Ridding the stigma of creativity and engineering

As a mechanical design engineer in the aerospace industry, integrating art into engineering is important for alumna


By Cassie Kidwell

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As a professional artist before studying mechanical engineering as an undergraduate student, Rachel Spellman searched for the best way to integrate her passion for art with her drive to improve society through engineering. Now, she applies both in her work as a mechanical design engineer in the aerospace industry.

In her role, Spellman designs and models airplane structural modifications ranging from small, detailed parts like brackets and fasteners, to entire supports for equipment racks, antenna, and replacements for old structures.

After completing her bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at Texas Tech University in 2018, Spellman continued her education at Penn State, receiving a master of engineering (M.Eng.) in engineering design (DESIGN) in 2019.

Spellman explained she’s always had a special interest in design—incorporating creativity into her work was important as both a professional artist and a mechanical engineer.

“I became a mechanical engineer because I love solving problems and knew I could eventually work in design,” she said. “Mechanical engineers have the unique opportunity to work in any industry they want.”

The uniqueness and creativity offered in the DESIGN program at Penn State complemented her interests perfectly and enhanced her engineering capabilities. By completing the M.Eng in DESIGN, Spellman now has a competitive edge in the expanding field of engineering design.

“In recent years, design has exploded as the go-to field for creativity, innovation and producing problem-solvers to face modern challenges,” she said. “I wanted to be a designer, not just an engineer, so the M.Eng. expanded my skillset and diversified my project experience.”

As a DESIGN graduate student, Spellman studied and researched various design topics including additive manufacturing, virtual reality, human variability and decision-making. Through her work in these areas, Spellman was able to highlight her engineering skills with her artistic abilities.

“Design bridges a gap between technical and creative mindsets,” she said.

Through the DESIGN program’s partnership with the Hasso-Plattner-Institut, Spellman traveled to Berlin, Germany twice to attend Design Thinking Week, a week-long workshop focused on design thinking and its human-centered approach to solve complex innovation problems with a creative mindset in diverse teams. The week allows students and coaches from all over the world to practice design thinking, which incorporates more end-user empathy to solve the root of a problem.

Spellman said the DESIGN program at Penn State allows its students to follow their interests through a range of classes to gain experience in other areas.

“My best advice is to pursue new interests and to challenge yourself as much as possible,” she said. “I gained leadership experience, confidence in my technical skills, and a refreshed love for Design and all the creative challenges that come with it.”

Spellman credits the DESIGN program with expanding her skills beyond the technical foundation of her undergraduate degree, by providing leadership experience, increased confidence in skills and a refreshed love for design.

“DESIGN empowers the inner artist that many engineers lose in highly competitive and technical roles,” she said. “DESIGN is one way to prepare an engineer for the increasing need for innovation and creativity as companies continue to modernize their design processes.”


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College of Engineering Media Relations


“Design bridges a gap between technical and creative mindsets."

-Rachel Spellman, engineering design alumna



The School of Engineering Design and Innovation delivers effective engineering education and unrivaled research opportunities through active, collaborative, project-based, and professionally oriented classroom experiences. The school offers a variety of programs that partner faculty, students, and industry in the study of real-life engineering problems. Our programs teach students to solve real-life problems with innovative solutions. 

School of Engineering Design and Innovation

304 Engineering Design and Innovation Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2952