Discussion Thread

Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

  • 1.  Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 07-13-2021 12:44 PM
      |   view attached
    I was talking with some colleagues recently, and the discussion about why we all went into engineering came up. It made me think about my different perspectives on "what engineering is" throughout different points in my life.

    Before college:
    As a high school student who was clueless about what engineering actually was (not every high school student is this way, but I certainly was), one of my first ideas about going to college for engineering was "oh sweet, maybe I can use one of the mechanical engineering labs to build a warthog from the Halo video game." (This is essentially a large military jeep with a ridiculously oversized turret on the back). 

    While that isn't to say this isn't possible, it certainly was not in the engineering curriculum, and that goes double for the fact that I ultimately enrolled in Civil Engineering as opposed to Mechanical or Automotive.

    During college:
    When speakers would come in to describe their job, or when someone would discuss the roles of engineers on a major project, I still had a fairly naïve view of the level of involvement engineers had in the fabrication process. 

    After college:
    Once I began my career, I think that my understanding of an engineer's role on a project became a lot more accurate. I am sure that there are still tons of examples around the world that I am ignorant to where engineers may play a much more direct role in hands-on fabrication process. But at least in my own field,  when someone now tells me that they "built a model" of a sewer system, my head goes to the understanding that it is likely a simplified computer representation, and not a tiny physical model (although some do exist!) or 3d sci-fi style computer simulation. 

    I guess this is a post about a change in perspective over time. I'm curious if anyone else had their own perceptions change about "what engineering is" as they progressed through school, work, and life. 

    For fun, I'll also attach a picture I once made for my team at work. I think it does a good job of summing up what people in different roles think about H&H modeling in particular.

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 2.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 07-20-2021 08:21 AM
    The biggest shock to me was to adjusting to the imperfections of the real world. In college we were taught that there is one solution and that solution was a pretty whole number. In the real world there isn't time to make perfect calculations on everything.

    So to be an efficient engineer I learnt to make engineering judgements and understand when to overdesign to save time on behalf of the client.

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 3.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 07-20-2021 12:31 PM
    Before attending an engineering camp in high school: I had a very vague sense of what engineers do. I knew that teachers would say if you liked science and math you should look into studying engineering. I knew they were more of an applied science and that they designed things. That was probably the extent of what I knew. I knew the dad of my best friend in junior high was something called a "civil engineer" but had no idea what he really did.

    During engineering camp at Missouri S&T as a high school student: I learned more about the different fields within engineering. For example, I learned that transportation, water, stormwater, structures, etc. all fall under the umbrella of civil engineering. Besides civil, I was also fascinated with the ceramic engineering program at S&T. I decided against it because didn't want to be locked into having to have a masters right away if I wanted to do something with my degree besides toilets and tile. I also found the geographic flexibility of civil engineering appealing; civil engineers are needed basically everywhere.

    During early college: I started to understand in more detail the kinds of applications engineers work with in their careers. Part of this came from what professors were researching or had done in industry, and part of it came from the kinds of problems and projects we did in classes. We aso had some guest speakers that would come talk to us in class or at ASCE meetings about their careers and companies.

    Starting with my internship: This is when I started to realize that there is a lot more to being a civil engineer than being good at civil engineering subjects. I realized how important other skills are in being an effective engineer: communication with clients and/or governing agencies, staying within a given budget, working in a way that someone else on your team can pick up where you left off, etc.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 4.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 07-24-2021 11:27 PM
    Before College: Civil Engineering is all about working on buildings, roads, and bridges.

    During College: It can also include sewers, dams, foundations, water treatment plants, and all sorts of utilities.

    After College: You can even work on theme parks, rocket launch sites, naval shipyards and a ton of other cool stuff.

    Maxx Taga EIT
    Glendale CA

  • 5.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 07-28-2021 05:14 PM
    Before college: I thought "Cool, I could design and build cool things with my hands in a respected profession."
    In Under grad: I discovered "oh, apparently actually building the stuff falls on technicians and I'm expected to be in an office running calculations and drawing programs"
    In Grad school and beyond: I discovered "Oh, its all about politics... even engineering".

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management

  • 6.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 08-02-2021 10:10 AM
    Jesse, this sums up my experience in way fewer words than my original post conveyed. 

    I remember deciding between political science and engineering, and after a very disappointing experience at a model United Nations event in high school, deciding that engineering would be a better fit so that I wouldn't have to deal with politics.

    Silly me.

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 7.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 12-05-2021 11:47 AM
    Before high school: as a young kid, I was a natural in constructing objects in three dimensions. That was why my parents encouraged me to be an engineer, so I could make things like that for a living.

    During high school: I joined a FIRST Robotics team in the Mechanical Engineering section, where I took part in designing a robot and bringing such a design to life. But as I transitioned to college classes, ME started proving to be competitive and restrictive in its curriculum. ME was full of classes that focused on equations of static and moving objects, rendering the semesters fixated on making sure that whatever design was given could work.

    During college: after I searched around other majors during my first two years, I settled into civil engineering because of the flexibility with learning how to design projects, along with access to other fields of study, like the environment and statistics. In the years that passed, I found more freedom with developing and understanding projects, along with the standards of working in groups on a major project.

    Alexander Granato A.M.ASCE
    Bexley OH

  • 8.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 12-07-2021 10:20 AM
    Hey Alex,

    Thanks for sharing! I think its interesting that you found the ME field to be more restrictive than Civil. I would have guessed that both would be restrictive in their own ways. I'm glad to hear that you found a path through it to a place that aligns well with some of your interests!

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 9.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 12-07-2021 04:37 PM
    Great topic!

    For me, my Civil Engineering career is a journey that started while working in construction and later spending ten years as a land surveyor. Working in construction and later as a surveyor allowed me to an outside view of what the civil engineer does. When the opportunity to return to college came, i knew what i wanted to study.
    My undergraduate and graduate advisors were of great help for me to identify the course forward. Mentors have helped me to guide the journey after graduation, to continue my growth to becoming a well rounded engineer. Through experience the knowledge gathered while earning my BS and MS in Civil Engineering. I have also broadened my skills and abilities through continued learning and the introduction of new materials and techniques in my particular field. My attitudes as a civil engineer have also changed with more knowledge and insight.
    Early in my career I did what i was asked to do, as i have gained experience I have also developed a deeper sense of the what, how, and why that apply in my projects. This builds a deeper sense of responsibility towards my clients, to assist and guide their project planning process. To help them work within the regulations that apply to available funding and to choose or combine projects using sustainable practices to build resilient projects. The Journey still continues for me, as we live in a rapidly changing world, I continuously learn about new technology, materials, and the application of them.

    The Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge, now in its third edition (CEBOK3), is how ASCE defines the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to be in responsible charge of civil engineering projects. In the CEBOK3 the authors did a great job of describing the desired foundational, engineering fundamental, technical, and professional outcomes and a path to reach these outcomes.
    The CEBOK3 is a great resource that I rely on when I talk with my mentors and those that I mentor, we use it both to track progress and to chart the path forward.
    If you have not already, take a look at the CEBOK3, you will find that you can use it to chart your future as a civil engineer at any stage in your career.
    you can find the CEBOK3 and other resources on The Engineer Tomorrow site

    Tor Anderzen, P.E., F.ASCE
    Region 8 Governor
    Senior Aviation Engineer
    HDL Engineering Consultants, LLC.
    Palmer, AK

  • 10.  RE: Your view of what "Engineering" is - before/during/after school

    Posted 12-07-2021 08:50 PM
    Thanks for sharing your story, Tor! Its really cool to hear about an engineer who was actually involved in various roles directly related to the field before going to college for the degrees you earned. I bet it was a great help in determining which subject material was actually relevant to tasks in the field and which was going to end up only being useful to pass exams. 

    Its really great getting to hear about your journey and how you are continuing to learn all throughout your career. Hopefully we will all be so driven to do so, not only for ourselves, but like you said - for the ability to understand what the client really wants, and dedicate our efforts to being proactive in solving problems rather than simply reacting to work we are assigned. 

    Thanks again!

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer