Whenever I meet new people at my university, I receive the same response upon telling people that I am a chemical engineer. “Oh, that’s hard!” some fellow engineers exclaim. Others shake their head and tell me solemnly, “I have some friends in that. They want to die.” Other such remarks are made which are equally discouraging. It is rare that any positive comment will be made upon the pronunciation of my major, excluding the rare remark as to how much money I’ll make when I graduate. But is that the only reason that I’m putting myself through what so many outside of engineering declare to be torture? Is that all I’m after? A paycheck?
I am the daughter of a lawyer and a dietitian, two working parents. I have never known much hardship in terms of income. If I was focused on income, I could be following in my father’s footsteps and working towards a law degree. However, my father never encouraged me to do this. He always wanted to me to find my passion and do what I loved. Granted, I always thought that history was really interesting, but I never pursued it as a career because I viewed this option as a limitation. That was my view and my decision though. If I had set my heart to become an American Studies professor with an office full of books and millions of dollars in student loans, I like to think my father would have supported me in such a quest.
I am fortunate that I pursued chemical engineering as a career. After a year and a half, I can proudly say that I chose the right major, despite the ups and downs. However, not everyone can say the same. During my time at school, I have watched numerous people switch out of engineering for business, math, biology, and majors not even remotely related to engineering such as music and journalism. I’m happy to see these people find their passions, even if those passions are elsewhere. This does not make me sad though. Usually my friends within engineering who suffer are the ones that I am pained by.
The most difficult thing for me to watch are the people who stay and truly love engineering but find themselves constantly discouraged by the negative atmosphere of engineering, weed out courses, etc. A good friend in agricultural and biological engineering struggled with physics electricity and magnetism this past semester. Not only did her grades dishearten her passion for engineering, but she was also mad that she had to take a course that to her had no relevance to her future. Even in college, we still learn things that have no apparent relevance to our future.
I do believe that all of the classes engineers are forced to take will at least be slightly useful to us someday, but it is difficult to see how when one is stuck in the never ending class sequence of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology with no engineering courses in sight. In the traditional engineering curriculum of most colleges, only juniors and seniors are exposed to “real” engineering. This brings me to the other problem with the current system. I have observed so many juniors and seniors come to realize that they actually hate engineering, or their specialized engineering major, after finally being exposed to real world industrial problems and seeing what engineering really is. But by this time, the upperclassmen are unable to switch without extending their graduation date by at least a year. So instead, they are stuck doing something they hate. I know chemical engineers who find jobs as finance and software engineers doing as little as possible with chemistry and chemical engineering because of this.
Over the past few months, I’ve realized that I’m being called to help change these current problems with engineering education. I want to change how engineering is taught in higher institutions. I don’t know exactly how, but I’m doing my best to get involved in anything and everything relating to engineering education. I’m hoping that by starting this blog I’ll be able to continue to connect with people across the United States and around the world that are just as passionate about engineering education as I am. These posts will range from case studies on different universities with innovative programs to ideas to general observations and really anything that comes to mind. I hope that you will subscribe to my blog, comment on posts, email me, share these with friends and anything else in order spread the movement. Thank you so much! Together, we can engineer the change.

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