Back to school

I have been thinking about going back to school, and what it means to be a student again.


Much to my delight, I managed to get my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on the cover. Though my coworkers don’t believe me, it was truly by chance that Affiliated Engineers, Inc. sent me a diagram of my old stomping grounds (read about the image). This got me thinking about going back to school, and what it means to be a student again.

First, I don’t remember worrying about the acoustics in any of my classrooms, in grade school or high school. Maybe it wasn’t an issue back in the 1980s and ‘90s, but it certainly is today. Read the article “Classroom acoustics affect student achievement” to understand why it’s so important for engineers to understand classroom acoustics and sound levels.

I also don’t remember thinking about the intricacies of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, or fire protection systems in college buildings—or throughout a whole campus for that matter. Campus emergencies, like those that occurred at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, were not even on my mind. Our monthly Q&A discussion delves into everything from emergency communication systems to codes to updating older mechanical systems.

One thing I do recall from my days on campus was thinking that there weren’t enough buildings to house each of the majors that was offered. (I just checked—students can choose from nearly 200 majors at the University of Illinois.) My hunch was right. A local Illinois newspaper recently reported that the electrical and computer engineering department is finally getting its own space after about 40 years of consideration. And I thought the government moved slowly!

Whether a class is in a bricks-and-mortar building or in a virtual classroom, we could all use a little brushing up. Some skills require an in-person class, led by a highly skilled and educated professor. Other skills are learned on-the-job. Either way, a mentor or academic advisor can offer guidance, or point out shortcuts to achieving a specific goal. I strongly encourage you to be or find a mentor to help you in your pursuits.

This month is a great time to think about going back to school, brushing up on a specific skill, getting that accreditation to advance your career, or honing your business skills, such as at the upcoming Career Smart Engineers Conference ( Whichever path you choose, now is the time to broaden your knowledge and move forward, both personally and professionally.

Good luck in your educational pursuits!

Facts about engineering graduates:

* In 2008, 1,079 people in the United States earned their doctorate in mechanical engineering, up only slightly from the previous year (1,072 earned PhDs in 2007).

* Of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employees in the United States, 20.7% of 135.1 million workers were engineers.

* Want to work with other scientists and engineers? Move to the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, Calif., area; Boulder; or Huntsville, Ala., which have the most scientists and engineers, respectively.  

* In 2006, 61,600 electrical/computer engineers graduated in the United States with an average median salary of $53,000.

Source: National Science Foundation

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