Engineering Basics

A dictionary (specifically, the Merriam-Webster) will define "engineering" as something like this: "the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people." But Martha Sloan, associate chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University, captures the essence of engineering much more eloquently:











Engineering is a broad discipline. To gain sufficient knowledge and skill to excel in the field, you ultimately must specialize in one particular area of engineering. The main disciplines of study, from which other more-specialized fields may emerge, are these:

(Of course, this list is not without dispute. Some may wish to add to the list, and some may wish to demote fields from "main discipline" to "sub-discipline". It doesn't matter. New fields are popping up all the time, e.g. bioengineering, and you can easily find and research other fields on the Internet.)


When it comes to choosing an engineering discipline for study at university, the undergraduate typically has a handful of degree programs ("majors") from which to choose. The programs typically provide a broad overview of the field, and they prepare the student for jobs in industry and government, or for further study in a graduate program. Specialization typically occurs "on the job" or in a graduate program, although some undergraduate degree programs allow for a degree of specialization (a "concentration", as it's called).


When choosing a degree program at a university (or community college), it is essential that the program be accredited by ABET (which one stood for Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). This not-for-profit non-governmental agency accredits degree programs (not schools) when it deems the programs as having met high standards for the development of knowledgeable and skilled graduates. Schools must request accreditation by ABET, and almost all schools do, so this is rarely a concern for the undergraduate.


Let's take a look at the ABET-accredited undergraduate engineering degree programs at the University of Texas at Austin.











Now let's take a look at Michigan Technological University (home of Martha Sloan). Michigan Tech offers the following degree programs.











I want to highlight the two degree programs that include "Technology."  Some universities and community colleges offer programs (Associate of Science in the case of community colleges) in certain fields of Engineering Technology.  ABET summarizes the difference between Engineering and Engineering Technology as follows:



















Why pursue a career in engineering? While it's not right for everyone, many will find such a career to be intrinsically interesting, intellectually challenging, meaningful, well-compensated financially, and even fun. It also suits well those that enjoy mathematics and logical thinking. One additional benefit - one we ignore at our own risk - is that a degree in engineering will lead to a job! While many college degree programs cultivate the mind, not all programs impart marketable skills. Engineering imparts skills.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in the fields of Architecture and Engineering will grow by 10.4% between 2010 and 2020, with more than 60% of this growth in Engineering. Civil engineering is expected to see the largest increase in jobs, with over 120,000 job openings expected in the period 2012-2022. Biomedical engineering will see the largest percentage increase in jobs, at 61.7%, although this corresponds to only 9,700 jobs. Roughly 100,000 mechanical engineering jobs will be posted during the same time frame, along with 75,400 openings for an industrial engineer and 44,100 openings for an electrical engineer. Robust job growth will occur in other sectors of the economy, as well, notably in healthcare, computer and software development, education, financial work and secretarial work. Median annual salary varies widely among these fields, from as low as $20,000 for a personal care aide (the job with the highest expected growth rate this decade) to $81,540 for a biomedical engineer (and roughly the same amount for most of the other major engineering fields). All of this information, on projected job openings and average salaries, makes for interesting reading, and you are encouraged to search the Bureau of Labor Statistics publications available at


Finally, let's take a look at what degrees today's students are earning. (Source:

























The U.S. Department of Commerce has estimated that, by 2018, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) jobs because there will not be enough qualified workers to fill them.

K1 – Describe the job responsibilities of various types of engineers and engineering technicians. 

K2 – Describe the market demand and salary range for one type of engineer or engineering technician, and understand the education path that leads to that career. 


In an age when technology helps turn fantasy and fiction into reality, engineers have played a pivotal role in developing the technologies that maintain our nation's economic, environmental and national security. They revolutionized medicine with pacemakers and MRI scanners. They changed the world with the development of television and the transistor, computers and the Internet. They introduced new concepts in transportation, power, satellite communications, earthquake-resistant buildings, and strain-resistant crops by applying scientific discoveries to human needs.                                                            

Engineering is sometimes thought of as applied science, but engineering is far more. The essence of engineering is design and making things happen for the benefit of humanity.

Aerospace Engineering, BS

Architectural Engineering, BS

Biomedical Engineering, BS

Chemical Engineering, BS

Civil Engineering, BS

Computer Engineering Option in Electrical Engineering, BS

Electrical Engineering, BS

Geosystems Engineering and Hydrogeology, BS

Mechanical Engineering, BS

Petroleum Engineering, BS

Civil Engineering, BS

Electrical Engineering, BS

Electrical Engineering Technology, BS EET                                      and many others

Mechanical Engineering, BS

Mechanical Engineering Technology, BS MET


Engineering programs often focus on theory and conceptual design, while engineering technology programs usually focus on application and implementation. Engineering programs typically require additional, higher-level mathematics, including multiple semesters of calculus and calculus-based theoretical science courses, while engineering technology programs typically focus on algebra, trigonometry, applied calculus, and other courses that are more practical than theoretical in nature.                                                    

Graduates from engineering programs are called engineers and often pursue entry-level work involving conceptual design or research and development. Many continue on to graduate-level work in engineering. Graduates of four-year engineering technology programs are called technologists, while graduates of two-year engineering technology programs are called technicians. These professionals are most likely to enter positions in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, product design, testing, or technical services and sales. Those who pursue further study often consider engineering, facilities management, or business administration.

STEM 101: Intro to tomorrow's jobs

"The primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. While only four percent of the nation’s workforce is composed of scientists and engineers; this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent."

What is Engineering Technology?

What is Mechanical Engineering? (Texas A&M University)

Electrical & Computer Engineering (Georgia Tech)

Why Aerospace Engineering? (UT Austin)

What do Civil Engineers Do? (ASCE)

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Visit this excellent website with numerous engineering resources, including interviews with practicing engineers, information on different fields of engineering, and help with writing a resume and finding an engineering job.