Why Study Engineering?

by Sam Hoff, CEO

Maybe you are considering a career in engineering but you really like people, or you like to read and write, or you like to do only research, or you want to be in sales. You might be surprised to learn that none of these passions are at odds with the choice to study engineering.  No matter where your career will take you after graduation, a degree in engineering will give you a good base to start with.

As a society, we need more engineers. When you compare college graduate statistics from 1971 to 2014, you get some interesting numbers. The total graduates increased 222% to nearly 1,900,000 graduates. The percentage of those graduating with Engineering or Engineering Technology Degrees has decreased from 6.0% to 5.8%. As technology and automation become more in demand in our modern society, why are we not graduating more engineers?

My observation? Not enough young people understand all of the career paths that Engineering can open for you.

In the late 1980s, I was ignorant as to what a career in engineering could look like. Why did I choose to be an engineer? In high school I was very good at and enjoyed my math and science classes; I did not care for my English or French classes. I had read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography and decided I wanted to go into the automotive industry and follow a similar career path as Lee.

While in college, now called Kettering University, I did a co-op at an automotive assembly plant and discovered that electrical controls and automation were my passion. Shortly after, I switched my degree from Mechanical to Electrical Engineering and decided that I wanted a career around automating manufacturing systems.

What I didn’t realize then was that there are several different career paths you can take – no matter what you get your engineering degree in.

After graduation, I started a company, contracting myself out to program and commission automation systems.  However, I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and had a passion for sales. That lead me to want to grow my company beyond myself and concentrate on sales. That is what has lead me to my CEO role in Patti Engineering, and President role in LEID Products.

As another example of a career path, my daughter is graduating from Hope College in May of this year with a degree in Biomechanical Engineering. Unlike her dad, she loves to read and write and has always excelled at both of those. She is seriously considering going to law school in the future and studying patent law. She will be a great patent attorney. I would not have been very good and would have been bored out of my mind.  So even though we will have similar degrees, our career paths will likely look very different.

Like my daughter considering law, many engineers do not spend their entire career in engineering. Many use the start they get as an engineer to springboard into management positions. For instance, the current CEO of GM, Mary Barra, was a fellow graduate of Kettering.  Many of the executives at our partner companies like Raj Batra, President of Siemens US Digital Factory and Matt Lopinski, Vice President of Industrial Automation at Mitsubishi Electric Automation, also have undergraduate degrees in engineering.

One benefit that a degree in engineering gives you is a great ability to solve problems and think logically. Engineers are very good at taking emotion out of a situation and looking at a problem or issues from a logical, factual point of view. This includes not only problems at work, but social and political issues. I don’t think you would see as much rhetoric in our political arena if more of the players were engineers.

Many young people in high school may not be considering getting a degree in engineering. Do not fall into the false perception that a degree in engineering will pigeonhole you into a particular career path. Instead, look at engineering as giving you a 10-meter head start over your fellow graduates in the race of life.