The engineering discipline that holds the most interest for me is electrical engineering. I’ve always found electricity, and anyone who works with electricity, to be a fascinating topic, as it is a force that I consider the backbone of our new age culture and human civilization. Without it, our entire world would be a completely different place. Although I have no background working directly with electricity in an engineering capacity, I do have five years experience working for Consumers Energy, which included handling aspects of natural gas and, of course, electricity.
It is during this time, where I was able to see the inner workings and infrastructure on the electric side of the utility business, and how the wonders of electricity allow us to prosper, live in comfort, and assist engineers in making this a better world for all.
Electrical engineering is a relatively new discipline in the engineering hierarchy, and its roots date back to the late 19th century, and some of the major, preeminent scholars of the field in the beginning included Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla.
In general, electrical engineers “design, develop, test and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as motors, radar and navigation systems, communication systems, and power generation equipment” (“Electrical and Electronics Engineers”). Electrical engineers use materials such as “conductors, coils, magnets, batteries, switches, resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes and transistors,” (Lucas, Jim) to design and create electrical and electronics devices. These include things as simple as light bulbs, all the way to power generation stations.
Electrical engineers also produce specifications for electrical projects, conduct testing to see how well something performs, and see to the durability and reliability of said project. All in all, if something has to worked on that deals with electricity, and requires design and analysis, an electrical engineer will be the go-to professional.
To be an engineer, and more specifically an electrical engineer, you must have a core set of strengths, skills and talents. When it comes to electrical engineering, it is crucial that a person has great critical thinking skills, which is something I have. I’ve always been a problem solver and a logical thinker. If there is a problem, such as finding the strengths and weaknesses of an electrical system, I am someone who tries to think of multiple solutions, and tries to fix it efficiently and effectively. Electrical engineers are often required to think in this logical manner to solve issues, and so I believe this is a great skill to have. Another important strength/skill I have is the drive for learning new things, and being able to adapt to changes. I am someone who wants to learn as much as possible, and loves to learn new things. With electrical engineering being a field that is always changing, this skill is paramount to being successful, and keeping up with the ever evolving field of electricity. Lastly, another strength that I have is something that I believe to be one of the most important skills for any engineering discipline, including electrical, to have, which is the ability to work well with a team or employer. If, for example, I was assigned with a group to a project for a newer, more efficient power generation system, I would be someone who would have no problem getting along with the team, as I believe that for a project like that to be successful, we would have to work together. I’ve worked together as a team many times during my five years at Consumers Energy. For example, I worked with a group to develop and test a program to ensure that our billing system was accurate when someone cancels or starts new service. Our work as a group allowed that program to be successfully tested, and ultimately implemented by the company. Although I have other strengths, these are a few of what I consider to be the most important.
Once I have completed my associate degree at Delta College, I intend to transfer to Saginaw Valley State University. Finishing my education at SVSU will allow me to receive a bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering. In regards to what programs SVSU offers, at this time they only offer degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering. There are many courses involved, which include Measurement and Instrumentations, Circuits and Electromagnetic Fields. Some of the major and design electives that I need to take, and look the most forward to on my journey to be an engineer (and which lead into what I want to specialize in, which is power engineering) are the courses Electric Power Systems, Distributed Power Generation Systems, and Solar Voltaic Systems. SVSU describes Electric Power Systems as having to deal with the “generation and transmission of electric power, inductance and capacitance of transmission lines, and analysis of short, medium and long lines,” while Distributed Power Generation Systems and Solar Voltaic Systems both have to do with alternative energy technologies like micro turbines, small wind power systems, and photovoltaic/solar powered systems (“Electrical Engineering Major (B.S.S.E).” Of course, there are many more electives and major courses, but these are a few of the ones that I will personally be taking.
Electrical engineering has grown into a broad field, and has many sub specialties. I’ve made mention of this multiple times, but I would love to specialize in what is called power engineering. Power engineering is defined as a sub field having to deal with the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. Power engineers typically will work for a utility company, as they are the entities that generate and distribute electricity across their territory. I personally know the importance of having a fully functional, reliable and safe infrastructure, as I have been a part of having to deal with many power outages, so I understand the reliance that everyone, and also our environment, has on an electrical grid. The functions that most appeal to me are being a part of a team that is responsible for updating, maintaining and improving our electrical grid, to ensure reliability of services. This includes working with transmission lines to transformers, generators to substations. I would also love to be able to work with alternative energy sources to electricity generation, such as solar and wind power, and know for a fact that alternative energy is the future of electricity. In regards to wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay in 2017 is $97,970 per year, while the electrical engineering job outlook is growing at a rate of 7%, which translates to around 21,300 new jobs between 2016-2026 (“Electrical and Electronics Engineers.”). I wasn’t able to get in touch with an electrical engineer at Consumers Energy, unfortunately, so I was not able to get specific details of how they use their engineering background.
To procure a degree, you of course have to attend courses, which cost money. As of right now, assuming that everything goes well, and I’m able to get into the classes I need, I should graduate with an associate degree at the end of 2019, but possibly the beginning of 2020 at the latest. To finish at Delta, the cost for the 46 credit hours I still need is going to be approximately $6500, which includes books and supplies (“You Can Save a Ton of Money.”). Once done, SVSU is going to cost roughly $25,000, which includes 51 credit hours, books, lab supplies, etc. (“Tuition and Fee Schedule.”). In regards to food and housing costs, my wife and I spend roughly $100-$150 a week on groceries and $1250 a month for housing. As of right now, we are paying out of pocket for my Delta tuition, and admittedly would be able to pay for SVSU out of pocket. Instead of doing that, I intend to take out student loans once I reach SVSU. If I have an average salary of $97,700/year, I would pay about $500 a month towards my student loans. With a $500 a month payment, it would take approximately four years to pay off the loan in its entirety. Of course, this is not taking into consideration that there would be times that more would be paid, if able.
If for some reason electrical engineering didn’t work out, and I had to choose a back up engineering discipline, I would have to say it would be chemical engineering. I’ve always had a love of chemistry, even when I was a child. Throughout high school, chemistry was one of my favorite subjects, and I took as many courses as I could. When I first attended Delta College after high school, I intended to major in chemical engineering. Being able to turn raw materials and chemicals into workable products is fascinating, and I know that chemical engineers are also an integral part of the alternative energy/fuel systems. Given the fact that I want to get back into the utility business, it would be almost, but not quite as, good as electrical engineering.