Graduate Schools and Colleges
"The Hands-On Folks"
Engineering technologists find themselves in the thick of the action, taking the sophisticated designs of engineers and making them work.
By Barbara Mathias-Riegel
OK, so after much research, an engineer comes up with an awesome design for a six-lane bridge. Now who’s going to make it happen? Enter the engineering technologists - respectfully known as "ETs." No, they don’t build the bridge; they supervise the construction crew and make sure it’s done right. And when things go wrong, they know what to look for and how to fix it. But while they’re basically known as the hands-on people, they can get involved in design as well.
Despite the important role of the engineering technologists, it’s a career that typically mystifies high school students, says Ron Burkhardt, assistant director of admissions at Purdue University. "We tell them that engineers develop designs and solutions quantitatively, while engineering technologists optimize and implement those designs using proven business practices." Once this is explained, Burkhardt says, "many students want to pursue this application side of technology." They realize they want to be ETs. Indeed, more engineering students end up switching to engineering technology, rather than the other way around. That’s often because of the math requirements, says John J. McDonough, professor of civil engineering technology and associate dean of engineering at the University of Maine. "It’s easier to go from calculus-based programs to algebra-based." In addition, many students want to be in the middle of the action, rather than doing research and design.
Students in a four-year engineering technology program must gain a solid grasp of science and math. Some ET programs offer an equal mix of theory and laboratory courses, along with classes in communications—an essential skill for working in the real world. There is also the option of a two-year accredited associate degree to become an engineering technician – that is, someone who installs, tests, or calibrates the product. Or a student may start out in a two-year program at a community college, then move on to a four-year engineering technology program. That is more or less what Scott Risinger did. "I first went to a regular engineering college where I thought I was going for mechanical engineering. But I ended up not liking it." Risinger went to a community college where he learned about civil engineering technology. He then went on to Rochester Institute of Technology to get his civil engineering technology degree. Because he was in a co-op program and worked for several companies while taking classes, Risinger spent three years at RIT. It was his ticket to a great job, offering commercial site work as well as residential, road, and sanitary projects on Long Island.
George H. Sehi, dean of engineering technology at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, tells his students that ETs are in big demand. "They are more valuable because they have a hands-on understanding of the system. Industry wants someone who can not only run the machine but be able to tell the difference between a signal and a noise."
So it all comes down to what you prefer to do: designing or applying the design. The good news is that engineers and ETs work closely together, so there is often an overlap in their work. "To the point that three or four years after graduation, you can’t tell them apart," McDonough says.
Content excerpted from ENGINEERING, GO FOR IT!
with permission from the American Society for Engineering Education.
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