Celebrating Engineering Week: A Major for All Careers

We just wrapped Engineering Week 2019 at UMass Lowell with a number of exciting activities, including panel discussions on potential career paths. Tuesday, we hosted four alumni that landed in “atypical” careers for grads with engineering degrees. Their “new” roles included (1) real estate developer; (2) financial manager; (3) social entrepreneur; and (4) lawyer. Here are some nuggets that I gleaned from the engaging conversation:

  • If you decide to make a significant career change to a different field, plan your career “pivot” accordingly.  The (extreme) example was: suppose you work in the biopharmaceutical field producing advanced drugs but you want to become an IT manager.  This move requires two pivots – one from the chemical/pharmaceutical field to IT and another from production to management.  The first pivot will likely require an additional degree or training but can be accomplished at night while working in the pharmaceutical field.  The second can be accomplished by taking on project management/managerial roles in the field before exiting.  With planning, this evolution can be successfully managed.
  • Networking is crucial to making a pivot.  While pursuing additional training, another way to build credibility in another area is through networking.  Attending conferences, tech talks, or networking mixers can provide a way to meet those in the industry and learn about the skills necessary to move.
  • In these growing days of automation, you cannot assume that you will receive an interview for a job if your credentials do not match those requested in an ad.  For example, a job posting may require a certain degree which, you could argue, is not necessary with your experience.  Thus, to give yourself a higher probability of an interview, have an inside champion (someone at the company) that can hand deliver your resume with a recommendation to interview, noting that your different background is actually an asset to the company.
  • An engineering degree gives you credibility in the workplace and the job search.  In 2015-16, only 5.6% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the United States were in Engineering, according to the Digest of Education Statistics published by the National Center of Education Statistics.  Use this to your advantage, as earning an Engineering degree declares that you are likely a hard-worker and diligent – traits that are welcome in any field.

My favorite takeaway from the panel was the statement that “Engineers really can do anything.”  But this was prefaced by the fact that it is much easier to move from engineering fields to non-engineering fields while it is relatively difficult to move from non-engineering fields to engineering fields because the barrier of entry requires an engineering degree.  Thus, engineering is a great place to start for nearly any profession.

Why UMass Lowell?

This past Saturday, hundreds of prospective students attended our recruiting event with parents, siblings (sometimes begrudgingly), guardians and friends in tow.  On numerous occasions, I was asked, “Why should we choose UMass Lowell over University [insert name]?”  The comparison school ranged from private to public, small to big, and urban to rural.  I thought I would share my answer, regardless of the school named:

  • Program Choice: Students in the College can pursue degrees in Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Environmental, Mechanical, Nuclear, and Plastics Engineering; options in Biological, Nanomaterials, and Nuclear Engineering; and minors including Aerospace Studies, Biomedical Technology, Business Administration, Climate Change and Sustainability, Computer Science, Economics, Energy Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Mathematics, Nuclear Science and Engineering, Physics, Robotics, Sound Recording Technology, STEM Teaching, and Technology, Society and Human Values.  Additionally, every major provides a Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree Option where one can earn two degrees in as little as five years.  But perhaps most importantly, new students may start with “Undeclared Engineering” in order to determine which path, amongst this myriad of choices, aligns best with their interests.
  • Experiential Learning Opportunities: Whether participating in a society or club, volunteering to teach at a local school, studying abroad, enrolling in the professional co-op option, carrying out research in a laboratory, or building prototypes for an entrepreneurship competition, the opportunities to learn outside of the classroom are vast.  These activities deepen the college experience, build valuable skills, and lead to lifelong friendships.  They can also make a bigger school, which has the benefit of more program options, feel small.
  • Location, Location, Location: According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, nearly 75% of the Commonwealth’s Gross Domestic Product is generated within the I-495 corridor.  As Lowell sits on I-495, UMass Lowell has easy access to companies for internships, co-ops, industrial senior design projects, and research projects.  This translates to excellent placement rates for our graduates!
  • Personal Return on Investment: Payscale.com is a popular resource for analyzing the return on an investment (ROI) in a degree – a measure of earnings after graduation compared to the cost of attendance.  We are proud to be ranked second in the state for annual ROI.  But one must understand that these rankings are based on average data, and only a student can compute their true ROI.  That is, the cost of attendance is dependent on residency, degree (some charge fees), and the amount of financial aid or scholarships.  These are all personal data points that may vary widely.  However, starting salaries do not vary widely for new graduates with a specific Engineering degree at a specific company.  Thus, to calculate the ROI upon graduation, the ROI numerator is similar for most Engineering graduates – making the denominator (cost of attendance), critical.  Being a public university where 90% of need is met, UMass Lowell is quite competitive, making its ROI, very attractive.

So, regardless of the school for comparison, I would argue that UMass Lowell is a sound choice!