Generally, the following conversation goes something like this:
IKC: India DOES have great engineering colleges. But if you choose to study abroad, particularly in the U.S., then you will benefit from the awesome aspects of a liberal arts education.”
Student: What does that mean?
IKC: Well, for starters, let’s talk about classes. In India, your engineering education will likely be comprised of 8 semesters of engineering courses. You’ll go to school from 8am – 3pm five-six days per week and be on the same schedule as all of the other engineering students in your area of study. Is that about right?
Student: Yeah, pretty much.
IKC: Well, here’s the thing. In the U.S., you will NOT have 8 semesters of straight-up engineering courses. There will be a certain number of core engineering courses that are required for your degree, to be sure. But you will be able to craft your degree according to your interests by choosing engineering electives that fit your research and career goals.
Student: Oh, cool.
IKC: Totally. Plus, in addition to your engineering courses, you’ll likely be required to take a certain number of classes to fulfill “General requirements.” General requirements vary from university to university, but most often require students to take at least one course in every area of study. For example, you’ll likely be required to take an art course, a history course, a class in religion or philosophy and some sort of language and/or culture. You’ll take a business class, an applied science, and physical education. I took ballet and snowboarding, and it rocked.”
At this point, the student response varies. Generally the student shows a level of enthusiasm as they think about taking snowboarding, but then practical thinking sets in and we receive a skeptical stare.
Student: But what is the point of taking all of these extra classes if I know that I want to be a mechanical engineer? Isn’t it a waste of my time?
This is where we get excited.
IKC: Well, that depends on your perspective and on your goals in life. See, the value of taking all of these classes is that they will help you develop as a whole person. Not only will you be gaining knowledge about engineering during university, you will know and understand yourself, the world, and the people in it.
For example. Let’s imagine that, in order to fulfill one of your general requirements, you signed up for a course titled, “Globalization and Development”. This course is not a lecture; rather, it is a small class of about 18 students from various areas of study. Every class period is a discussion or a debate, and you have also been assigned a group project to complete and present by the end of the course. The topic of your presentation is “The Ethics of Globalization”. Your group consists of three people: 1. You, a first-year engineering student from India, 2. A 2nd year political science major who grew up in Northern California and 3. A freshman business major from the suburbs of Chicago. Think about the following:
- You will be working with a truly multicultural team
- Each of these members brings their own perspective and worldview to the topic being discussed based upon their personal cultures/experiences as well as the way their area of study views the topic
- You will need to navigate group research and delegation of tasks, engage in respectful and productive dialogue, together put together a presentation and challenge each other to the highest level of public speaking and interaction.
These are experiences that will not only help you grow and develop intellectually, but also allow you to increase your global awareness and build skills working in multicultural teams and projects. We are living and working in a global world, and it is most likely that your day-to-day projects will require similar skills to those you will learn in the above scenario and others like it. If you are truly seeking to become an engineer who is an engaged global citizen and carries skills necessary for the 21st century work environment, explore the opportunities of a liberal arts education. Not only will you benefit personally, but you will also be a much more competitive candidate in the job market.
IKC: One more thing. You know the whole schedule thing? 8am-3pm every day for 4 years?
IKC: Well, an engineering degree in the U.S. will not look like that. You will be able to pick and choose your classes, building your own schedule. You will likely be in class only 15-20 hours per week.
Student: And then what?
IKC: And then what? Then, you get to use your “free time” to be in the lab pursuing your research or following up on what you learned in class. To be on the job – you could be a research assistant, grade your favourite professor’s papers, be a tutor, the possibilities are endless. You can use your free time to build the racecar your team is creating for the annual SAE competition and to work on your multiple group projects that are due by the end of the term. To play intramural basketball and serve on Student Senate. To research internship opportunities in the career services office or to explore your opportunities to study abroad during the Winterim term.
Student: Oh, wow.
IKC: Wow, what?
Student: Wow…that is a LOT to take in! I think I’m going to think about this.
IKC: Awesome. Think about it! Explore. Ask us questions – any questions. And remember: there’s no harm in applying. If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, if you don’t know if you want to study abroad, DON’T WORRY. Just apply! There’s no harm, and there’s no commitment. You’ll never know what can happen if you don’t try.