Merle Kolbohm

Mechanical Engineering

Class of 2014


Merle Kolbohm ’14 isn’t daunted by unexpected twists and turns — in life, in her career and on the motocross track.

In fact, the native German didn’t initially set out to study engineering or move to America. But when she started racing motorcycles at age 18, she soon found herself rebuilding motorcycle parts in her garage and discovered that she loved it.

“I wanted to stay in Lübeck (Germany) to ride motocross, and at the Lübeck University of Applied Sciences, you could study mechanical engineering,” she says. “I didn’t really know what it was, but it sounded technical and interesting.”MerleKolbohm_web

That eventually led her to spend a year at MSOE thanks to a unique study-abroad program between MSOE and Lübeck, which allows students to earn degrees from both universities.

“It’s great to see a different culture, and it’s interesting to see different ways of learning and teaching,” Kolbohm says. One of the highlights of her time at MSOE was her senior design project, which involved designing and building a formula hybrid racecar for the Society of Automotive Engineers’ international competition.

“That was a cool experience because in Germany I would not have had such a project to work on,” she says. “I liked having the hands-on stuff.”

After graduation, she decided to extend her visa so she could deepen her knowledge of American engineering. Now she’s a vehicle test engineer for WABCO’s Product Development Center in Rochester Hills, Mich., where she develops and tests the control systems for semi-trucks. Kolbohm drives semis on the test track to ensure that the equipment is working correctly.

“It’s an exciting and very interesting job where we drive trucks at their limits,” she says. “But the testing is just one part. We have to implement the systems for different trucks, so we do a lot of wiring and work with electronics and software. I’m learning a lot about vehicle dynamics and vehicle behaviors.”

Kolbohm also moonlights as an artist who specializes in motocross drawings. Her foray into art was just as spontaneous as her decision to pursue engineering.

“It all started with one drawing that I made for a friend as a thank-you because he helped me with my bike. I posted it online, and it got a ton of feedback,” she says.

Soon, she was getting commission work and illustrating the covers for international motocross magazines. She shares her work on her art website, www.5twenty2.de/english, and a time-lapse video of one of her drawings received more than 20,000 views.

“I never expected my drawings to attract so much international attention,” she says.

While her interests might seem varied, Kolbohm sees a common thread.

“The connection between motocross, my art and engineering is the passion,” she says. “I don’t do art because I love art. It’s a way to show my passion for motocross. With motocross, I want to get better, I want to get faster, I want to do bigger jumps. With engineering, there’s so much you can learn and so much you can do, and I really like to learn and understand the things I do. The drawing is the reproduction of the passion.”

Kolbohm hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll stay in America or eventually return to Germany, where WABCO also has offices. For now, she’s willing to see where the road takes her.

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