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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why Major in Engineering?

Today I had lunch with a freshman at a major university who is considering changing majors from Engineering.  Her concern was not that the course load was too difficult. She graduated from one of the most competitive high schools in the state.  Her concern was not that she was one of only a few girls in her major.  Her concern was that she was limiting her opportunities by majoring in Engineering!  All she had heard at her university was tales of people who said they always knew they wanted to be an engineer.  That they loved taking apart things as a kid.  She was not this way, and I understood her concern.  While I was in engineering school, there were clubs for Rube Goldberg Machines and the Society of Automotive Engineers.  There was no club for singing, dancing, acting engineers, so I wasn't sure how I fit in.  But I had my big sister who encouraged me to stick with it, and ensured me that engineering wasn't all about being a grease monkey. 

And I gave my friend the same encouragement.  I told her that engineering was not limiting at all, and that in fact it opens more doors than most majors!  I told her that most of my closest friends from college where no longer working as Engineers specifically, but that a degree in engineering had opened many doors for them.  I told her about my friend who thought he wanted to teach high school, but then decided to become a Physical Therapist instead.  I told her about my friend who also taught high school math, but decided to go back to engineering at a major company.  This friend of mine moved from design work, to management, and is now six sigma black belt.  Another one of my friends was hired right out of college into a management program and moved over seas.  She decided to get her MBA and is now in business process management.  Both my husband and another friend, both degreed mechanical engineers, have moved onto project management.  Only one of my closest friends from college is still an engineer, working in product development.  I told her that employers do hire engineers for how they think, not what they know.  To get an engineering degree, you have to be able to teach yourself, and not have everything spoon fed to you.  So in the four (or in my case five) years you spend getting your degree, your thought processes and ability to handle difficult situations completely changes. 

When we encourage students to go into engineering, we need to talk more about the doors it opens than the cool things you can design. Realistically, not many engineers design.  There are very talented professional designers with two years of instructional classes on design that do a lot better
CAD/design work than an engineer who has only had one semester.  What engineers really do is work with people, trying to gain consensus and come to the best solution.  They are critical thinkers and decision makers, not people who are in the back of a lab doing experiments.  The critical thinking is why engineers are admitted into medical school and law school with lower GPAs than their class mates.  As I was told from a medical school I looked into, you do not have to teach an engineering major how to think.  They've already developed that skill in their undergraduate degree.

By the end of the conversation, the college freshman decided to stick with engineering.  Even though I have left the profession of engineering, I do not regret choosing it for my major.  Getting the degree taught me how to be persistent and to not give up (even when it seems failure is certain).  It showed me I could teach myself.  It taught me to not only consider my emotions in a decision, but to always keep the facts in mind.  Plus, the engineering degree gave me a pretty comfortable living even though I still haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

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At January 14, 2016 at 7:07 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Engineering is such great training for solving any analytical problem. This is a skill needed in almost any line of work. I agree we need to explain to students the variety of ways they can use that degree. Thanks for your interesting article on this important topic.

At January 14, 2016 at 3:34 PM , Blogger Christy Saludares said...

It really is a versatile degree. Thanks for reading!

At January 15, 2016 at 4:27 PM , Blogger Silly Mummy said...

This is really interesting. I did a degree and professional qualifications in a very specific area, and it is a little limiting if you don't want to stay in that area, as you are highly qualified and classed as overly qualified for many things, but of course can't do jobs requiring a different specific qualification! However, I can see that the opportunities from engineering would be much wider, as it has such wide practical applications. I would have been hopeless at engineering, but always thought it would be a great degree to have if you are talented in that area.

At January 15, 2016 at 6:38 PM , Blogger Christy Saludares said...

The skill of problem solving and just sticking it through is really what is developed in Engineering. Its not for everyone, but I do think some don't consider it because they think all they'll ever be is "an engineer", but they're not really sure what that is...

At January 15, 2016 at 8:55 PM , Blogger Nicole Salama said...

Interesting post. I agree, engineering is such a versatile degree and can open so many doors even if you choose not to be a professional engineer.

At January 15, 2016 at 10:06 PM , Blogger Christy Saludares said...

Thanks for reading!


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