Experts who work for national science think tanks predicted years ago that the U.S. economy would experience a shortage of qualified professionals in areas like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and education advocates encourage college bound students to prepare themselves academically to enroll in engineering degree programs. Many of today’s students are interested in engineering careers because of the plentiful, challenging job opportunities available to them and the higher than average pay scales that are associated with those careers. However, most of those career paths are open only to industry professionals who successfully complete the challenging course work that is needed to earn engineering degrees. Recent surveys have shown that many of these classes and technical laboratories are so rigorous that a high percentage of engineering students end up changing their majors and not realizing their professional goals to become engineers. Here are some examples of course topics that many engineering students must take to graduate.
Differential Equations and Numerical Methods
Engineering students can expect course work that is heavily math centric. Course topics like calculus, probability and stochastic processes are common to all engineering disciplines. Other math course topics that are usually taken by engineering students early in their undergraduate years are differential equations and numerical methods. Differential equations describe the relationship between functions and their associated derivatives. Engineers use these equations to understand the characteristics of a physical function and how the function is affected by changes to outside stimuli. This knowledge is useful for building a variety of every day products and structures like storm windows, earthquake resistant buildings and automobile braking systems. These engineers use numerical methods to create computer programs that allow them to model and simulate the physical functions and the outside stimuli; these models can be used in product stress tests. Engineers who master the application of these mathematical concepts help to create a variety of new and safer products for public use.
Computing for Engineers and Scientists
Computers are used prominently by engineers and scientists, and these devices have enabled them to create more detailed and accurate work products. Besides using computers to quickly conduct research via the internet, engineers use computers to create complex models like the one used in the differential equation example mentioned above. The course work in a computing class for engineers usually covers programming fundamentals for languages like C++ and Fortran. These classes also expose students to topics that help them to develop their data analysis and quantitative problem solving skills.
New Product Development
A primary reason why some students enter the field of engineering is to have the opportunity to build useful devices, and many companies still expect their engineers to bring the creativity and technical skills required for new product development into the work place environment. Subsequently, universities offer classes that instruct students about product development lifecycle phases and the necessary processes for transforming innovative ideas into new products. Some of these courses emphasize the development of environmentally friendly products within the energy sector.
Parents, schools, communities and even industry find ways to help today’s children develop STEM skills, and attention is given to this area of study during the early childhood education years of students. With the proper early education and training, it is highly likely that the gap between qualified STEM professionals and available technical positions will eventually become narrower as more engineering degree graduates enter the work force.