How to Get an Engineering Degree Part 2

Yesterday we began the process of getting an engineering degree by getting a general overview of a community college and state university system. Today, let's narrow the scope down specifically to Florida.

First, check out these interesting statistics about community college students surveyed at Sussex County Community College

Florida has an amazing community college and public university system, one of the best in the world. We have this thing called a 2+2 articulation agreement, which states that any person with an Associate of Arts degree (a 2-year degree) from a Florida community college is guaranteed admission into a Florida state university. Also, once you get into the university, expect to pay some of the lowest tuition costs in the nation as a Florida resident.
This seems like a pretty sweet deal, considering the fact that there are twenty-eight public colleges and state colleges in Florida to begin your education and eleven state universities (including the ever-popular University of Florida) to finish your degree. So why isn't every high school student beginning at a community college to automatically get accepted into the school of their choice?

Well this is where things get a little slippery to explain, but I'll do my best to clarify. The 2+2 agreement is supposed to guarantee your admission to the UNIVERSITY but not the COLLEGE of choice. Theoretically, a student could get accepted to the University of South Florida but not the College of Engineering, meaning that student is figuratively up a creek without a paddle. She is technically a USF student, but since she isn't actually a student in the College of Engineering, she can't take any engineering classes or get her degree in whatever field of engineering she wants. The 2+2 agreement is good for getting your foot in the door, but you're going to need a lot more than just that to actually get your engineering (or whatever) degree from that institution.

But of course nothing could be that simple. Now the 2+2 agreement is in jeopardy, since institutions aren't necessarily respecting that agreement due to budget cuts. At this point, a community college student isn't even guaranteed acceptance into a state university. So what is the point of this 2+2 agreement if it doesn't do anything? Well, as the pirates of the Caribbean would say, it's more like guidelines. The universities are supposed to follow this agreement, but they kinda sorta don't always.

The Florida Junior Community College Student Government Association (FJCCSGA) is voice for all Florida community colleges, and they are not at all happy about this looming threat to their transfer status! FJCCSGA has been taking action by holding rallies in Tallahassee every year to talk with legislators and inform them about the issues which concern community college students. FJCCSGA wants the 2+2 to be more clearly defined so we don't get onto slippery slopes and to actually enforce the 2+2. The problem is the growing budget cuts to our education; universities cannot accept and support as many students if they do not have the funds to do so. Ultimately, this entire cost issue lies in the fact that the state has paid a majority of Florida residents' tuition for many, many years and now, when the economy is a little rough and money is tough to come by, the state is looking to cut their major costs and educational funding is one of them. Obviously, we don't want this to happen because of its negative impact on us, so FJCCSGA and individual students are doing everything possible to support the legislators' decisions that will favor us.

But we all know how long the government process can take (healthcare, anyone?), so what can the CC students do in the meantime? Make themselves as absolutely amazing and desirable as possible to the universities and colleges to which they are applying. A lot of competitive students are part of their school's Phi Theta Kappa chapter (the honor society for two-year colleges) student government, and other campus organizations. These students also volunteer and take impressive course loads, all while continuing to talk to admissions counselors, financial aid offices, and professors to obtain letters of recommendation. And the student has to do all this in about two years. A little bit overwhelming? Heck yes, but that's what we gotta do to ensure our spot in the top (or even the middle would be nice).

Just as a recap before I leave you for the morning, three points to take away with you...
  1. Florida community college graduates are guaranteed admission to the state university but not necessarily the college.
  2. Point #1 is more of a guideline right now, which has a lot of students mad.
  3. Since Point #2 is being debated, students in the meantime do anything and everything to be as competitive as possible for transfer admission.


How to Get an Engineering Degree Part 1

Let this tardy post be a lesson to you: good intentions lead nowhere; you have to sit yourself down at the computer and actually begin to write! That being said, it helps to get a good headstart on your writing over spring break when the homework deadlines aren't as looming...

The two most popular methods of getting your engineering degree is (1) attend a four-year program from start to finish or (2) get your first two years out of the way at a community college and complete the last two or three at a baccalaureate program. I chose the second option and am currently halfway through my final semester at a CC, so that means that I am getting ready to transfer to a full-scale nuclear engineering four-year program in fall 2010. This is an exciting process which thoroughly fascinates me, but before I dive into the exact transfer process and my applications, you probably need to know a little bit more about the community college + university idea, which will be the topic of discussion for this first installment of the transfer trivium. In the second post, I'll describe the exact idea of transferring in Florida (which is where I live, by the way), and finally, I'll talk a little bit more about my personal transfer application process. With luck, I'll get this entire idea out of the way within the week, so we can get back to the nerdy stuff relatively soon!

Before getting into the more technical stuff, check out this quick video about getting started at a community college...

For engineering students, the CC track is popular but it certainly has its pros and cons. The positives of attending a CC for the first two years is that you get your math (all the way to Differential Equations) and science (Chem I and II, Organic I and II, Physics I and II, biology if so inclined) courses completed in a smaller class environment and with professors who are there just to teach you and who are genuinely interested in your comprehension of the material. The other positive is that it is astronomically cheaper than attending a state university for the first two years, once you factor in tuition cost, room and board, transportation, etc.

The negative of a CC for the engineers are that your advancement into higher level courses at a freshman or sophomore level is limited at best; for most schools, it's non-existent. Let's look at the engineering-related courses a civil engineering student at a state university would complete in his/her first two years of study...
  • Technical writing
  • Calculus I, II, and III
  • Differential equations
  • General chemistry I and II
  • Physics I and II
  • Statics
  • Thermodynamics
Got that? Now let's look at the first two years of courses that an engineering student at a community college would complete...
  • Calculus I, II, and III
  • Differential equations
  • General chemistry I and II
  • Physics I and II
Notice what's missing? That's right - two crucial engineering courses, namely statics and thermodynamics, which are staples for almost any engineering program. This CC engineering track doesn't change regardless of the intended field of the student, but the state university program does, which means that a CC transfer student could be two to three to even four classes behind the state university program!

Don't get me wrong; I love the CC idea and I don't regret my choice to begin this way. However, it is something that transfer students have to be prepared for. That being said, CC students are shown to be better prepared for a state university experience and perform better than the high school freshmen. So what can engineering students do about it?

There are several excellent CC/state university articulation and cooperation programs that exist throughout the nation, and this topic is a very diverse field of study for educators and engineers alike. Research is constantly being performed to determine how to better prepare CC engineering students for a state university, and it is an ever-changing and dynamic study. For now though, CC's are starting to take the initiative by offering cross-enrollment agreements, allowing a CC student to take engineering courses at a nearby state university, and promoting engineering organizations on campus to educate students about the many opportunities available in engineering.

So now, hopefully you have a general idea of the community college and state university education track, commonly referred to as the 2+2 agreement. In the next post, look forward to my breakdown of what exactly the 2+2 agreement means in Florida and how students transfer. Finally, you'll get to learn a little bit about my personal transfer process and how exciting it is! Feel free to drop me an email or comment about your thoughts or questions; I look forward to hearing from you.


Studying the Bill Gates Way (Even If You Prefer Steve Jobs)

“We all learn best in our own ways. Some people do better studying one subject at a time, while some do better studying three things at once. Some people do best studying in structured, linear way, while others do best jumping around, ‘surrounding’ a subject rather than traversing it. Some people prefer to learn by manipulating models, and others by reading.” – Bill Gates

Last time I checked, the term “how to study” generated 1.23x10^8 (that’s 123,000,000) hits on Google, and they all tell you different approaches to study. The visual method, auditory method, right-brain, left-brain method, late-night cramming, low-stress, quiet, musical, structured, random…the list goes on and on until you’re more confused than when you began. And your original question still hasn’t been answered – how should I study?

Now here’s where I say something controversial, so hold on to the nearest stable object. NONE OF THOSE METHODS WORK. That’s right; absolutely none of the study approaches you’ll ever encounter will work 100% of the time without fail. There is no magic pill you can swallow that will make you study and ace your tests. That’s because every person is different and we have unique personalities and perspectives; just because I personally operate best in a non-library environment doesn’t mean that you have to avoid the library at all costs. Perhaps you enjoy studying in the nearest cafĂ© enjoying a latte (no whip soy, please), while your roommate must not be distracted by anything. Bill Gates figured that out. He realized that everyone is different and has to study and learn his/her own way, even if it seems crazy to the rest of the world. But if it works for you, then go for it!

So how do we find out the best way to study and learn for us? The most important thing to do is “to thine own self be true” (Shakespeare). Take some time to assess yourself. When you learn, do you prefer the professor’s lectures or reading the textbook? Do you prefer being indoors or outside? Does writing something out help you or do you talk it through? Check out this learning style inventory if you really want to dig deep.

After you’ve completed your self-assessment and have determined your learning style(s), start experimenting. Look at Bill Gates’ quote again – he describes focused, multi-tasking, logical progression, big pictures, kinesthetic, and visual learners and they are all perfectly acceptable approaches! How do you think you’d best learn? Pick out the few that are most appealing, try them out during your next study session, and let me know how it goes!

P.S. I’m not saying that you can’t find any good study approaches on the Internet; there are a lot of good resources out there. Just make it your own, something that works for you, and don’t expect to have a perfect day every day. And look forward to a post about my study habits sometime in the near future!

Image: Salvatore Vuono /


The Ten Commandments of Engineering Students

1. Thou shalt remember to add “+C” to thy indefinite integrals but never to definite integrals; otherwise be forewarned of the inevitable rage and red-pen fury from thy angry professor who has seen this mistake for the hundredth time.

2. Thou shalt care for thy calculator as if thy life is at stake, for verily it is.

3. Thou shalt stay awake in calculus class, even though it is at eight o’clock Monday morning and do not believe the deception of coffee as a sufficient caffeine source, for nothing can defeat the invisible lassos of sleep as the professor lectures on solid shapes and rotations of axes.

4. Thou shalt not audibly laugh when the business major asks for help with their “impossible math,” although thou art allowed to repeatedly state the easiness of the problem and repeat the story to other engineering students, especially when said business major is present or in the vicinity.

5. Thou shalt not discuss World of Warcraft on thy first date, unless he/she first broaches the topic, which is a sign from the deities of Azeroth that thou hath found thy soul mate.

6. Thou shalt not expect to ever have to remember the above commandment, as it is statistically improbable that thou shalt have time/interest/prospects to date.

7. Thou shalt honor the weekend and keep it set apart for math, a jealous and demanding master.

8. Thou shalt respect professors, for they control thy grades this semester and most likely for thy classes next semester.

9. Thou shalt remind thyself that thou will make more money than the liberal arts majors, regardless of the fact that they never do more than read a novel and wonder why thou study all the time and are still stressed.

10. Thou shalt keep all these commandments as if thou art not aware that psychology, English, and mass communications majors exist; to reassure thyself of this truth, refer to non-engineering majors as “the easy stuff” and state this each morning as thou prepareth to face and conquer that malevolent entity which takes the form of statics.

Image: Jennifer Renee /

This is "Engineer My Life" - Welcome to My World

I am a student studying engineering with the eventual goal of being a nuclear engineer; however, I am not the stereotypical whiz student. I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian for the first fourteen years of life, a classical pianist for the next three, and I positively hated math until the tenth grade. Finally I decided to study physics and/or engineering (yes, I know; random). A year later, I landed on nuclear engineering and have never looked back.

So why did I pick engineering? According to the Merriam Webster, it is “the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people; the design and manufacture of complex products.” In plain English, engineering uses what we learn in the classroom to improve everyday life in the real world. Engineering is about making a difference in the lives of people. All it takes is one invention or one improvement; look at electricity, the telephone, or the car. That’s all engineering is – changing the world, one step at a time.

This blog is about my experiences in student engineering, its positives and negatives, its rationals and radicals, its derivatives and integrals...sorry, nerd moment there, moving on. Hopefully, you can relate to my trials of writing lab reports, learning proofs, and studying all weekend with no time for Doctor Who. A beaker containing 20 grams of perseverance, 15 grams of hard work, and a few milligrams of humor mixed with deionized water and heated over a Bunsen burner until the mixture turns purple with green smoke is the best way to survive and thrive in this crazy world of long study nights and complicated projects. Enjoy the journey, love your life, and look forward to the adventure that is engineering! And don’t forget to take a break for apple pi once in a while!

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /