Matthew R. “Matt” Kelly is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, but he could ace a major in leadership if such a degree were offered.
Kelly, 24, of River Forest, IL, led his senior robotics team at the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN) where he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering, the same school where he’s pursuing his doctorate; was elected president of his local chapter of the Indianapolis-based College Mentors for Kids and also captain of his dormitory’s basketball team; and is guiding a group of undergraduates who are carrying on the research he started as an undergrad.
“I definitely have taken to different leadership roles,” said Kelly. “I do naturally fall into those roles due to my ability to analyze and sit back and then make the best decision for a team.”
A die-hard fan of the Discovery Channel’s documentary series “How It’s Made,” which inspired him to become an engineer, Kelly’s was the lone hand raised when one of his undergraduate professors asked the class why aluminum foil is shiny on one side and dull on the other.
“By the time I graduated high school, I watched almost every episode of ‘How It’s Made’,” Kelly wrote in a personal statement to support a grant application. “In the process, I realized I wanted to be a mechanical engineer with a future career in manufacturing.”
If a Discovery Channel documentary were to be made of Kelly’s life it might be called How It Should be Made, because he’s not content with the status quo.
For example, when there were more mentees than students in his College Mentors for Kids chapter, Kelly collaborated on an email and direct marketing campaign to increase the number of mentors from 90 to 126. Later, he helped establish the first graduate student branch of the nonprofit program.
In addition, Kelly’s research as an undergraduate, and now his dissertation work, focuses on how to improve linear friction welding so that it can be applied on an economically competitive scale to help lightweight automobiles.
As it happens, this type of welding is ideal for use in the automotive industry, where traditional welding can’t be used for joining steel and aluminum because of the metals’ different melting points. They can be joined with a mechanical weld, but that adds weight.
The downside to linear friction welding is that the machinery made to carry out the process is prohibitively expensive for widespread use.
During his undergraduate research, Kelly created a library of various welding materials at Manufacturing Technology (South Bend, IN), a friction welding company. He continues to work at the company on his research, the only student ever allowed to operate its manufacturing equipment.
After graduation, Kelly wants to pursue a career in advanced manufacturing to help restore the United States’ position as a nation of makers.
“He is exactly the kind of person that can lead the manufacturing industry into the future,” wrote his nominator, Steven R. Schmid, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at Notre Dame.
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read all of the 2016 30 Under 30 Profiles as a PDF.