8 Engineering Majors

(or, what are my options in Engineering?)

Engineering Majors

Tonight we’re going to get back to our series talking about various career options in STEM, with a focus on engineering tonight. There are a million different places you can look up information on different career options – here is my special twist!

Engineering is a very dynamic field. It is always changing, and some Universities have highly specialized fields that aren’t included on this list. Typically, these are specific to the geographic area and the key types of industry where the college is located. Some examples include Entertainment Engineering and Design in Las Vegas, theme park engineering in California (a combination of electrical, civil and mechanical engineering), mining engineering in a number of western states, and agricultural, railway, and nuclear engineering. With the advent of the Internet and online shopping, Michigan State University has an entire program devoted to packaging engineering. In general, these types of majors combine curriculum from the different engineering fields listed below, with courses specialized to the specific industry to provide an education tailored to a highly specialized area. As you can see, once again, this list is not inclusive by any means. There are countless other pre-established opportunities for highly specialized engineering curriculums, or you can tailor your coursework to the specific job you aspire to pursue.

You may also notice that there’s a lot of overlap between the different fields of engineering. The types of activities you do in one field of engineering are also key skills to have in other fields of engineering. When you look at the course requirements for each of these majors, you’ll notice that there’s some overlap in the curriculum, to give you exposure to the key components of related fields that will be important in the major you select. These courses also help make you a well-rounded engineer and help understand the perspectives of other people you’ll be working with when you get to your real world job.

  1. Mechanical Engineering: Mechanical engineering studies mechanical processes and energy transfer in machines and stationary structures. A lot of vehicle engineering falls within mechanical engineering, including automotive, marine, and aerospace engineering. Heating and cooling and acoustic energy all fall under mechanical processes, and a lot of structural work is done within mechanical engineering as well, overlapping with civil engineering.
  2. Electrical and Computer Engineering: This field studies all different aspects of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetic fields. This covers everything from the design and fabrication of computers and sensors, to circuits and signal processing (reading the output of circuits and turning it into something meaningful), to the study of power – generation, storage, and alternative energy.
  3. Computer Science, Software Engineering: Computer science and software engineering are often offered separately from electrical and computer engineering. They key difference is that computer science and software engineering usually focus on the design of the programming and ‘virtual’ components of computers and sensors.
  4. Industrial and Systems Engineering: These areas focus on processes, efficiency, and user experience. They help ensure processes and products are safe, user-friendly, intuitive and easy-to-use. Logistics, manufacturing, and construction typically fall within this field as well.
  5. Manufacturing Engineering: Every product needs to be made. Manufacturing engineers are the people who figure out those processes.   This includes everything from designing the robots and assembly line components (overlapping with mechanical and electrical engineering), to streamlining processes to make them quicker and more cost effective, to minimizing waste (overlapping with industrial engineering).
  6. Chemical Engineering, Materials Science: Chemical engineering and materials science study chemicals, in their natural states and in modified states to be more useful for specific applications. Frequently studied classes of chemicals include ceramics, semiconductors, polymers, metals, oil and petroleum, textiles, and biological materials.
  7. Civil Engineering: Civil engineers study both man-made and natural environments, and how to build and maintain them. Architecture and environmental engineering fall under the umbrella of civil engineering, although they are typically offered as their own major. A number of transportation fields, such as highway, railroad, and traffic engineering also fall under civil engineering. If I were in that field, I’d have to figure out a way so traffic lights were always green for me! Also, you can see how some aspects of these transportation fields can also overlap with industrial engineering, as traffic processes are optimized.
  8. Biomedical Engineering: This is pretty new to the scene. Most programs around the country are less than 20 years old. That’s because, until recently, medicine and biology kept to themselves, and engineering kept to itself. Now, we’ve discovered that if you combine expertise from both areas, you can make significantly more progress in both fields. As you might expect, this field combines course work from biology, medicine, and engineering to solve problems in living systems. The neat thing about this field is that you can combine aspects from all the previous engineering fields to solve problems in biological applications.

In a nutshell, engineering is problem solving. The key thing you should learn in any engineering program is problem solving and how to approach a problem. The type of problems and the tools in your toolbox may vary, but the key thread of problem solving is what ties all fields of engineering together.

What do you think? Are these fields of engineering all-inclusive? Would you customize your own new field of engineering? Do you have any big questions about STEM?

–the STEMinista

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