Why Do People Choose Careers in Engineering?

Do you want to solve important problems, contribute to society, and help people? Well, then, you may want to become an engineer. At least that’s why some successful engineers have said they entered and persist in the occupation, according to a recent study published by DiscoverE, an engineering outreach organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The research was conducted by DiscoverE in partnership with the Concord Evaluation Group. It specifically sought to answer the question: What are the common factors that motivate girls to pursue—and then persist—in engineering education and careers?

Thea Sahr, director of Communications and Programs with DiscoverE, discussed some of the findings as a guest on The POWER Podcast. “We’re finding that the women who are staying in engineering have a really strong support network, whether that’s family or friends or they have role models, that network is super important,” said Sahr. “They can draw on past obstacles. They have the cultural and social capital to get through the tough times—that resiliency, that grit that we hear is so important for all of us—and a sense of belonging. The women who feel a sense of belonging, either in their university or at their place of employment, have a better chance of staying.”

So, do men have other reasons for getting into the engineering field? Not really. Sahr said DiscoverE has done additional surveys asking people what attracted them to the profession, and across the board, women and men said solving critical problems was the main reason they liked engineering.

But many kids don’t get the opportunity to really understand what an engineer does. That’s why DiscoverE’s work is so important. The group helps get the word out in schools and through other events throughout the year. In fact, DiscoverE is the backbone organization behind Engineers Week, which was established in 1951. The week begins this year on Feb. 16 with the theme “Engineers: Pioneers of Progress.”

Sahr suggested the outreach is vital. She said DiscoverE has conducted surveys of 11- and 12-year-old kids, and it found that 92% of those surveyed were thinking about their future careers, even at that early age. “It’s not just when Grandma asks at Thanksgiving, they’re thinking about this pretty seriously,” Sahr said.

Another DiscoverE-sponsored program begins on March 11 and runs on Wednesdays through April 8. Called “Global Marathon,” it will be a five-part series with stories from inspiring women in the engineering and technology fields. It’s a free web-based event designed to provide actionable career advice and connect women around the globe.

Listen to the entire interview with Sahr on The POWER Podcast.

For more power podcasts, visit The POWER Podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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