And the engineering beat goes on
Finally—one of the kids sees the engineering light.
My career in fire protection engineering has spanned more than 25 years. The profession has always given me the opportunity to live a comfortable life. By no means would I consider myself rich in a financial sense, but my wife and three children weren’t left wanting for much. My kids were able to go private school through the 12th grade and my wife enjoys playing tennis at the local country club. It’s a pretty good life.
My oldest two children, ages 26 and 22, are both college graduates who did well in school. My daughter graduated from an honors program with two degrees and many academic honors. My son was a NCAA Division 1 athlete and also received several academic awards.
Both did well in math and science in high school, but after years of encouragement (they might say badgering) from me, neither one wanted to go into engineering. I started the encouragement/badgering of my youngest daughter earlier in hopes that I could get one of my three children to continue our family engineering tradition. I should mention that my father is a retired electrical engineer.
During her last year of high school, like many of her friends and classmates, my youngest was busy applying to a variety of colleges and universities. When she selected the school of her choice, she was accepted as a communications major. I stopped the badgering and resigned myself to having no children in the engineering profession.
But then one day, out of the blue, she asked, “Dad, what do you really do at work?”
I’m pretty sure my kids believed that all I did at work was talk on the phone and entertain clients over lunch. I saw the door of enlightenment open a crack. We sat and talked for a couple of hours. We visited engineering websites of the school she selected and explored online information about engineering professional societies. We reviewed salaries and job opportunities that a graduate engineer could expect to earn upon graduation. We even discussed intern programs, such as the one our company offers to students studying fire protection engineering.
At the end she said, “I might want to do that.” I took the bait and offered to set up a meeting with the head of the engineering department at her soon-to-be school. Fortunately, she had picked my alma mater so we were able to schedule a meeting with the chairman of the engineering department.
After the meeting she immediately changed her major from communications to engineering. Of course, I am thrilled.
I have already warned her that I probably won’t be much help with her homework. But I’m not sure what to do now:
- Do I pass down my father’s slide rule to my daughter, or do I buy her a new computer?
- Do I give her a copy of Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers, or calculus CliffsNotes?
- Should I get her a drafting table, triangles, and a French curve, or buy the latest version of AutoCAD and a big computer monitor?
- Should I show her how to operate an IBM key punch machine and teach her how to program in Fortran?
I think I still have my remote computer workstation with an acoustically coupled 300-baud modem and a thermal printer, but I don’t think that would be much help in the new world she’s entering.
Times have definitely changed, but engineering is still an honorable and well-paying profession. I hope my daughter will enjoy it as much as I do. I do know one thing for sure—she’s now on the fast track to becoming my favorite child.
Tom Brown is an executive vice president for The RJA Group Inc., the parent company of Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc. Based in the Baltimore office, Brown heads up the RJA Practice Group that sets the technical standards and best practices for the firm.