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Am I stuck in my major?

What is engineering? There’s no right answer to this question. Engineering is simply… everything. Engineering as a study is so diverse and there are always new types of engineering and engineering majors popping up in universities and companies all over the world. It used to be only electrical, civil, mechanical, and chemical engineering. Although that’s still partially true, there are many additional types of engineering that are offered today such as: computer engineering, data engineering, environmental engineering, energy engineering, aerospace engineering, bioengineering, biomedical engineering, biomolecular engineering, neural engineering, and the list goes on and on.

Now comes the hard question, “Which engineering major should I pick?” Choosing which field of engineering to go into before you’re legally an adult is a daunting task because some of them are very specific. There are pros and cons to this. A pro is that you really dive deep into that specific study and are equipped with the skills to be successful in that field. However, this is also a con because you might find out that you don’t enjoy that field of engineering. Then, you’re faced with the tough decision of switching majors and having to restart your academic progress in a different field of engineering or continuing in your current major and possibly getting a job in a field you don’t like.

I definitely had second thoughts about what I wanted to pursue in college. Originally, I wanted to go into environmental science, however, I decided that it might be more valuable to pursue an engineering degree because I would have more job prospects. Additionally, I did a decent amount of environmental policy work in high school and found that interesting as well but it’s unlikely that I can major in two different disciplines in 4 years.

The good news is that the field in which you get your degree in college doesn’t determine the industry you will be working in for the rest of your life. Last week, Wendy Tare from Boeing, Liz Riordan from Abbott and Mike Gough from Synchrony visited the Hoeft Technology and Management Seminar class I'm in to talk about how they ended up with unconventional positions in their companies and they provided some helpful insight. Some things that really stood out to me was when Tare said, it’s okay if you aren’t sure about your major or if you’re in between majors because “engineering is a way of thinking.” Riordan reinforced Tare's message by letting us know that “college isn’t about learning and industry or niche, [instead] it’s about learning a function.” It doesn’t matter what kind of engineering you pursue because all engineers learn the same base skills, and this equips them with transferrable skills that can be applied to nearly any industry. This got me thinking because I've spent countless hours trying to decide if environmental engineering is the field I wanted to pursue or if I wanted to explore other fields like bioengineering or mechanical engineering. It's eye opening because I've always considered engineering as a task like finding a solution to a specific problem in a specific industry rather than the methodology behind finding the solution. Once I started thinking of it in that way, I saw how interconnected the different types of engineering is because if engineering is simply the method behind finding solutions to a problem, we can adjust it to fit any scenario.

An issue I ran into while applying to colleges was that environmental engineering is a relatively new field, a lot of universities don’t offer it as a major, instead they combine it with civil engineering. This worried me because I thought I would be less attractive to employers because my degree would say civil and environmental engineering. Additionally, I’d have civil engineering courses taking up credit hours which would make it hard for me to pursue a business or law minor. A friend of mine recommended that I check out the Hoeft Technology and Management program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because it’s a program that merges both business and engineering. After doing more research, I found out that this program will teach me important skills like professionalism and provide me with connections to alumni in top companies and invaluable experiences with its corporate affiliates. I love networking so I knew it was something I had to partake in, but now I had more interests to choose from and I couldn’t decide which one I liked more. I decided it would be worth it to try a little bit of everything. The only downside to this is that I would have to take a lot of seemingly unrelated classes that I may or may not use in the future.

What I didn’t know what that this was a blessing in disguise. Taking a larger variety of classes makes me more attractive to employers because I’d have more transferrable skills. This means I’d be learning more functions and more base skills from different industries that can be applied in many situations, as Tare and Riordan mentioned, and this increases my chances of not being tied to one position or industry. All in all, this talk gave me peace of mind knowing that even though I don’t have the time to get a degree in all my interests, I can use the skills I’ll acquire in my classes in any industry.