MAE, Ag alumnus replants his roots in hometown, department
Lots of people, who travel the world, live abroad and take in new cultures eventually return to their hometowns to be near family and the environment they know best.
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department alumnus Mike Poehlman is one of those people. After a fulfilling career that allowed him to live abroad, Poehlman has returned to his hometown.
Poehlman grew up on a small farm in the Columbia area. As a teenager, his uncle Thomas Scanland, a 1937 mechanical engineering alumnus, took him to the lab exhibits held during Engineers’ Week. He said it was something he looked forward to every year and those events were what really introduced him to engineering.
As a member of his high school’s 4-H Club, Poehlman first got his hands on engineering at Mizzou. His 4-H leader was a professor of agricultural engineering who took his students to a lab and let them run a dynamometer test — which measures engine power — on tractors.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” Poehlman said.
He graduated from Rockbridge High School and attended Mizzou, where both of his parents worked. Because of his farm background, Poehlman first completed a degree in agricultural engineering in 1984. He worked for a year following graduation, but found the number of job opportunities bleak.
“I had trouble getting people to recognize my ‘ag’ degree as a legitimate engineering degree,” he said.
So, Poehlman returned to Mizzou to earn a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Dave Wollersheim was my adviser,” Poehlman, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1987, said. “He looked over my previous classes and told me exactly what I needed to take to graduate the next year.” He later earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Walden University.
Prior to his current job, Poehlman spent about 23 years working for John Deere. This enabled him to live four years in Germany and three years in India. He returned to Columbia six years ago for a change of environment and to be near family.
Now, he is manager of product engineering for Battenfeld Technologies, where he’s worked since 2009. The company is owned by firearm manufacturer Smith and Wesson and develops firearm accessories — “everything but the gun” Poehlman said. He manages a seven-member team that designs and develops all new products that are later put on the market.
“We take ideas for new products and turn them into reality,” Poehlman said.
Creating a new product is a multi-step procedure, Poehlman said, beginning with problem identification, brainstorming ideas, researching competitive products and design and testing a solution. The process can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete.
“Coming up with the idea is the easy part,” Poehlman said. “But designing and testing is the more complex and most fun part.”
One project Poehlman said he’s particularly proud of is a magazine well lock for the AR-15. The device not only disables the firing mechanism of the gun, but also secures the gun itself to whatever it is attached.
Although he works with firearm accessories, Poehlman said he wouldn’t call himself an enthusiast. He does like to go hunting during deer season, but he also likes to play golf and, more recently, work on a small farm he purchased in Montgomery County.
He has two daughters: Nell, who is a senior studying international affairs at the University of Iowa, and Elizabeth, who started her freshman year studying mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama. Poehlman said his experience partly influenced her decision to pursue engineering, but it was a moment of déjà vu that sealed the deal.
“It was close to St. Pat’s, so I called about arranging a tour of the E-Week lab exhibits with a SWE [Society of Women Engineers] member,” Poehlmann said. “I think that convinced her to be an engineer.”
Poehlman currently serves as the Industrial Advisory Council (IAC) president for the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, a position he began this fall. Its most recent meeting was held in October, and Poehlman said his goals for the IAC are to fulfill the group’s mission to support student organizations, fund scholarships, provide input on curriculum and foster relationships between the department and industry partners.