ECE Faculty Spotlight: Mark Trudgen

“Set goals!  I cannot overstate the importance of setting goals.” -Dr. Mark Trudgen

Photo to the left: 3/23/2018 – This was a day before my wedding, my Dad, who is also an engineer, taught Electrical Circuits lab with me that morning.

Dr. Mark J. Trudgen was promoted to Senior Lecturer this past summer 2023, and recently took and passed the The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam issued by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. “The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam tests for a minimum level of competency in a particular engineering discipline. It is designed for engineers who have gained a minimum of four years post-college work experience in their chosen engineering discipline.” When Googled “How hard is the PE Exam?”the first response that generated in my search engine stated, “About 415,000,000 results (0.40 seconds) | This professional engineers’ test is a grueling 8-hour long test. Just the time is given to complete it hints at how exhausting and extensive it is. The percentage of successful candidates can be as low as 49% or as high as 82% for first-time takers. Mar 17, 2023” (from the site “Study for the FE“). Congratulations to Dr. Trudgen for passing the P.E. exam this fall semester !

More about Dr. Trudgen:

Full name: Mark Jeffrey Trudgen

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona, USA

What did you study in college and where did you earn your degrees?
B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Oklahoma Christian University
M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Arizona State University
Ph.D. in Engineering, University of Georgia

What brought you to UGA?
I was planning on getting a job as a mechanical engineer, but my last semester of undergraduate I took a class called “feedback control systems.” This class was the “ah ha” moment for me, so after having discussions with my cousin, Dr. Brett Byram, and uncle, Dr. Gary Byram, I decided that I wanted to purse graduate education studying more about control systems.  After earning my master’s, I decided to take a semester off and take a road trip looking for Ph.D. programs.  During 3 months and 14,000 miles of travel across America in my Camaro SS, God led me to UGA where Dr. Tollner introduced me to Dr. Javad Mohammadpour Velni.  I thought his research was pretty interesting and so I signed on.  Before I finished my Ph.D., Dr. Pidaparti encouraged me to interview for the lecturer position opening.  The committee (Drs. Lawrence, Hamrita, and Durham) liked what they saw because I was offered the job.

What are your research/teaching interests and what motivated you to pursue this area of study?
I am a big picture thinker, so after taking many classes that focused on pockets of engineering information, I was finally able to see how they all connected together in feedback control systems. The motivation for me came when I realized the power of mathematical modeling and common language spoken across the disciplines of engineering: an ODE could be an electrical circuit, or a heat transfer application, or a dynamical system.  From a controls viewpoint they all had so many similarities: inputs, outputs, and coefficients representing real physical parameters.  In my Ph.D. I was grateful for the opportunities to learn and write more about advanced control systems.  Since then, I have published in the area of engineering education, but I look forward to publishing in more controls related topics after I get a few pieces of hardware back and working.

What current or new research/teaching projects are you working on?
When COVID-19 hit, I like many in my position had a big problem, in that I could no longer run in-person labs.  I enjoy teaching classes with a laboratory component because that is the moment where you as a student get to test yourself to see if you can apply the theory taught in the classroom to apply it to do useful engineering work.  As an instructor some of the best conversations with students have come during labs.  It’s also very rewarding both as a student and an instructor when you see students persevere through to get ‘it’ working!  So, with the in-person options on hold I surveyed the virtual labs landscape and wasn’t too impressed with the available options.  So, I did what my engineering training prepared me to do, and built my own!  In the process I built remote labs first for sensors, then extended the ideas to other hardware.  Now that the turmoil of the Driftmier remodel is finished, I have all the equipment back in my office and plan to get it working again to be used to augment in-person labs.

How long have you been an instructor in engineering and what inspires you to teach or do research in your field?
Dean Leo was gracious to let me be a teacher of record as a Ph.D. candidate in Spring 2016.  I was hired on full time in January 2017.  In surveying my extended family (that I know of), 46% of them have been paid at some point in their life to teach, so teaching was always modeled around me.  I like to think that I have combined my parents’ careers: My Mom ran her own preschool for 20+ years and my Dad worked as a mechanical engineer in Aerospace companies for 40+ years.  However, the real inspiration came from Grandpa Trudgen when he said, “every job will have tedium and routine, but find a job that for 15 minutes in your day you are enjoying it so much you don’t notice you’re working.”  Personally, I love life-long learning and so every day that I get to learn something new through reading, or answering questions, or listening is a good one!

What teaching accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
I am very grateful for the ability to teach a wide variety of classes and the faculty awards.  I am however, most proud of the Spring 2019 semester.  At the start of the Spring 2019 semester, I was diagnosed with cancer, and started chemotherapy.  I made it a goal to have no disruption to the teaching schedule.  God was faithful, and He gave me the strength every day to get out of bed and go teach.

You recently took and passed the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying exams: Fundamentals in Engineering (F.E.) and Professional Engineers (P.E.).  First, what is the P.E. and what does it mean to pass the P.E.?
I did!  Many students are familiar with the F.E. exam.  The P.E. exam is essentially, the last step on the way to becoming a licensed engineer.  To take the P.E. exam you need to have first passed the F.E. and have sufficient work experience to start the application for the P.E.  Since the license is state-based each state has its own flavors, but essentially that is the algorithm.

Passing the P.E. means that you are legally allowed to advertise your services as an engineer.  More importantly, it is another feedback control mechanism meant to protect the public.  Aside from getting an ABET accredited degree, a person with a P.E. has additional study into standards and safety that ultimately are there to protect the public.  From my perspective, a Ph.D. shows that you can expand the knowledge of work in your chosen field through research production; a P.E. shows that you have a good understanding of practical engineering applications.  That’s really what the exam is over: practical knowledge and best practices of safety in a chosen engineering field.

What did you need to prepare for this?
Set goals!  I cannot overstate the importance of setting goals.  After the goal of passing is set, go to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).  They will have an information packet with topics in each area of emphasis.  There are only a handful of F.E. exams, but there are more areas available for the P.E.

The first time I took the exam, I went at it on my own and checked out a few books from the library and bought a few practice exams.  The second time I was grateful that Dean Leo and Dr. Beyette helped fund a study course from the International Society of Automation (ISA).  This gave much more focused resources and helped me see the breadth of the material.

About how many hours of studying did it take you to prepare for this exam?
The first time I took the test I started studying 6 weeks ahead of time.  The second time I took the exam I started studying 3 months ahead.  I like studying in big chunks so I would carve out 3-4 hours at a time.

How was the exam proctored?
The actual exam is taken at a testing center.  It is all day with a 50 min lunch break.  The exam for me was 85 questions.  I believe all P.E. exams have been moved to computer-based format.  So, most questions were multiple choice.

What was your worst moment and your best moment regarding the entire process?
As I’ve alluded to earlier, I took the exam twice.  The worst moment came 3 weeks before the first time I took it.  I had initially bought NCEES study materials in 2019 when the exam was formatted where you would “bring in any resource you like”.  I heard stories of people bringing in multiple suitcases of textbooks, so I started stockpiling materials and I planned on using my notes.  Three weeks before the exam I noticed on the NCEES website that “as of 2020 all exams are computer based; no external material is allowed.”  So, that was the moment.  But it was 100% my fault, I should’ve checked every detail.  I regrouped and studied what I could.  Although I was underprepared for the exam, I was proud of myself for not quitting on it during it.  Ultimately, I didn’t pass (I believe I was 10 questions short).  Failure is what you make of it.  I didn’t try to hide from the fact that I failed, I used that as motivation to find better resources to study the next time.  Aside from passing, the best moment in study came about a month before the second time taking it where I was going through the topical list of exam contents and I knew that I was far more prepared than last year and would likely pass.

How long did it take you to find out your results after taking the exam?
It’s an agonizing 7-10 days.  I try to get back exams to students asap.  I understand their pain.

What was the first thing you did after you found out you passed the exam?
In the Fall I have a weekly meeting with Dr. Herring and the student workers we hire for ECSE 2920.  I was in a meeting with them and they asked about the exam and said “I should check to see if results were in.”  Surprisingly, they were, so I opened the results live.  As the webpage was loading, I saw two green boxes and celebrated before I actually read that I passed.  I knew I passed because I saw that the red box of fail had been replaced with a green of pass.  I went outside to call my wife and in finding a place I saw Dr. Beyette and shared the news with him.  My wife was obviously very excited because this was a team exam in that she was on parent when I would study, so I am very grateful for her support!  I also texted friends and family that knew.  Later on, I shared with the P.E.’s that signed my application.  I am very thankful for their support!

What did you do after you passed our exam? (Celebration? Personal reward)
The family took me to Cold Stone.  Growing up we got Cold Stone with good report cards, so it seemed appropriate.

What next?
When I was in undergrad, I set my goals to be Mark Trudgen, Ph.D., P.E.  I don’t know what the next set of goals are yet, but I’m sure they’ll involve some combination of engineering and education.

What skills do you think are most important for students to succeed in engineering and what methods do you use to ensure the students you engage with learn the skills they need?
I am always interested to what the students think, but from my perspective I try to make my classes as hands on as possible with real checkpoints.  Can you produce results?  To do this I think you need:

Resilience:  Can you figure it out and get it done?  Can you consistently do it?  You can’t learn resilience if things are easy or handed to you, so I try to make real projects with real difficulty.  Do you give up when you get it wrong or do you persevere?

Curiosity:  If you find engineering interesting it won’t be hard to spend lots of time doing it.  Can you model ‘it’ with math?  If so, what happens when you perturb the parameters?  What does it do?

Be a lifer:  One of the reasons I pushed through to get the P.E. is because I believe in lifelong learning.  There’s no possible way you can learn all the skills you need for life in 4 short years in undergrad.  This is the start of your journey.  When my grandfather was studying engineering no one had access to a computer, now I can spend 2 minutes and write a code that solves problems that would’ve taken him days to do by hand.  Keep learning.  Never think you’ve finished.

What excites you the most about engineering?
I enjoy figuring out how things work!

What do you like to do in your pastime / hobbies?
I like fixing things! I enjoy fixing things both big and small.  A few years ago SAE helped with an Engine swap for my Father-in-Law’s Tahoe.  I have plenty of other house projects that I do.

What is one of your favorite places in Athens?
My favorite place is the Cook-Out on Epps Bridge.  Back when it opened, I took a special lady there for a first date.  It was a terrible first date, and I don’t recommend it for a first date, but she gave me a second chance and years later she said yes and we’ve been married for 5 years now.

What is one of your most embarrassing moments in engineering?
In my second semester of undergrad my report card read: A, A, A, A, F.  The F was in statics.  At the time I would’ve traded all the A’s for passing statics.  I thought my engineering career had ended before it began and I would have to change my major.  Thankfully, there’s summer school and I turned that F into probably the highest A I ever earned.  I missed 1 problem the entire time in summer school statics.  I learned that failure is like the low-fuel light on a car.  It’s an indication of where you’re presently at.  Getting mad at the gas tank won’t help anything, go fill it up and then the light will go off.  Same with knowledge.  If you don’t have it work until you do.

Mark Trudgen, Ph.D., P.E. can be found in Driftmier Engineering. If you see him around the halls, be sure to say “Congratulations DR. T!”

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