SWEet Wisdom for SWENexters

So many high school students misunderstand what the difference is between various engineering majors and how the majors relate to a job in the real world.
SWE Leadership Summit Update

Can you define engineering as it applies to your specific discipline? So many high school students misunderstand what the difference is between various engineering majors and how the majors relate to a job in the real world. What are some things that you learned in college classes that you find useful in your job today?

Jessica Rannow
Jessica Rannow

JESSICA RANNOW
My degree is in Industrial Engineering. IE”s improve processes and systems in all industries! My career has mostly been designing distribution centers – the software that runs them, the equipment inside of them, and the processes people in them follow. I’m currently at AmerisourceBergen – a pharmaceutical wholesaler (we get drugs from the manufacturers to Walgreen’s & hospitals). In the past I’ve worked for several retailers and have designed DCs for Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, The Limited, Express, Amazon, American Eagle, and JCPenney. I have IE friends in every industry – banking, automotive, entertainment like Disney, NASA, and every other one you can think of! While I don’t use a lot of the college classes like calculus and physics I took directly, I do use the problem solving skills, project management, and lean techniques frequently. Engineering is a great general education as the skills can apply to any career!

Kate Nolan
Kate Nolan

KATE NOLAN
I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering. One of the questions I always heard in college was “what’s the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer?” My chemistry classes in college were focused on principles and how reactions took place, but my chemical engineering classes focused on using those chemical reactions to design manufacturing processes. Many of my classmates from college work for engineering consulting firms designing chemical processing plants, but I wasn’t sure that that career path was right for me. I interned at a printer & printing solutions company after my sophomore year, working in research & development for laser printers. After my junior year, I interned at a large aerospace company, which eventually led to my full-time job after graduation, as a materials & process engineer. Now, less than 3 years later, I’m supporting the design of a new airplane. Corrosion protection & prevention is a major part of my job, which directly connects to the electrochemistry & kinetics courses that I loved in college! I’m also supporting our local paint facilities as we get closer to production, which brings the chemistry & materials concepts to a real airplane. Chemical engineers can also work in environmentally – focused roles — I’ve worked a lot with hazardous material management and ensuring that we are designing our products to meet current and future global environmental regulations. I never would have guessed that a chemical engineering degree would lead to working on airplanes, but it has been an amazing, rewarding experience so far!

Mary Isaac
Mary Isaac

MARY ISAAC
My bachelor’s degree was in mechanical engineering. I worked for 30 years in the energy business manufacturing, constructing, servicing, marketing, and selling turbine generator equipment at different times.

I was a machinist before college and a field engineer afterwards, at the same company, GE. I worked my way to GM and retired early at an executive level, because I could.

The most important things I learned in college, related to what I have done specifically, were a) it’s not what you know, but how FAST you can find what you want to know, b) E=MC-squared is the same mathematical concept as F=ma, E=IR, P=VI, and c) solar and wind power would become very important in the future (remember this was 1982!)

Also, be willing to accept a B for balance. My GPA was less than 3.0 when I finished – I had to recover from a C average my first trimester. I had been away from school for a 7 years and was a single mom. It wasn’t pretty.

But I made it, and one of the things I learned from that was that your undergrad GPA is only particularly relevant for grad school and your first job. After that, it’s all about performance.

Joyann Paf
Joyann Paf

JOYANN PAF
Engineering to me, is continuously improving upon designs for air, wastewater, and water treatment facilities. I am currently a site support environmental engineer who helps maintain abatement systems and ensures all local, state and federal regulations related to the environment are followed. My career is mostly overseeing, trouble shooting and ensuring equipment are operating within their designed/permitted specifications, submitting reports to governmental agencies, training personnel, and developing sample programs to ensure all systems are within limits. My major was environmental engineering and I now work in the Environmental, Health and Safety field ensuring people and the environment are protected.  The most useful thing I learned in college was presentation skills, at my current position I am always in front of management with slides and our required weekly updates in senior design class has prepared me for the real world.

Adrianne Cooper
Adrianne Cooper

ADRIANNE COOPER
As an electrical engineer my first job was as a flight test engineer where I tested navigation systems on aircraft. I have also worked on hardware security for a company in industry. My current job is working aircraft navigation systems from the design and requirements perspective.  You don’t learn navigation systems in college, but you do learn engineering practices and the foundation of knowledge required to understand a more complex system. You learn to think like an engineer. For my field non-core important classes would be engineering statistics and technical writing. I took neither!  University of Maryland has just started a flight test engineering program.

Maria Power
Maria Power

MARIA POWER
My bachelor’s and master’s degrees were both in Computer Science. A computer science degree can be applied to both science and engineering professions (among many others). By title, I have worked both as a Software Engineer developing computer software and as a Control Systems Engineer which spans from working on embedded system software as well as high level user software. Since I chose to get a bachelor of science degree (as opposed to a bachelor of arts) I had to take many physics, chemistry and calculus classes. I never dreamed that I would end up working on an accelerator control system, but here I am and learning all that science and math has really helped! College classes not only teach you the subjects, but teach you how to think logically, problem solve, and manage time.