Thomas Schaeffer

Major: Mechanical Engineering/Robotics 4+1 (BME/MS)

Graduation Year: Class of 2023 (BME) and 2024 (MS)

Hometown: North Salem, NY

Thomas Schaeffer

Q: Why did you decide to become an engineer?

Schaeffer: I’ve always been very creatively oriented, and in high school I was able to see my math skills develop. Engineering had been suggested to me by my parents and teachers, so I had that in mind when searching for schools. I decided to go to UD because I fell in love with the campus and the mechanical engineering program was very highly regarded.

Q: What has been your favorite course or instructor? 

Schaeffer: My favorite engineering class was Control Systems taught by Professor Poulakakis, who sparked my interest for robotics and whose research lab I was fortunate enough to join. This class really transformed my undergraduate experience and gave me direction within engineering.

Now I’m taking his graduate level course, Linear Systems. It’s another awesome class that continues to build on the same reasons why I joined his research team.

Q: What did you work on in Prof. Poulakakis’ lab?  

Schaeffer: Last winter I started working in the lab, building an understanding of the problem I would be working on. The aim of the lab is to design fully optimized controllers for our bipedal robot; “Digit.” Through the Summer Scholars program I worked on designing forward walking gaits for this robot, which were modeled in MATLAB and tested in a virtual physics engine.

In order to make this robot walk, we need high-level math coupled with a physical understanding of the robot’s movement. All of these things create this high-level problem, and I feel really fortunate to have contributed towards such a fascinating task.

Q: How do you spend your time outside of class and research?

Schaeffer: I work at The Pit, which is part of the Design Studio, and have been there since sophomore year. I was onboarded during Covid, when things were a lot different, but now that we’re able to have more people in the space it feels very collaborative. It’s nice to be a part of a team where I get to interact with students of all different engineering backgrounds.

I’m also involved in Pi Kappa Alpha, which has been a core part of my experience at UD.

Q: What is your dream job?

Schaeffer: Doing exactly what I have been doing in the lab would be a dream job for me. I love being able to see the intricate and beautiful science that allows these machines to move, so any job that involves designing walking robots would be a dream.

Q: What advice do you have for incoming first-year students?

Schaeffer: Take the first year to learn about yourself and focus on how you can best navigate all the new opportunities. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of students and activities and even just being in a new city. Discover what study habits work best for you, and how you can manage your time. Doing that allowed me to become the student I am today.