Category Archives: National Honors Blog Week

How to be a successful engineer: Real world lessons gained from experience

Megan Poorman ’14 is a biomedical engineering student and the Executive Vice-President of the TAMU Honors Student Council. Megan provides Texas A&M University Honors Program’s fourth contribution to the second-annual National Honors Blog Week. The theme for this synchroblog is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom.” To read other contributions to this effort, visit the hub hosted at http://www.honorslounge.com/taxonomy/term/3287.

How to be a successful engineer: Real-world lessons gained from experience-by Megan Poorman

Howdy there. My name is Megan and I am an engineer. To most people this word conjures images of cubicles with messy desks, graph paper crumpling under the weight of hefty equations, and electronic circuits spread over the top of a laboratory bench. Perhaps a picture of dorky, shy men with button down shirts (pocket protectors included) with no social skills also come to mind. Maybe, a person remembers their engineer friend, who is brilliantly smart, but is always holed up at their desk, hunched in front of their computer, furiously typing numbers on their calculator. At least, this is what I pictured for engineers coming in to college. I envisioned students who were consistently 20 minutes early to every lecture, who scribbled equations on the board and corrected the professor, and who only ever had conversations when it was with their peers in a language consisting of parameters and specifications.

Now, wrapping up the last few weeks of my senior year in engineering, I can attest that these stereotypes are actually partially true. Wait, wait…before all you other engineers out there get up in arms ready to declare war, remember that I said partially. Engineers can definitely be all of the above. We can certainly be intellectual machines who dream of designing the next best thingy-ma-bob and we can play the part of the nerd that spends hours on a single homework problem. I have been in lectures where the material was so full of equations and problems that it did indeed sound like another language and I have experienced the engineer who can barely meet your gaze as they talk to you (and I don’t just mean because they are talking to a woman). Yes, we engineers can be a nerdy bunch. However, this textbook definition of an engineer is not the full story. There is more to being in engineering than the intellectual stimulation from traditional lectures. The times I value most from my engineering education are, more often than not, experiences from outside the classroom.

So, based on my experiences as an engineering student in college and the lessons I learned, here is my guide on how to be a successful engineer.

Enjoy…

  1. Develop your social skills – It may be hard to believe, but
     BMEN intermural soccer team (Photo cred: Michael Holtzclaw)
    BMEN intermural soccer team (Photo credit: Michael Holtzclaw)

    engineers do have to interact with people. My class year of biomedical engineering students is about 80 students. Sure, we are all nerds, but never in my life have I met such a bunch of vibrant, brilliant, and sensational people. Our friendship may have begun out of the need for a support system to get through tough classes, but over the past 4 years it has grown into a community whose camaraderie would be difficult to rival. I think of these people as friends first and classmates second. I have learned so many things from them, not just about engineering but about life. I have learned to interact with others on a deeper level and to find common ground with people who I may not have thought I would get along with at first glance.

  2. Don’t base your self-worth on school – We get it, you’re an
    My friend, Haley, and me after running our first half marathon
    My friend, Haley, and me after running our first half marathon

    engineer, you’re brilliant. We all are. I say this not to detract from your intellectual superiority, but to try to get you to recognize the fact that you aren’t alone. You may not need anything but equations to drink and CAD drawings to eat, but I guarantee you there will be a time when those things don’t work anymore. It might be that your final project prototype malfunctioned, or you failed your first electromagnetism exam; regardless of what it is, there will be a time when you don’t make the cut and begin to question your abilities. Don’t sweat it. Take a break. Go for a run, join the department intermural team, or find a club that isn’t engineering related. Your schoolwork will still be there when you get back, trust me. Find something outside of school that makes you happy and don’t neglect it.

  3. Embrace your inner nerd – You aren’t in high school anymore.
    My friend Cameron (also an engineer) examining a model of the brain
    My friend Cameron (also an engineer) examining a model of the brain

    Nerd is no longer the lowest on the social ladder. In fact, nerd is very in right now. Okay, I actually have no idea (does the social ladder even still exist?). It doesn’t really matter though. Part of being an engineer is gaining confidence in who you are and what you know. In your career you will be in meetings with people of many different backgrounds. You have to be able to confidently state your knowledge in the face of pressure from customers and management alike. Being centered as a person is just as important as making sure your calculations are correct. Take time to figure out who you are and to love the person that you discover, because, let’s face it, you’re probably pretty awesome.

  4. Count on that support system – I will be the first to admit that there are times where I broke down and called my mother crying about something that had happened in class. I’m not saying you should do that all of the time, but don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything. You’re a smart, tough cookie that is probably used to having all of the answers. It is okay to feel out of your element or scared, that is when you grow the most. You are in college to learn to be an engineer. Life itself is a whole learning process. Succeeding isn’t about knowing everything, it is about being open to learning and being able to accept help from others.
  5. Don’t let fear hold you back – This applies to so many things.
    Standing on a small metal catwalk on top of the Cologne cathedral
    Standing on a small metal catwalk on top of the Cologne cathedral

    Love, life, traveling, speaking up in class…the list goes on. I have found that the experiences that scare me the most are the ones that help me grow the most. Studying abroad for an entire semester and not knowing any German? Scary. Standing in front of 100 professional engineers presenting my research in an international competition? Terrifying.   Yet, so much good came out of these experiences that I cannot imagine who I would be if I had passed these by.

I could go on forever but I think I’ll wrap it up here, I’ve rambled enough as it is. Just remember, you’re not alone, you ARE smart, and for goodness sakes get your butt out of that computer chair and go have some fun.

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You aren’t Superman, listen to Yoda instead…

Sam Terrill ’16 is a sophomore biochemistry and genetics major and the 2014 National Honors Blog Weeknewly-elected president of TAMU Honors Student Council for 2014-15. Sam provides Texas A&M University Honors Program’s third contribution to the second-annual National Honors Blog Week. The theme for this synchroblog is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom.” To read other contributions to this effort, visit the hub hosted at http://www.honorslounge.com/taxonomy/term/3287.

– by Sam Terrill

Starting back in high school, I’ve put a lot a lot of effort into trying to do everything. From joining lots of clubs, maintaining good grades, volunteering in the community, and hanging out with friends, I’ve done everything I’ve had the time to do. When somebody asked if I wanted to hang out, I’d say yes; if an officer position was open in an organization, I’d run; if a group project needed a leader, I’d always step up; and if a group in the community needed volunteers, I’d be there. In high school, where things were far easier, this was fine–I could do everything and still be passionate about everything. This is not the case in college.

I started my undergraduate education with high expectations from my parents, and even higher expectations from myself—planning to do everything I could do to make myself the best possible applicant for medical school. I quickly joined several clubs, got involved in an undergraduate lab, joined intramural teams, volunteered around the community, and put great time and effort into my studies. Much to my dismay, I soon was sucked into the vicious cycle of the all-nighter. With not enough time to get everything done in the day, I would work late into the night and see the sun rise. Sleep deprived, I would see a fall in productivity, and then have the need to pull another all-nighter a few days later. It took quite a while (2 ish semesters), but I finally realized that this cycle of wake up, do everything, don’t sleep, do everything, sleep some, repeat, was not what college was about. There are far more important things in like than being the perfect, well-rounded, student. Mainly, I learned two important lessons: not to be afraid to say no, and that trying to do everything isn’t enough—doing what you are capable of is.

After challenging freshman year outside of the classroom, I saw a need to prioritize what mattered most to me. I knew that grades would be something that would take care of themselves with appropriate time commitment, but I had not much of an idea as to what I wanted to do outside of the classroom, because whatever I had done freshman year simply wasn’t good enough. I was tired of getting stretched too far over many things. So, when my sophomore year rolled around, I knew that some things would need to change. I watched a star wars marathon this past summer and some of Yoda’s words struck me as profound: “Do, or do not, there is no try.” I reflected about this and knew that I would need to prioritize what I was most important to me and say no to the rest. I quit one of the clubs that I liked, because even though I enjoyed it, it was a time sink and there were more fulfilling ways to spend my time. I put more focus into spending time with my friends, because when I look back at my life years from now, the I won’t remember what clubs I joined or what molecules react—I will remember my friend though. Was this increased focus on friendships at the expense of more resume building and some time spent studying? Yes it was, but it was absolutely worth it. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I was actively doing the things that were more important to me. And, it’s not like I completely abandoned the classroom or my extracurricular involvements, I simply found that try less allowed me to truly do far more.

Sam Terrill poses while rock climbingDo, or do not, there is no try. These wise words from Yoda may seem harsh (they definitely did for Luke), yet they are important to understand, and were important for me. In the classroom, we are conditioned to always do: do this assignment, take this test, show up to class—there is no saying no (at least if you want to get a quality education, their isn’t). From early childhood, we are taught to try our best, and we get a gold star for trying, or some other award. Sadly, life doesn’t quite work that way—even when we try our hardest, it can knock us down. We either achieve our goals, or we don’t; we either do a . There is nothing wrong with simply “doing not” in some aspects of life, as long as we still are able to do the things we strive for. We aren’t Superman, so we shouldn’t try be him.

Sam is a sophomore biochemistry and genetics major seeking to become a physician. He is active in the TAMU Honors student council (rising president) and premedical society. He enjoys sports of all kinds, backpacking, and reading a books of the fantasy genre.

Independence, Confidence, and Global Perspective: Gradual Change in Study Abroad

Kathryn Kudlaty ’14 is the current president of Honors Student Council and will graduate this May with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering. She provides Texas A&M University Honors Program’s second contribution to the second-annual National Honors Blog Week. The theme for this synchroblog is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom.” To read other contributions to this effort, visit the hub hosted at http://www.honorslounge.com/taxonomy/term/3287.

By Kathryn Kudlaty –

When I started college at A&M, I possessed a fascination with world German Countrysidetravel that was relatively unsubstantiated.  A few family vacations and a short trip to Italy with some fellow Aggies before the start of our freshman year had left me with a strong desire to study abroad, wanting to really experience the world of which I had only gotten a tiny glimpse. I had a chance to do so the spring semester of my sophomore year. Reminiscing back on the time I spent in Germany and various other European countries, it strikes me as funny that the experience is encompassed with such a phrase—“study abroad” when really, the importance of being abroad so vastly overwhelms the classroom studying being done. Don’t get me wrong, I was still enrolled in all of my rightful biomedical engineering classes and there was plenty of schoolwork that went along with that, but all of that is way down the list of things I took away from that semester.

One of my fondest early memories of the semester started out as a Group in front of a cathedralbit of a misadventure. I wanted to keep up with my running in Germany and I also wanted to get acquainted with Bonn (my new hometown) a little better. I decided that looking at a few maps and jogging out the door would be a great way to accomplish both of these goals…
There seem to be two basic arguments when it comes to getting lost:

  1. It is a regrettable side effect of being ill-prepared and easily confused, or
  2. It is a wonderful way to see unknown places and new scenery.

Since the weather was a little warmer than it had been previously (a whopping 8⁰C), I was trying to stay with the optimistic point of view while getting increasingly more and more turned around. I did manage to make it to the Rhine River (my desired destination) and—perhaps more importantly—back home again. Despite the few wrong turns, I think that this event kind of sums up a key point of my study abroad experience- becoming independent. Whether it was making my way through a country in which I only spoke a few words of the language or figuring out the public transit system for weekend trips, my time in Germany really fostered my independence. I learned that the risks that take us outside of our comfort zones are often the most rewarding, and that I had been in the habit of underestimating my abilities. It took being immersed in a totally foreign place and culture for me to realize that I could reasonably navigate unknown situations. I don’t think that this kind of upheaval is necessary for everyone to realize their potential, but I needed all the help I could get.

Another huge benefit of my trip was Germany’s rich past and exciting present. One such remnant of the past is the TowerSachesenhausen concentration camp, which my fellow classmates and I had the chance to visit. Neither words or pictures can do it justice. Even the emotions that I experienced upon walking the grounds were relatively shallow compared to the reality of what happened there and many other similar places. It was visiting places such as these that really granted me a global perspective—how happenings in one country were both influenced by and catalysts for events in many others…

On a similar (but much more uplifting) note, I was able to pursue an independent study program on this trip, shadowing German surgeons as I did research on the history and development of prosthetic devices. It was surprising to me how similar the operating room was to those in the United States; I wouldn’t have been able to pick one from the other. It’s just a reminder of how modernSurgery technology is a ground which unites us globally. German prosthetics share lead spots in the market with American and other European devices. Although I did gain insight into the different medical atmosphere of Germany in regards to their “universal” healthcare and governmental regulations, I was more impressed by the similarities in our lives than the differences.

Upon returning to the US, I experienced quite a few instances of culture shock. (American bills are oddly the same size… and water fountains everywhere, I mean water… for free? What a novel idea!) Really though, the most important changes I experienced were those alterations which had taken place gradually, in daily steps throughout the semester, culminating in my being miles away from where I started in terms of independence, confidence, and global perspective.

The list of things that I learned is extensive, but I’ll leave a few comical or otherwise practical items here. I know that most of these relate to studying abroad or being in a foreign country, but it’s just another example of how much experiential knowledge you can gain outside of the classroom.

  • Memorize your train/tram stops and schedule. Just as importantly, know what time of night and for what occasions it no longer runs. And if while you’re walking to the stop you hear it coming from around the corner, run! It’ll be worth it.
  • Keep a personal journal. Not just for the big impressive stuff, but the little things too, because they’re easier to forget and just as valuable.
  • Double check your train tickets at connection points and be prepared to ask for directions when for some reason platform 12 is not between platforms 11 and 13.
  • Don’t get too frustrated by the initial culture shock. Expect things to be different in a foreign country, and try to appreciate it.
  • Pack efficiently. Not necessarily bare-bone—you need to be prepared for the weather and activities. Just realize that there may be a time when you have to carry all of your possessions through multiple train cars worth of crowded aisles or up several flights of subway stairs.
  • NEVER let yourself take the amazing buildings and history for granted, even if you walk through town every day. When you get back to Texas, there are no towering Gothic cathedrals.

 

The Undergraduate Experience: Job Training or Personal Development?

Lisa (Moorman) Quattrini ’06 graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s of business administration in marketing and a master’s in international affairs. She updated this reflection written several years ago for Texas A&M University Honors Program’s first contribution to the second-annual National Honors Blog Week. The theme for this synchroblog is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom.” To read other contributions to this effort, visit the hub hosted at http://www.honorslounge.com/taxonomy/term/3287.

2014 National Honors Blog Week

 By Lisa Quattrini –

Administrators, donors and elected officials all seem to agree that we should be treating the university more like a business with efficiency being the end goal. As I understand it, the idea is to pare down colleges which do not “produce” enough while bolstering colleges which provide revenue through private sector investment, federal grants, and other funding streams.

In theory, the idea sounds good, at least from one perspective: cut out those arms of the institution which do not generate money, and funnel investment toward those arms which do. I think in a lot of ways, we as students and former students accept this efficiency-based methodology without really considering the role a university plays in society.

To me, though, the question is: should we be treating a university like a business? Should the university simply be a place where money goes in, graduates and revenue-generating research goes out? Or should a university be a center of innovation and creativity, and a tool to secure our society’s place among the great thinkers and inventors?

The first approach seems to be the approach that prevails among administrators and elected officials. My fear with this approach is that treating a university as a factory for producing four year degrees, while treating university research as a tool for revenue generation, is performing a serious disservice to the students and to the creative future of our society.

I have learned this lesson the hard way, having treated my own university experience as merely a necessary step between graduating high school and getting a good paying job in the workforce. Rather than challenging my intellect and following the subjects I found interesting, I followed the four-year plan that came as part of my welcome packet to my college. I knew that I was going to be bored, but I thought getting a job upon graduation was the only metric for a successful college career, and I trusted my selected degree plan to get me there.

After graduate school, I got a job in international research, and quickly found that my undergraduate degree in something “practical for getting a job” had stunted my ability to think creatively. My writing skills had suffered tremendously in undergrad. And while the technical skills I had begun to acquire in graduate school were good, they were not enough to prepare me for the rigors of my job, as the degree was not targeted towards research as a destination career.

Now I sit, eight years out of undergrad, six years out of grad school, and I am completely confused as to where I “should” fit in. I never stopped to question whether I was missing something along the way – I thought my extracurricular activities were enough, so I never sought a degree plan that thrilled me.

As a student, it’s hard to know what to plan for. What I’ve learned from my experience is that I missed out on a very vital opportunity for intellectual development at the undergraduate level. I made all of my curriculum decisions based on getting a job. In doing so, I missed a vital opportunity to get to know myself, and what I want out of life.

I think that the place of an academic institution, especially at the undergraduate level, is to give young people a platform to be creative, to think through problems in new ways, and to force students to examine the world from different perspectives. I know it seems sentimental, but when you understand how the greater picture is connected, I have to believe the end result is better, simply because you understand what you’re working with and where it should go.

Treating a university like a factory where cost-cutting rules and no value is given to creative thought is likely to churn out workers who are interested in maintaining the status quo. A public university is specifically intended to expand the public knowledge, and it does no one any good to follow the same paths which have been traveled before you.

I leave you now with two challenges: one to the students, and one to administrators and elected officials.

To the students: it is my hope that you will not fall victim to the fear that you won’t have a job when you graduate. Treat your studies with respect – this is the only four (or five, or six) years you will ever be given to make mistakes, to learn, and to plan your future as you want it. Focus your degree plan on your passion: find something you love, and see as many sides of it as you can.

To the administrators and elected officials: don’t turn our campus into a factory of workers who simply toe the line and maintain the status quo. Help Texas A&M maintain and grow its reputation as a top-tier university which graduates innovators and thinkers. Help us promote a sentiment of wonder and exploration among the student population. I promise you’ll have more successful graduates if you do.