It was absolutely worth it. Undergraduate was really hard. But the bonding I did with my friends over late nights in the Bonner study lounge, or the computer lab in Bell Hall, the tables in Davis Hall, and a myriad of other niches and corners, coupled with the feeling of accomplishment at the very, very end, made me feel like I could do anything."
What types of work have you performed? What projects have you worked on?
Process engineering / data science; test engineering for shock and vibration isolators; self-balancing robot (well, this one's still ongoing); and currently dynamics, systems and acoustics engineering!
What have been some favorite aspects of your work?
After weeks and weeks and months and years of struggling with the seemingly never-ending learning curve associated with engineering (because as you get better in any one area, you'll discover there are a nearly infinite number of sub-fields and focuses to learn anew - each with their own set of learning curves), you feel like you're spinning your wheels and nothing is becoming easier. THEN an intern shows up at work, and they come to you with the same questions you had when you started. Or a former student emails you out of the blue to ask for help with a dynamics problem. Suddenly you can see the perspective of just how far you've come - because these same problems that these other interns and students are stuck on are the things you now find easy and natural. It's one of the few times you're forced to see the perspective of things.
What was one of your most satisfying days as an engineer?
It was during undergrad around sophomore year. I was on the phone with my dad, who's a math whiz (the kind of person who took an intro-to-calculus textbook on vacation). My entire life up to that point, he'd been "ahead" of me in way of math and science capability - no matter what the topic was. But on that day as I was describing the things we were learning in my MAE classes, I heard him for the first time say, "Luke, that sounds great and all but I have no idea what you're talking about." and it was glorious.
Was it worth it? What has your engineering background made possible for you? What value has it added to your overall life?
It was absolutely worth it. Undergraduate was really hard. But the bonding I did with my friends over late nights in the Bonner study lounge, or the computer lab in Bell Hall, the tables in Davis Hall, and a myriad of other niches and corners, coupled with the feeling of accomplishment at the very, very end, made me feel like I could do anything. It also gave me a lot of really fond memories! Somehow all the best or funniest stories come from memories where things were going wrong. I have a million of those - and yes, having those stories to tell is most certainly worth the struggle.
Having a story to tell aside, the degree is a really useful thing to have. My background of struggling for four years has shaped my work ethic and drive into something that people in the workplace admire. It also taught me the real value of teamwork. Not the (sometimes) cliche phrase one puts on their first resume, but a real, sincere appreciation of what a team is and how it functions.
I wouldn't have the job I do without my engineering background - I probably wouldn't have a job half as fun as what I get to do now. The value of walking into work every morning with a smile is fantastic enough! It's like Spongebob working at the Krusty Krab.
What would you say to the first-year students currently sitting in your shoes?
I remember struggling and stumbling through Chemistry, Physics, Calc I and Calc II. I remember needing two different tutors for statics on top of regular office hour visits and extra appointments. I remember feeling like my head would explode when I was trying to get by with my studying while all my friends were out doing something fun. But these aren't signs that you're doing it wrong! Rather, pushing yourself is how you know that you're doing it right. If I could make it through and find a happy job with happy co-workers, then you can do the same blindfolded and hopping on one foot!