What Motivates Students to Pursue an Engineering Career?

Pursuing an engineering career is a lot of work! I have the privilege of teaching undergraduate engineering students. They take full course loads of fundamental math and science classes while leading student clubs, pursuing internships and serving in the community. I sometimes wonder if they have any down time!

When I ask my students what motivates them to overcome the difficulties on the path to an engineering career, their answers seem to always fall in the same few categories. Many enjoy science and math or discovering how things work. However, the most common, and from my perspective the most helpful, is a solid understanding of the ‘why’ of the engineering profession. Students that understand and continuously remind themselves that engineers are problems solvers that seek to design solutions for the benefit of mankind often have the best chance at successfully completing their engineering degrees.

This sentiment is well placed. At its heart, engineering is a service profession. The intense coursework of an engineering degree uniquely equips engineers to tackle big challenges facing our world, such as feeding a growing population and creating clean, sustainable energy sources. These innovations have the potential to affect millions or even billions of people around the world.

Connecting a passion for meeting real needs in the world through engineering, science and math can take many forms. For example, maybe you are passionate about alleviating the effects of poverty. A recent article in ASEE PRISM magazine highlights how engineers are leveraging their skills to design solutions for the homeless population in America. Potential innovations included affordable and safe housing options, accessible charging stations for smartphones and low-cost, safe public restrooms. Engineers from a variety of disciplines, such as biological engineers, civil engineers or electrical engineers, could be involved with designing these types of solutions.

Sometimes youth struggle to see the potential for positive impact of an engineering career. Providing young people with a realistic picture of both the day-to-day and long term impacts of engineers is a great way to help them explore engineering as a career possibility. If you know a youth that is passionate about making the world a better place, shadowing professional engineers in a variety of disciplines is a great place to start. Consider contacting local representatives from professional engineering associations to connect with engineers in your area.