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Careers in Engineering and How to Help Your Child Get There

Engineer a Path: Careers in Engineering and How to Get There

In high school, I heard about a summer program at a nearby university called "Women in Engineering," and I ended up going. I had no clue what engineering was, only that it was somehow connected with science, which I liked. Once there, I learned how to program in Fortran and then played tennis with the other girls.

But I was unprepared when I enrolled in college as an engineering major. I still had little idea of what engineers did. I know more now and have been able to mentor several students, including one of my own sons, on the path to a career in engineering.

Engineers make things. But they aren't construction workers or factory techs. They are the ones who design the things to be made. Sometimes they design robotic machines to automate the process. I'll never forget a How It's Made episode revealing the manufacturing steps behind crayons. Once someone came up with the idea to make crayons, he or she had to figure out how to make them in large numbers. Hence the machines.

A mechanical engineer designs machines of all sorts. He might specialize in aircraft; there are university degrees in aerospace engineering. He might be interested in the medical field; my son received a degree in biomedical engineering and now works at a company that produces neonatal catheters.

In San Antonio, Texas, there is a stretch of freeway that has a lot of curves as it meanders between college campuses and parks. The speed limit slows to fifty, and the road is graded, so it tilts a little. Who makes these road decisions? How do they know fifty is a good speed? And why the tilt?

Civil engineers are the brains behind roads, bridges, and buildings. They calculate stresses and forces. Some civil engineers receive a specialized degree in hydrology and design water drainage systems to minimize flooding when it rains a lot.

You may notice that just about every machine, from hair dryers to the Boeing 787, relies on electricity in some way. Many involve computers; even cars have a computer "chip." Electrical engineering overlaps a bit with computer science; I have a cousin who works on software for Boeing. His degree was in electrical engineering, but today students might choose a degree in computer engineering, which contains courses in both hardware and software.

Near my home, there is a research facility for a petroleum company. The shapes of their huge equipment remind me of my high school chemistry lab. Chemical engineers work for petroleum or pharmaceutical companies to handle the creation of fuel or chemicals at a cost-effective scale and acceptable purity. All engineers, in fact, are limited in what they can do by cost constraints. They serve the public by producing needed products and services at affordable prices. Some engineers obtain a master's degree in business, which can be helpful if they work for a small company or start their own business.

One Christian engineering college in my state of Texas, LeTourneau University, gave a special project to its seniors one year. They had to design prosthetic limbs for amputees in Africa for a maximum cost of one hundred dollars each. It takes creativity to design on a budget!

Is Your Son or Daughter a Designer?

I knew my son might enjoy a career in engineering because of his methodical personality and good skills in math and science. You may have a son or daughter who likes to build or tinker. They don't need to be a genius at math, only competent and unafraid of the subject. If it turns out that calculus is too great of a hurdle, there are technology degrees that will give your child a trade without the academic rigor of engineering.

High School Math Requirements

Trigonometry is the absolute minimum. Your son or daughter would benefit by taking calculus in high school at a speed that would ensure complete comprehension. You can't be an engineer without calculus. I recommend Math U See's Calculus with the DVDs. Thomas' Calculus is a classic, but Calculus by Morris Kline is cheaper; you can find both on Amazon.

Science

Make sure your students take physics, even if it's basic. I recommend Apologia's first-year physics course. Saxon's Physics is rigorous, but if you combine this with DIVE video lectures, it's very doable and good preparation for the physics AP exam.

Copyright 2021, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/dusanpetkovic

Lynne Tagawa is a science teacher who has taught in Christian schools and homeschooled. She discovered history along the way and wrote a Texas history curriculum, Sam Houston’s Republic, because the textbooks were boring. Her first novel, A Twisted Strand, reflects her biology background, but currently she’s working on an eighteenth-century historical fiction trilogy. The first installment is The Shenandoah Road: A Novel of the Great Awakening. For updates, go to Lynne’s website.

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