Research a career in STEM

By Careesa Campbell | Opinions Editor 

Engineering majors and other students recently had the opportunity to participate in a STEM career fair in the Center for Innovation.

Three guest speakers each delivered a PowerPoint which broke down their careers in order to give the students real life examples of all the job possibilities an aspiring engineering major can hope to expect as well as advice about the journey through graduation and picking the right career.

Many students have a false perception that engineering is only about calculations and science but each speaker, all of whom majored in some aspect of engineering, described their former and current jobs which were all completely different from one another.

The first guest speaker, Travis Airola, field engineer for Flatiron Construction Corporation, designs and builds structures like bridges.

He said engineering requires hard workers with a creative mind, but not necessarily the best, brightest or smartest people.

“The math and science is intimidating to students and some may they think they aren’t good enough to succeed in it,” he said. “But engineering is more about problem solving than natural intelligence.”

While picking a major is stress-inducing in itself, many students opt of out choosing one of the majors regarding STEM before they familiarize themselves with what it entails because they have heard it’s too hard or requires too much work.

Rowan Hettel, who teaches a new Engineering 101 course at Citrus, said he sees students struggling most with career direction between choosing the right field and knowing which path is right for them.

“The course load is definitely intimidating but I think it’s important for people to decide to do something based on their own interests rather than hear-say about the difficulty,” Hettel said. “Anybody can handle it as long as they have the drive to do it.”

Hettel is a senior engineer at Biosense Webster, a Johnson & Johnson company, and was a part of the design and creation of a medical tool used for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia.

Another generalization made about engineering is that it is a field only men can excel in.

However Kay Yang, inventor and mechanical engineer, said that out of a group of 15 people, she was the only woman.

“I learned that yes, I’m younger and a girl and I think it was a little harder for them to take me seriously,” she said. “But as long as you have confidence and demand respect and be yourself, you’ll find that people will still listen to you.”

After working a project manager for Mattel and as a prototype engineer at Menon International, Inc., Yang is now self-employed as an artist engineer storyteller and inventor at The Letter Kay.

Each speaker provided a visual representation that illustrated that the job spectrum in the field of engineering, as well as math, science and technology is not limited.

Specifically, engineering can range from designing bridges like Airola does, to Hettel’s former job of a design and system engineer for Boeing, to a project manager at Mattel like Yang and more.

Brian Weatherspoon, 25, astronautics engineering major, says because engineering and other similar majors are so vast, many people don’t have the opportunity to really understand what career paths it can include.

“If people knew more about engineering, mathematics or computer science, they might be a little more interested in it than they were before,” Weatherspoon said.

However, students looking to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics should take the time to understand what is right for them before committing to something they may not enjoy for the rest of their career.

“Explore around and find a path that you like doing,” Airola said. “The work is hard and if you don’t enjoy it, it will be very monotonous.”

Airola also said not to choose a career based entirely on the salary. “Whatever the price tag is, I wouldn’t do it for the money,” he said. “I would only do it if you like it.”

Just like any career, one in STEM requires hard work and dedication.

Weatherspoon said motivation and the right attitude are key to get through the amount of course work. Rather than saying “I can’t do it, it’s too hard,” he tells himself “You can do it and it is possible.”

Similar to engineering, science, technology and mathematics are also not limited in the job field so before disregarding a STEM major, research the many career possibilities.