Monthly Archives: March 2016

CollegeQandA asks: Should I major in Engineering?

Should I major in Engineering?

Engineering BuildingShould I major in Engineering?  This is a specific question that I’m dealing with here, but one that I’m biased towards, and therefore, I have an opinion on.  The answer is yes.

I think engineering is a great major.  Student’s who complete this major have the capabilities to do and learn almost anything afterwards.  Getting the engineering degree, however, is a commitment that takes both significant time and effort.  In many ways, I feel like my undergraduate degree was harder than anything I have done and learned since (though improving my writing has been exceptionally hard).

What is Engineering?

This question should be asked and explored by every major where you replace engineering with your major.  In most cases, the answers are very broad since a major is a label for a vast area of human knowledge and exploration, but practitioners should be able to give you a sense of what a particular major is.

Broadly, engineering, which is sometimes called applied science, is solving problems (by designing a solution) with the use of techniques and knowledge from mathematics and science while constrained by financial and ethical realities.  The types of problems are broad coming from areas such as the health industry to the retail industry, but they have one common aspect.  These problems are our problems whether they be human desires or human challenges.

Most people living in the first world can look around the room they are in presently, and almost every item in that room has gone through stages of engineering problem solving to create the item cheaply, safely, efficiently, etc.  Look at the power outlet.  The screws, the face plate, the outlet, etc. were all designed by an engineer(s).

What do you study in an Engineering major?

Engineering is a broad category that is broken down into specializations such as mechanical, electrical, computer, and chemical engineering (to name a few).  Typically, these specializations are created when there is enough industrial and commercial demand that future engineers in those domains need a focused set of courses covering specific topics.  For example, there is not much difference between electrical and computer engineers, but because of the rise of the computer industry in the 80s and 90s we made the distinction.  However, engineers start all their majors dealing with common introductory topics such as calculus, algebra, probability, statistics, physics, chemistry, programming that apply to almost all engineering fields.

At most schools, the first two years of a major deal with these broad basics in mathematics, sciences, and communication (written and spoken).  In the second year, students will start learning about the basics of the domain they have chosen to major in and will start to see how some of the earlier learned basics are applied to some aspect of the domain.

The third and fourth years will cover more in depth topics as related to the field, but this is just a sample of what practicing engineers do, and even in a field such as electrical engineering a student will further specialize in an area such as communication, electronics, electromagnetics, photonics, power, etc.

The reality is an undergraduate engineering degree is a broad exposure to a field where that student is expected to apply science, math, and engineering design to solve problems.  This, typically, means that engineering has a doing portion where throughout their study, students will build artifacts and prototypes in the lab and in design courses.  However, there are so many careers that an engineer could take that even the senior courses are broad introductions to the specialities.

Why is it such a great major?

In my opinion, an engineering major pushes a person’s mind not only in how to design a working system that solves a problem, but solves that problem with an understanding/application of science and mathematics as tools.  In other words, the major will push your brain to grow in leaps and bounds each semester with challenging ideas that are both theoretical and practical.  At the the end of the degree, you are directly employable since you can build things to solve problems.  Still, you don’t have to be a practicing engineer since the skills learned can be applied to a vast range of problems and opportunities in all varieties of areas.  The degree is not to be taken lightly, but those of you who are committed and willing to work and learn hard will find the results very satisfying.

Credits: photo titled: engineering; by DaveBleasdale


CollegeQandA asks: What to do if you think you’re having mental health problems in school?

What if you think you’re having mental health challenges?

Statue in paris with face in palmI, recently, had the opportunity to do some training in helping/guiding students with potential mental health issues.  For one, I learned that I am not an expert in the area or expected to be one.  Second, both faculty and students do not have great knowledge in this topic, and we should all be trying to both be prepared to help people with mental health problems and lose some of our prejudices to the problems.  So, what to do if you think you’re having mental health problems in school?

What type of mental health issues might impact my schooling?

Depression and anxiety seem to be two of the most common health issues for college students (this website has some details on these), but just like the rest of the population, we are all susceptible to health problems regardless of who you are and how much we don’t think these issues will effect us.  There is a large variety of issues that college students will deal with in combination with entering and living in a challenging and high stress environment.  Health, both physical and mental, are a huge factor in learning effectively, and if you are having health problems, you need to deal with them as soon as possible.

Who can help?

As I said earlier, your faculty may have some training in this domain, but the large majority of us are not experienced in dealing with mental health.  Faculty are not experts in diagnosing, and they shouldn’t be diagnosing you even if you seek their advice.  However, faculty are an excellent front-line of trusted adults who should know where to guide you to find the expert help you need.  So, faculty are an okay resource to seek out.  Similarly, friends and family can help get you the expert help you need, but they again are not the experts.

My recommendation is to find out what your university has for student counseling services.  A quick search in google with your universities’ name and “student counseling” or “mental health” services will provide you with your first point of expert contact.  These centers and people are great starting points to find out what you are dealing with, and typically, some of these services will be free of charge (covered by your student fees).  Schedule an appointment or go visit the center to find out what the next steps are.

It’s not not normal

Finally, our society still does have a stigma around mental health problems though we are making progress.  Research suggests that mental health problems are as normal as other health problems, and if you suspect you are having problems, then you need to deal with them.  Just like a broken arm that you wouldn’t try to fix yourself, mental issues are not just solved by not dealing with them.

Credits: photo titled: Depressed In Paris…. by: Toni Birrer


CollegeQandA asks: What is the most important class to take in college?

What is the most important class to take in college?

Unique classroomWhat is the most important class to take in college? That’s an opinion question, so the following is my opinion.  Also, picking one aspect of your education as a single most important aspect really is a useless exercise.  However, it is fun so let’s get started.

The point of higher education

The point of it all is… well, that’s also not easy to define either.  Let me say that I would hope that the following goals are met in an undergrad:

  1. Student intellectual develops and progresses in self-authorship along the lines of Perry and Baxter-Magolda
  2. Student gains a better understanding of how the world works
  3. Student gains a deeper understanding of one small branch(es) of human knowledge that then can be used and communicated to others

With those goals in mind

The most important course is… well, it’s still hard to pick.  Based on goal 2 though, I really like Douglas Rushkoff’s view on the importance of understanding how modern technology works and can be used (programming).  The reason I pick “programming” as so important is because it’s the one that opens access computation, and computation is the tool that seems to have changed us so much, and yet, people are still scared of many aspects of that tool.

Conrad Wolfram has suggested computational thinking would help us teach math better.  The web is packed with campaigns and sites that are helping children learn to program.  The maker movement has democratized electronics, programming, aspects of manufacturing, and creativity.  Still, only a small population of us has an understanding of what computation is and how it works, and to satisfy the 2nd goal of higher education people need to at least have opened the hood once or twice to get a feel for the technology, tools, and simplicity of our machines.

Is programming the most important skill?

No, not for everyone.  I would consider communication skills (writing, reading, speaking, and listening) to be the most important skills for almost everyone, and these skills should be a focus skill set for any undergraduate education.  Programming and technology are an extension of these skills in the modern world format.

Credits: Photo titled: Le salon de lecture Jacques Kerchache (musée du Quai Branly) by: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra


CollegeQandA asks: What is campus life like?

What is campus life like?

washington campus pictureFirst off, a campus is the area or space (typically including buildings) where a part of a university is organized.  In this space, students and staff work, learn, live, and interact in the various activities on campus.

What type of campus are you at?

Campus life depends on campus types noting that a campus can satisfy multiple types.  For example, there are:

  • Residential campus: a large portion of students live at or very near to the campus
  • Commuter campus: a large portion of students drive into campus
  • City campus: the campus is embedded in a city and is hard to distinguish as a separate
  • College town campus: the campus and student body make up a large portion of the population

Also, a campus can have significantly different population sizes from about 500 to around 50,000.  Therefore, the type of campus and size significantly impact what campus life is like, and that’s why there are many choices.

Any similarities?

I haven’t been to every campus type or close to every university campus.  Not even close, but for the ones I’ve been to there are some similarities.  First off, the diversity of people on campus means that there are many opportunities to try new activities and help with various organizations.  These activities cover a full spectrum of possibilities that makes them hard to list.

Also, campus life tends to create community in which is active and you can become active in.  This community has all sorts of interests, and is, particularly,  interested in impacting/debating/changing the world (local, regional, national, and global).

Campus life is also physically active, as in you see lots of people at certain times of day moving.  Because of courses, there are times of the day when you see lots of movement and people are, mostly, walking or biking.

Campus space has a unique feel that I’ve never felt in any other space.  The trick is, finding campus life that suits you and enjoying it for the short time you have there.

Credits: Photo titled: University of Washington campus, 1979; by: Seattle Municipal Archives