Shellie, Chemical Engineer
Shellie is a chemical engineer who specializes in food products for the pet industry. As the engineer on a product development team, she is the link between the products consumers want and the scientists who design those products. It is a matter of defining a need and determining the technical feasibility of addressing that need. She calls it, "linking the consumer to technology."
As a pet food product design specialist, Shellie works with a variety of other technical specialists such as lab scientists, marketing executives, process and packaging engineers, consumer advocates, animal behaviorists, and financial executives. She also acquires direct consumer input through surveys, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups.
According to Shellie, teamwork and problem solving are both important in any engineering project. She believes that the group effort brings to a problem so many different perspectives that are beneficial in so many ways. She says, "the value of other people's input to solve problems is what makes you successful." She further believes that in high school and college, it is vital that an aspiring engineer learn to think about problems in different ways in order to respond to the many unexpected things that can happen during a product design project.
Greg, Sustainability Design Engineer
Greg is a sustainability design engineer. He calls himself a "Green Engineer." His focus is two-fold: to create healthier living environments that conserve resources and to create design systems that over time make a positive environmental impact.
On the larger scale, Greg points to building and landscape designs that maximize rainwater runoff by planting vegetation on roofs, recycling rainwater in industrial cooling systems, and collecting rainwater runoff in dry catch-basin areas that are attractively landscaped. On a smaller scale, but no less important, Greg notes simple efforts such as the efficiency of a soft drink and coffee system in an office environment that over time can reduce the use of glass, cans, and plastic.
Greg says, "There are little things that are hard to see as impacts that happen on a day to day basis. And if I can affect the little things, they end up affecting the big things."
Greg's passion for engineering and its direct connection to the problems of sustainability are evident in the way he feels about the future of his professional field when he says, "The future of green design is the future of design. Design is going nowhere but green at this point in time. It's not a trend. It's not a fad. It's the only way we can continue to live. If we don't start designing green buildings, designing green products, and acting in a sustainable manner, we won't be able to have what we have today."
Jennifer, Biomedical Engineer
Jennifer is a biomedical engineer who uses technology to help burn victims recover from their injuries and to help protect firefighters, construction workers, and farmers from getting hurt on their jobs. By using surface scanning technology, the same technology used by video game designers and moviemakers to create life-like 3D animations, she and other engineers build customized burn masks for burn victims. These masks help victims' faces heal properly while decreasing the amount of developing scar tissue.
Her interest in the field was first kindled when as a young girl she was required to wear a back brace to correct a problem with her spine. Once she learned that biomechanical engineers were responsible for the creation of her brace, she realized that she too wanted to help others by becoming a biomedical engineer.Jennifer says, "The field of biomedical engineering is a great opportunity to bring the field of medicine into engineering." She advises that students interested in the field should work to improve their writing skills. "Technical writing or any writing courses are important because anytime you work on a project or application, you have to communicate your results. You have to be able to present them and write them up clearly."
Tom, Systems Engineer
Tom is a Systems / Mechanical engineer. His degree is in mechanical engineering, but he has taken that base knowledge and expanded it to bring other areas of engineering into his world. “As Systems engineers, we combine many engineering disciplines to develop some kind of new gizmo that does something that has never been done before to suit a specific need or functionality.” Working in a team oriented environment, each project comes with new and different challenges. Working with creative people and having the resources to solve those challenges is part of what excites Tom about his job. “Everything excites me about my job. The fact that I get to come to work and build micro-air vehicles and morphing aircraft with really cool functionalities that didn’t exist before, now that’s exciting.”
Tom’s educational experience included a co-op working arrangement. In his case, he went to school for four months, then went to work for four months to use what he’d learned in his classes. That cycle repeated throughout his college experience. “The really great part about the co-op program was that I could apply what I just learned to real-world problems.”
Kim, Biomechanical Engineer
Kim is a Biomechanical engineer whose job is to learn as much as she can about the human body and about physiology, so that she can help develop new ideas and create new products that are designed to best meet people’s needs. “One of the products I helped develop was a set of track and field starting blocks for the Japanese Olympic track team that measured start efficiency. Knowing the products we make are being used by people who are at very elite levels of competition is very rewarding.” Kim also works with athletes who have sports injuries. Her work helps in both injury prevention and rehabilitation. “We can help show an injured athlete that they’re going to get better, and it’s great to know that we’re going to be a part of that!”
Kim recommends that if you’re interested in engineering that you not only take the math and science classes needed, but that you consider English, Art and the creative aspects that go into engineering. “So, I recommend you solve puzzles, join the band, and all those extra things because they will help you be a better, more creative engineer.”
“I love being an engineer. I get to do a lot of traveling, I get to present my work and meet people; it’s really fun and I enjoy it!”
Stan, Photonics Engineer
Stan is both an Electrical engineer and a Computer engineer who specializes in Photonics engineering. He works at the United States Air Force Research Lab where he’s a research scientist engineer who develops technologies and solutions for the military in defense of our nation.
Photonics is about light; it’s about bending it and steering it. Many different applications utilize photonics. For example, lasers use photonics as a focused energy that is very fast and can be controlled. “Our work in the Air Force Research Lab is to develop systems that can operate much faster than in the past.”
Stan says, “Engineering will always require the use of problem solving skills as well as science and mathematics. It’s a process. It’s about being able to identify the problem, come up with solutions, select the best solution, then apply that solution and make sure it worked. Creative thinking and imagination allow you to think beyond the norm. So, being able to envision something and then implement it is part of the exciting world in which engineers live.”
Erik, Robotics Engineer
Erik is a robotics engineer. He works with mechanical, electrical and computer controls engineers to design, build, and program robots. According to Erik, “Engineers are problem solvers.” During the process of building a robot, there is always a “gotcha!” This is when something doesn’t work quite the way it was intended to work. “You typically know you’ve got a ‘gotcha’ or an ‘oops’ when your robot crashes. Then you scratch your head and say, ‘what happened here?’ and you go back to the beginning and work through it again.” Building robots, and any other type of engineering, requires constant experimenting before things work out just right.
Tara, Chemical Engineer
Tara is a chemical engineer who specializes in aerospace materials research at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Her team helps create the new composite materials that are used to build America’s cutting-edge military aircraft. The materials she engineers are lighter and stronger than traditional aluminum. Plus, they have “stealth qualities” which means these materials and the shapes in to which they can be designed can help hide a jet from searching enemies. It makes aircraft almost invisible to radar on the ground or in the air. Today, composite materials have uses beyond aircraft. Because of their strength and light-weight, they are used in the making of snow skis, bikes, tennis racquets, golf clubs and other sporting equipment.
“I first thought about becoming an engineer in junior high and then took the higher level math and science classes in high school. I didn’t know at that time that I’d end up working with composites on airplanes, but it’s really cool. On a daily basis I use the algebra and science I learned in school.”
Gary, Civil Engineer
Gary is a civil engineer who builds big buildings. He tells us, “Civil engineers build structures, dams, roads, bridges and large environmental projects. I’m a civil engineer who builds buildings. During school, I thought I would like to focus my career on being a structural engineer, the person who takes the architect’s designs and converts them into building plans that account for design strengths and materials. But later I realized, I like to be involved in the construction aspect of the building. In other words, I wanted to be the one on-site who figures out how all the pieces of materials come together in a particular sequence and then make that happen.”
“A city is a place where people live, work, learn and play. Civil engineers like me affect a city by building the buildings we live and work in, the schools and arts centers we learn in, the sports stadiums we play in, and the roads and bridges we use to travel on. We get involved in all of these projects and really help create the fabric of the city.”