Be an engineer, and help make the world work better.

Engineering students have to be bright, eager and willing to work. Engineering has the reputation for being the heaviest program on campus.

By Jo Simon

Take engineering and the world is your oyster, or so it would seem in this technically advanced age. Engineers have had a very key role in creating most of the things that make our world function today, from roads and bridges to water, telephone networks and waste disposal systems; from pills and medical equipment to the banking system that takes charge of our pay cheques every week or two.

An engineer takes a problem, breaks it down into its parts, analyses the parts, solves the problem and then puts the parts back together again, with some kind of product emerging at the end – a computer program, maybe; an alternative energy vehicle; a safe and effective medical device or perhaps a superefficient engine for a new generation of airplanes.

“An engineering degree allows you to pursue almost any career,” says Dr. Jonathan Beddoes, dean of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of engineering. An engineer, Dr. Beddoes points out, uses technical skills, creativity and innovation to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. Engineers are at the apex of society, industry and the economy and the environment, working for the betterment of society, he maintains.

You might find an engineer anywhere. In Manitoba, engineers work on the design of roads and bridges, hydro dams, water treatment plants, aerospace materials and vehicles. They conduct environmental assessments, research and design HVAC systems and design and oversee a variety of manufacturing processes.

In Alberta they’re hired by banks to help them design a section of their ubiquitous banking systems or to advise on investment in the oil patch. An engineer might be at the scene of a factory fire, determining – in this case for an insurance company – whether the machinery named in a company’s claim was actually in the building and used for the purpose the company claimed.

In developing countries, or parts of the world struck by natural disaster, engineers are needed as urgently as doctors. In a disaster, they work to reinstate the infrastructure required to communicate, transport aid, provide medical care and access clean drinking water.

Engineering is not easy. You don’t get into the engineering faculty unless you graduate from high school with an 85 per cent average in pre-calculus, physics and chemistry. Alternately, you can enter engineering via University 1 if you pass eight of the 12 first year engineering courses available to University 1 students.

The University of Manitoba offers six programs in its engineering faculty: biosystems, civil, computer, electrical and mechanical engineering, with specialty options offered as well in environmental, aerospace and manufacturing.

Once in the engineering program, few students fail. Computers, electrical and mechanical engineering programs have long been high on the popularity list; the mechanical engineers are in continuing high demand, and there are many opening for grads in bus and aircraft manufacturing and manufacturing generally.

Of last year’s new crop only five out of 150 direct entry students didn’t make it. Still students have to be bright, eager and willing to work. Engineering has the reputation for being the heaviest program on campus, with 48 courses – 12 per year – needed to obtain an undergraduate degree. The courses include labs and tutorials. Most students give themselves an extra year to complete the program; only a quarter of them get through in four years, and most of these take some courses in summer.

Future engineers get a basic background in science, maths and the engineering sciences, as well as language skills – profoundly needed so that the engineer can communicate with his clients and take in their ideas – and team skills. With this education, they have the knowledge to move into any engineering field and find work anywhere in the world.

After graduation, a newly-minted engineer must work for four years under the direction of a registered engineer before he or she becomes registered, though they are paid a regular salary. The graduate is then eligible to become a professional engineer (P.Eng.) with a provincial association, such as the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba. The quality of training at U of M makes its grads eligible to join a professional engineering organization anywhere in the world.

Mid-level salaries can typically range from $55,000 to $65,000 for junior engineers and from $95,000 to $133,000 for advanced engineering jobs. About 70 per cent of graduates end up in salaried jobs, while consulting engineers – many of them civil engineers − can earn much more.

The Engineering Act, which regulates the profession, states that the role of the engineer is to protect the public. What this means, as Dean Beddoes explains, is that “we use our technical prowess to solve problems for society, but our number one priority is the protection of the public.

“We are the guarantors that bridges are structurally sound, drinking water is safe, and anything else you use is designed safely.”

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