get into with just a bachelor’s degree. My wife was still in school, and financially, I needed to wait until she was finished to start my master’s.” He began working as a mechanical engineer while she finished her schooling.

In Spring 2020, Zachary began earning his master’s in Mechanical Engineering 100% online from UA. Within his first three semesters in the program, Zachary has kept up with his coursework, separated honorably from the Marine Corps and relocated to Newport, Rhode Island, for his wife’s Navy service. “It’s been great so far,” he said. “I’ve been able to maintain a 4.0 GPA while taking two classes at a time and working full time.”

Zachary Laird in a shop“It’s pretty much the same as the degree on campus. The only difference is I can watch the class lectures whenever I want to,” he explained. “I take my tests at a local testing center, but everything else is completely online through Blackboard.” He’s enjoyed coursework so much that he has decided to pursue his Doctor of Philosophy next.

“I reached out to my adviser, Dr. Brian Jordon, to talk about my classes, and just threw out about me applying to the PhD program in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics. While we were talking, he asked me to come and work for him as part of his research team, which is really important for joining a PhD program.” If accepted to the PhD program, Zachary will be able to assist Dr. Jordon from Rhode Island with research through computational analysis on metal materials. “He also told me that the department will be launching a PhD in Mechanical Engineering next year, so I plan to transfer my master’s credits toward that and begin in the fall.”

Zachary Laird dancingZachary has covered a lot of ground to go from a high school student who thought college wasn’t for him to an engineering master’s candidate with plans for a PhD. And he’s done it all while balancing family, career and military service. He’s not exactly sure yet how he plans to use his education, but when he’s finished, he’ll be well prepared for a variety of rewarding paths in engineering.

“I hope to one day work for a consulting or research and development firm for fracture mechanics or solid mechanics analysis. I’d like my work to help the community in some way or give back to veterans. Those are things that interest me about engineering – the way the research we do can make a difference.”

Published: October 26th, 2020