This fall, at colleges and universities across the US, more than 100,000 students are starting undergraduate engineering programs. My daughter Adelyn is one of them. She completed her associate's degree this summer and was accepted as a transfer student in the biomedical engineering department at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Dropping her off at school was an emotional experience for my wife and me -- one that I'm sure is familiar to millions of parents.
One such parent is Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a former engineer who was profiled in Design News last year. He has three rules for his son Dan, who started college this fall: "Always do yourself proud, don't be stupid, and call home on Friday."
In that vein, I'd like to share some advice for new engineering students. These are things I wish someone told me when I started out as a student many years ago. I hope new engineering students will find them useful.
Presumably, you're going to school in order to learn things. Someone is paying a lot of money for you to have this opportunity. This means that, if you don't understand something, you should ask. If something doesn't make sense to you, it probably doesn't make sense to a number of other students. They're just afraid to ask.
There is a corollary to this: When you ask a question, make sure you've done your homework (literally or figuratively) first. Don't ask a professor how to solve a problem if you haven't made an effort to solve it yourself. Don't ask about last night's reading if you didn't actually read it. Professors hate this kind of question. However, most professors love answering questions from students who are making a real effort to improve their understanding. (Yes, professors can tell the difference.)
Engineering is a team sport. In the real world, engineers work together in groups to solve problems. Studying in groups is a great way to prepare for this. Not only will you benefit from the help of your classmates; you'll benefit from helping them, too. Very few things improve your own understanding of a concept more than having to explain that concept to someone else.
Again, there's a corollary to this: Do your own work. Simply copying answers from other students isn't group study. It's just plain cheating. Not only is this a violation of most schools' academic dishonesty policy, but if you turn in someone else's work without understanding it, you're also cheating yourself out of the opportunity to learn.
Don't blame the professor
In my engineering career, I've been fortunate enough to meet some excellent managers, as well as some pretty lousy ones. However, in the professional world, having a lousy manager is not considered a valid excuse for doing lousy work. Similarly, as a student, I hope you'll have a lot of great professors -- but they probably won't all be great.