Michael O’Donnell

‘I have a bright future ahead thanks to my Engineering degree at LYIT’

Michael O'DonnellMichael O’Donnell, who was born in Leeds and grew up in Meenbanad, always had an interest in engineering. The opportunity came to follow this passion in 2011 when he decided to study Mechanical Engineering at LYIT as a mature student. He had no previous experience in the industry, having worked in the construction sector since finishing school in 2000.

Four years later, with an Honours Degree in his back pocket, Michael is a Mechanical Design Engineer with Omagh-based Telestack Ltd. He works on the design of large-scale bulk material handling systems for sectors such as Quarry, Coal, Mining and Aggregates, Ports and Terminals, and Rail Yards to name but a few.

Looking back, Michael said that taking his LYIT education the extra mile has brought him to this point of success. He added to his ordinary Bachelor of Engineering programme with a final fourth year honours degree that has brought him many rewards: “I knew that taking this final step would be extremely challenging yet the rewards that could be gained by successfully completing the Honours Degree course would enable me to secure a lifelong career in the engineering sector,” Michael said.

“Achieving a First Class Honours was above and beyond what I expected from this course and the sense of achievement and pride that was felt upon graduation was indescribable.”

Engineering students at the LYIT Letterkenny campus enjoy unique benefits for their projects and assignments, Michael points out. “Engineering students would have access to the Engineering Workshop from year 1, right through to year 4, a privilege few students get to experience in other institutes. “Modules on Hydraulics and pneumatics are built into the course which offered greater opportunities to graduates especially to those willing to work in the North where heavy machinery design and manufacturing is widespread.”

The programme had a particular focus on equipping students with the skills to make them workplace ready, Michael said. “The fourth year on this programme was especially beneficial as it concentrated heavily on professional development of the student as well as project planning and presentation skills all of which employers look for in a candidate.” Challenges become rewarding achievements if you put the effort in, Michael explained. He said returning to education as a mature student took a few short weeks of adjustment, and he still counts it as one of his best decisions: “The nerves soon dissipated and the course took a grip on me. It was probably the most difficult decision I had made coming back but also the best as I have a bright future ahead of me thanks to undertaking this course.”

Following graduation, Michael got his foot in the door at Telestack Ltd. through a Fusion Programme with InterTradeIreland – a programme which provides a company with a recent graduate of specific disciplines to solve specific problems. As part of the programme, Michael

had the opportunity to gain a Postgraduate Diploma in Business and Management at Queen’s University Belfast, all the while taking on a variety of responsibilities within the Telestack Company. “My role during this time was to introduce a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) training programme for engineers in the company and perform analyses and verification methods on components to identify weaknesses (if any existed) in proposed and existing designs. I also tested the capabilities and limitations of the simulation software and hardware utilised by the company by performing large scale analyses.”

Michael transitioned into the design office as a Mechanical Design Engineer following the Fusion Programme. He still works on FEA projects alongside his diverse range of day-to-day activities. Michael’s regular tasks include releasing BOM's (Bill of Materials) for machines, to working as part of a team on large-scale one-off projects, completing Engineering Change Orders, or specifying the hydraulic components of a machine and creating hydraulic circuit diagrams for fitters. “The list of tasks goes on and grows daily but this keeps work very diverse and interesting in nature,” he said.

For any student considering applying for an Engineering degree this September, Michael advises them to expect challenging projects, which will require methodical thought processes and procedures along with teamwork, planning and research and study. “My advice would be to begin work on and complete assessments as soon as they are received to avoid or reduce the accumulation of assignments in the last few weeks. “Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help at any stage of the course as both lecturers and fellow students are more than willing to help and do whatever is in their power to make life easier,” he said.

The college community is one of the main reasons why Michael would recommend LYIT. He said, “as the classes are relatively small in size when compared to universities and the interactions between student and lecturer are more informal in nature which creates a relaxed and interactive environment for lessons. Lecturers welcome any questions students have and so I feel a greater understanding of each subject can be gained by the student.”

For anyone considering their next big step into third level learning, Michael’s advice is to just go for it: “I regret not taking the opportunity when I was younger and think of all the experience I could have gained up to this point in my life, so I would say it is always worth trying some course, especially if you have an interest in the subject. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all.”