On their own time, often for 40 hours or more per week, a group of Northeastern students meets to design and assemble an off-road race car. When they need support, the leaders of Baja SAE Northeastern turn to Andrew Gouldstone, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern.
Elsewhere on the Boston campus, students are building a large, autonomous drone that is designed to carry a fleet of smaller autonomous aircraft on its decks. Gouldstone advises them, too.
“Andrew is one of the most important professors at Northeastern for engineering student organizations,” says Noah Ossanna, who is pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering and mechatronics—the study of automated manufacturing—while helping lead the drone effort for the student club AeroNU.
Then there is Northeastern Electric Racing, which provides students with opportunities to do all kinds of repair work on cars, in addition to modification and fabrication of parts—and Gouldstone is their adviser too.
Gouldstone also advises Generate, a product-development studio that supports student entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, as well as NUToys, where students work in teams to repair, build, and improve toys with the long-term goal of designing them for children in need.
Additionally, Gouldstone serves as associate chair for experiential innovation—an oversight role of all the mechanical engineering clubs at the university. He has also been instrumental over the past year in helping student clubs safely reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My personal philosophy is that a university is a place where, if a student has an idea or a thought, or anything to do with their brain, there should be a large group of people who are willing to sit down and talk or listen to them about it,” Gouldstone says. “It just so happens that I work in the technical field, so it works out nicely.”
Gouldstone serves as a liaison who listens to the technical visions of engineering students and helps deliver the support and infrastructure to make the dreams come true. When Ossanna and fellow student John Buczek came up with the idea of building a drone three years ago, they took their idea to Gouldstone.
“He’s been helpful in everything,” says Ossanna, who, with his clubmates, has learned to add artificial intelligence to the project. By the fall, he and Buczek anticipate that their large handmade mothership will be ready to perform a rescue exercise by dispatching a half-dozen smaller drones to fan out across a large area and find a missing person.
“Andrew’s actual job is to run the mechanical engineering capstone—which is the flashiest capstone because of the fact that we actually are making physical objects,” Ossanna says. “He does that in addition to managing all of these clubs in his spare time. He’s calling us at 9 p.m. to check in.
“Without him, we would be nothing,” Ossanna says.
The clubs are important because the work that students do after hours reinforces and expands upon their classroom training, says Gouldstone.
“What we’ve tried to do in mechanical engineering over the last five or 10 years, in line with the Northeastern philosophy, is to say, ‘We want you to learn theory, and we know that in the back of your minds you are thinking about machining. You’re thinking about practical stuff—electronics, flying rockets, cars, whatever it is that floats your boat that you think is going to get you that job, or move you forward in your exciting career,’” Gouldstone says. “We’re going to provide those opportunities, and we’re going to provide all of them outside the curriculum.
“If you want to build a drone, go for it—and we’ll be here to answer questions if you want to go and learn,” Gouldstone says. “What we’re seeing is that students are now starting to find ways to apply their courses to their actual club work, which is really neat. The students of the drone team have a structures team, they have a computational fluid dynamics team, all that sort of stuff. As an adviser, I just think that’s awesome. They’re saying, ‘I actually want to use what I’m learning.’ And if you leave them to their own devices, they start to make the connections themselves.”
Gouldstone helps students resolve the logistical issues of their clubs.
“For the technical stuff, there are a number of faculty that I can draw on to ask, hey, are you interested in speaking with these students?” Gouldstone says. “If I’m working in capstone, or with an independent research student, and that student needs maybe a little bit of machining done, or maybe laser cutting, or they’ve been trying to solder something for three days and it’s just not working—I’ve got this wonderful virtual Rolodex of 100 students or more that are willing to help on a moment’s notice.”