Think engineering students are smart, awkward nerds? Think again

By Wiwin Hartini

I still remember my first day at PSU as an electrical engineering transfer student from Clark Community College. I was excited and shocked. I was used to classes of about 20 and suddenly there were 100 students. I remember asking myself, “am I ready for this?” or “Is this how the program was set up?”

The truth is, as you take higher level courses, the class size gets smaller. But I didn’t think about that at the time. Also, as I have taken more engineering classes, I have learned more than just the subject. I’ve learned some “realities” of studying engineering. Here are a few:

You are more than smart.

Stop by PSU engineering building in the evening—7-8 p.m. is okay during weeks 8-10 of the term—and don’t be surprised to find a lot of other students. I’ve heard that some students stay overnight since most labs are available 24/7! And don’t worry, some of the food carts across from the engineering building are open in the evening, and if you need parts for your projects, there are vending machines! The point is, engineering students work very hard. It’s not just about being smart. It’s more about persistence.

Can you fix this?

I’d say that what we learn in an undergraduate engineering program is actually the fundamentals of applied physics. I took Electronics II, where we learned how to design a simple mini operational amplifier. We touch on many fields such as power, computers, signal processing, microelectronics, etc. It’s hard to be good at all of them, but engineering focuses on problem-solving methods. So, yes! Given reasonable time and resources, we can fix things.

Do we lack social and communication skills?

It’s a typical stereotype to say that engineers do not know how to start a conversation and prefer to work alone. I’ve learned that engineering requires a lot of “teamwork.” Can one person build a bridge? I spend my days in the basement of the Engineering Building working with students from many other countries, including U.S. students who’ve had work experience. We’ve had to learn to understand different perspectives and communicate creatively to get our projects done.

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