The path to being an Engineer — No two paths are the same!


In response to conversations and evaluations from the March 2014 Design Your World – STEM Conference for Girls, Conference Co-Chair Barbara Vilbig has authored the following inspirational piece!

Some students excel early on, you are one and you take the most challenging classes in math and science, master perfect SAT scores, earn AP credits and have a defined goal when you graduate from high school.  Colleges want to see students like you who take high-level courses because it means that you like the subject. Success in calculus and advanced science courses can predict success in pursuing an engineering degree.  You are accepted into top tier schools.  You are successful and will become a great engineer.

But if you can’t quite accomplish that, don’t despair.  There are other avenues open to you.  Take the most challenging courses possible.  Colleges know and understand that not all high schools offer calculus, but admissions officers want to see that you took rigorous math and science courses.  You may wish to take an advanced math or science course at a nearby college for high school credit.  If you’re home schooled, most colleges have a way of evaluating your progress and placement among other applicants. College acceptance and an engineering degree are within your grasp.  You are successful and will become a great engineer.

Still, if you can’t quite accomplish that, don’t agonize.  So you graduated in the lower 10% of your high school class.  Is the doorway to an engineering degree closed to you?  No.  There are still several paths open.  One is to consider community college which is a means to reach a top tier school.  That is just one option.  You are successful and will become a great engineer if you are strong-minded.

Some paths may even take a more circuitous route such as acquiring an undergrad liberal arts degree, or entering the Armed Forces or the workplace before embarking on the path to engineering.  Don’t ever say you can’t!  Several of our area SWE members were full time working Mom’s in dead end careers who studied engineering at night to get a degree.  You are successful and will become a great engineer if you are determined.

The inspiring story of Homer Hickam, in the autobiography novel, “Rocket Boys” and the acclaimed movie “October Sky” depicts the struggles of an average achieving student to follow his passion.  Homer was inspired by Werner von Braun and his Cape Canaveral team.  The 14-year-old decided in 1957 to build his own rockets. They were his ticket out of Coalwood, West Virginia, a mining town.  Homer’s female science teacher encouraged the efforts of his grandiosely named Big Creek Missile Agency and bumpy ride toward a gold medal at the National Science Fair in 1960.  Homer was denied the chance to take calculus in high school because of his grades.  He was determined and studied hard.  He grew up to be a NASA engineer.

Countless numbers of successful engineers were not in the top 10% of their High School Graduating classes, were not in AP classes, were not accepted to top tier schools.  They however did follow a dream, they did have drive, determination, a strong work ethic and passion.  They are successful and they are great engineers.


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