What engineering degree?

Twenty years ago, I graduated from school and went to work at a mid-size engineering company. I came into those gilded halls as a staff hydrogeolgoist. It was the corporate headquarters with 150 people working in plush 8th floor offices in a skyscraper in Atlanta. It was an office that required a collared shirt and slacks. Jeans were only for special occasions in those halls. There were different groups in the office from a landfill engineering group, a geotechnical group, a bugs and bunny (biologists) group, and a environmental/remediation group. I came into the ER group. At least half of the people working there were engineers working professionally and the vast majority had degrees from Georgia Tech or Clemson up on their walls proudly.

When I arrived, I had two degrees that I hung in my little cubicle. I had a geological engineering BS degree from a very small college and a master’s degree in geology from a well-known “yankee” school. I am proud of that engineering degree. I took enough classes to satisfy both the requirements for a Professional Geologist license and a Professional Engineering license. You can’t beat getting two degrees for the price of one.

That company wanted licenses. They offered raises and promotions as incentives to get you to go through the testing and headaches of getting a license. They wanted to market that a PE or a EIT was working on that job as a selling point. I bounded into my boss’ office for my first annual review and the discussions of next year’s goals. One thing about private consulting is that there are always goals to be evaluated against. I was on track to get my PG license after 3 more years of “experience.” My two-years at graduate school counted as 1 years towards the license so it was shorten down to 3 years. I then asked about my engineering license. My boss looked perplexed and asked “What about an engineering license?” “I want it”, I said. He said “no.” The company will not count my time working there as an engineer towards an engineering license because I am not an engineer. Looking back, I could have counted what I was doing towards an engineer license but I wasn’t going to argue. I realized after awhile that the company didn’t view my degree from that small ABET-accredited college counted because it was not from Georgia Tech. Because of that geology stuck in that engineering degree, I had 150 credits coming out with it compared to 132 credits for a BS in civil engineering from Georgia Tech. The company didn’t view degrees equally.

I went on and got my PG license in 3 years. It took me another 6 years to get my PE license because I couldn’t count my time there. When I left that company, I always made sure my position was “engineer” going forward. I hope when you get your shinny Virginia Tech degree that you remember that there are a lot of places where engineers are made.

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3 Comments

  1. I think this is a very interesting story for me as someone who has never been in the workforce. I just graduated from a small ABET-accredited university with my degree. The name, though is well-known in some areas, is not one of national recognition due to not being a big state school. I always just thought the ABET accreditation was enough for everyone because it is a national accreditation. I never thought people would think less of a degree as long as it was accredited. I am definitely naïve. I will keep this in mind for myself in the future. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this story and have definitely seen this attitude in practice. Even outside of engineering, people look down on lots of schools because they don’t have the same “prestige.” I’ve seen many make fun of students at community colleges, even though this route is just as good at getting people where they need to go. What’s frustrating is that some of these people will then turn around and take some of their degree classes at community colleges. They use the same reasons the first students go to community college (cost, etc) but they think they’re better because their degree will have “Virginia Tech” on it. It’s definitely something to keep in mind!

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