Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are redefining how to tackle big problems. So are graduate students like José Nazario, who is developing products for America’s future manufacturing industry. Nazario was drawn to UT’s highly regarded Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering thanks to a professor who saw his potential and recruited him to join the Volunteer family.
A Rising Talent
Graduate students such as Nazario, a second-year doctoral candidate, work on funded research projects with the supervision and support of world-renowned professors. They often receive full scholarships as well as living stipends, allowing them to graduate free of debt and enter a workforce where exciting opportunities are plentiful.
Nazario’s research, conducted under the guidance and mentorship of Tickle College of Engineering Professor Tony Schmitz, focuses on machining dynamics, which uses physics-based predictive algorithms to select operating parameters for increased performance and uses novel sensors to collect process data.
As Nazario explains, his doctoral research at UT’s Machine Tool Research Center offers him the unique opportunity to combine physics-based theory with tangible results, with the goal of seeing products he has helped develop adopted by industry.
“Having the chance to work with machine tools daily is awesome,” said Nazario. “Most of my peers who have worked on their PhD have conducted only simulated or theoretical results for their projects. The fact that my dissertation work is focused on developing products that can be used in industry in the foreseeable future makes the work even more meaningful.”
Nazario is a Knoxville native. His parents retired to Chile, his mother’s home country, in 2020, but his aunt and uncle still reside locally and operate the Pela Ice Cream Company, which has ice cream trucks serving neighborhoods throughout East Tennessee.
“I was actually torn between going to music school or an engineering program after high school,” said Nazario. “I have been playing guitar and singing for about 20 years now. Most of my limited free time is spent recording music in my apartment and collecting guitars. I’m a big blues fan.”
Nazario was introduced to mechanical engineering through his high school’s FIRST Robotics team, where his talent was encouraged by mentors Lonnie Love of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Hiro Masuo of DENSO. A first-generation college student, he received a full scholarship to Case Western Reserve University, where he also worked as a teaching assistant in manufacturing design labs and methods courses.
After graduating in 2017 with a BSE in mechanical engineering he began working in the manufacturing industry and was eventually hired by Paul Reed Smith Guitars in Stevensville, Maryland, as their leading innovation engineer.
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the guitar plant to shut down, Nazario returned home to Knoxville and became a full-time instructor at Pellissippi State Community College. He taught multiple courses, including computer numerical control (often known as CNC) machining, in Pellissippi’s Mechanical Engineering Technology Department.
It was during this time that he crossed paths with Schmitz, who had recently launched a revolutionary manufacturing workforce development program, America’s Cutting Edge. ACE is part of an initiative of the US Department of Defense Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program to advance the nation’s machine tool workforce by creating next-generation training and education.
“In the summer of 2021, I was asked to help with the first iteration of the ACE program,” Nazario explained. “I co-led a hands-on CNC machining boot camp at PSCC that included a group of local high school students in the Project Grad program and introduced them to the field of manufacturing and high-speed machining. Once I completed the first week of camp, I had the chance to meet with Dr. Schmitz and discuss the opportunity to continue my education as a graduate student in his Machine Tool Research Center.”
Schmitz immediately recognized Nazario’s potential.
“José has that rare combination of experience in machining supported by a mechanical engineering undergraduate degree,” said Schmitz. “I watched him interact with the ACE students and knew he would be a good fit in the Machine Tool Research Center.”
Since joining Schmitz’s research group, Nazario has been able to continue training new manufacturing students through ACE while expanding his network of manufacturing connections and experiences.
“Since coming to UT, I’ve had some memorable opportunities working with the team at ORNL, helping students develop new skills through the ACE training programs, and working with lab members from different backgrounds on projects,” he said.
Looking forward, Schmitz thinks Nazario’s current research will have industry-changing applications.
“José is contributing to Industry 4.0, or smart manufacturing, by developing a new approach to measure cutting force during milling operations,” said Schmitz. “Cutting force is a critical measurement but is traditionally challenging and expensive to measure. José’s research will result in a low-cost approach that can be widely distributed to support both large and small manufacturers.”
Impacting Manufacturing’s Future
According to a 2021 Pew Research Center analysis of federal employment and education data, Hispanic adults are less likely to earn degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics than in other degree fields. Only 12 percent of Hispanic college graduates pursue undergraduate STEM degrees. Additionally, Hispanic students made up just 9 percent of master’s degrees and 6 percent of doctoral degrees earned in STEM as of 2018.
“Diversity enables new perspectives to be added to academic and research environments,” said Schmitz. “This is essential if the research is to make it out of the laboratory and impact everyday life. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for increasing diversity. It is a decision to work each day to reach new audiences that may not otherwise be aware of 21st-century manufacturing.”
Nazario says his future will include both advanced manufacturing research as well as education targeting the next generation of advanced manufacturers.
“Since undergrad, I have had the desire to teach others about manufacturing in an approachable way,” said Nazario. “I was a teaching assistant for three professors in both machine shop and lecture settings at Case Western and truly loved working with students. Getting the opportunity to teach at the community college level the past few years at Pellissippi State has given me a chance to share my industry experience as well with students. I hope to continue developing my skills in researching and lecturing to teach new manufacturing students at the university level.”
Schmitz sees a bright future for Nazario.
“I look forward to the impact José is going to have—not only on future machining technology but also on those who wish to enter the industry,” said Schmitz. “My goal is to position him to make this difference by the time he becomes Dr. Nazario. I am also a manufacturer, but my product is my students. What a great career!”
Making Life and Lives Better
More than 160 UT faculty are dedicated to advanced materials and manufacturing research, redefining how to tackle big problems facing the industry in order to make life and lives better.
UT’s advanced manufacturing research takes a holistic approach, incorporating the strengths of multiple colleges and state-of-the-art research labs. Faculty with expertise in engineering, supply chain, and entrepreneurship, among other fields, are helping to boost innovation and deliver new kinds of products through cost-effective means unavailable with conventional processes.
UT’s investment in the manufacturing community is spurring economic growth across the state of Tennessee and building the workforce of the future.
Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, firstname.lastname@example.org)