Saving lives through new laser applications? Designing spacecraft to explore the Milky Way? Building environmentally safe systems to power cities? Where would you like to be in 10 years?
What is engineering?
Engineering is the art of applying scientific and mathematical principles, experience, judgement and common sense to make things that benefit people. Engineers are problem solvers who search for faster, better, less-expensive ways to use the forces and materials of nature to meet tough challenges. They design bridges and important medical equipment, processes for cleaning up toxic spills, systems for mass transit and much more.
What are the different fields of engineering?
The traditional - and largest - fields of engineering are chemical, civil, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering. And in today's electronic age, computer engineering is the fastest growing field.
Bioengineering is a relatively new engineering discipline when compared to the long-standing traditions of other fields of engineering. A bioengineer uses traditional engineering skills and tools to analyze and solve problems in biology and medicine. The difference between bioengineering and biomedical engineering is that bioengineering is a more global term which encompasses biomedical engineering and is applied to all life sciences and medicine while biomedical focuses primarily on medicine and healthcare. However, few universities, research institutes, and corporations adhere strictly to those definitions and, in fact, the terms are often used interchangeably.
Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics and economics to transform raw materials into useful products. They translate scientists' developments to large-scale production. Chemical engineers provide society with products such as gasoline, semiconductors, foods, pharmaceuticals, plastics, coatings and artificial internal organs. They work with energy, conservation of natural resources and environmental protection.
Civil engineers are the primary designers and builders of the nation's transportation, supply and energy systems. They design highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, sewer systems and power plants. Civil engineers work in design and construction, city planning, environmental protection and conservation. Most work jointly with architechs, economists and other design professionals using the latest techniques to solve the problems of today's society, such as water supply, urban congestion, waste disposal and conservation.
Computer engineers deal with all aspects of computer systems including design, construction and operation. Some specialize in digital systems, operating systems, computer networks and software. Employers range from computer manufacturers to any company that uses a computer network.
Electrical engineers design and develop new technologies to generate, store, transmit, control and convert energy and information. They deal with the behaviors of electric charges, electric and magnetic phenomena and things energized by electricity. Electrical engineers may work in design, research and development, production or management positions at governmental agencies or private corporations - any place where the design and use of electricity, digital electronics, microprocessors, microcomputers, feedback control, microwaves, electrical energy systems, communications systems or computer engineering is needed.
The American Society of Engineering Management defines Engineering Management as "the art and science of planning, organizing, allocating resources, and directing and controlling activities which have a technological component." Engineering Management is rapidly becoming recognized as a professional discipline. Engineering managers are distinguished from other managers by the fact that they possess both an ability to apply engineering principles and a skill in organizing and directing technical projects and people in technical jobs.
Industrial engineers organize the people, information, energy, materials and machines involved in the production process. They are concerned with plant design and management, quality control and the human factors of engineering. Depending on the type of employer, industrial engineers may be responsible for the quality of automobiles coming off a manufacturing line, the scheduling of a hospital's emergency room or even designing a better cockpit to improve the performance of a fighter pilot.
Mechanical engineers use their knowledge of thermal science, fluid and solids mechanics, and energy conversion to support industries in developing and producing quality products. Mechanical computer-aided design tools often are used to create computer models of a component or systems, predict its performance under different operating conditions and optimize manufacturing processes. Mechanical engineers are members of most design teams including those in the automotive, aerospace, petrochemical and computer industries.
What is the career outlook for engineers?
According to the American Society for Engineering Education more than 1.2 million engineers work in the United States today, making engineering the nation's second largest profession. On average, new graduates with a bachelor's degree can expect a starting salary of around $58,000; students with a master's degree can expect more than $67,000. Opportunities for engineers will generally increase as fast as the average for all occupations through 2010.
An engineering degree opens doors to other careers, too. Many graduates find their engineering background a valuable asset in professions such as medicine, law and business.
How do I prepare for engineering school?
Engineers spend much of their time solving problems, so a strong engineering candidate should enjoy problem solving and excel at it. Enrich your problem solving know-how by taking as many math courses as your school offers, including calculus and trigonometry. You should also take laboratory science courses such as chemistry and physics. Engineering institutions expect you to have good grades in: algebra, geometry, advanced math, physics, chemistry and English.
Because engineers convey ideas graphically and may need to visualize products or processes in three dimensions, courses in graphics, drafting or design are helpful, too.
How do I select a quality engineering school?
You will need at least a four-year or bachelor's degree in engineering. To increase your chances for career advancement, a master's or graduate degree is desirable. A solid engineering school emphasizes good teaching and conducts important research. In addition its engineering programs are EAC of ABET, Inc. accredited, meaning they meet the minimum education standards set by ABET, Inc.
Can I afford an engineering education?
While the cost of higher education might seem high at first, with a little research you should be able to find resources such as grants, scholarships, loans and work-study to make it all affordable. In addition, many schools offer cooperative education programs where you earn a salary while gaining real work experience.
Still undecided? Take this quiz.
- Do you get good grades in math and science?
- Do you enjoy knowing how things work?
- Do you ever think of new or better ways to do things?
- If you get a gift that says "assembly required" do you put it together yourself?
- Do you like to work with computers?
- Do you like to do mazes and jigsaw puzzles?
- Do you usually make sound decisions?
- Do people trust your judgement?
- Can you express yourself easily and clearly?
- Do you work well with others?
- Do you like to know "why"?
If you answered "yes" to most of the questions, your potential for success in engineering is high.
As you plan your future, accept the challenge to turn ideas into reality!