By Aria Shankar
biomedical engineering junior
Think like an engineer. I’ve been hearing this phrase ever since I was in elementary school. I didn’t necessarily grasp its meaning at the time, but it was a frequent utterance my father would tell me every time I was stuck on a triple-digit multiplication problem, had a hard time learning a new piano piece, or any possible situation where he could give preachy, but well-intentioned, fatherly advice. It seemed as though his solution to any overwhelming task was to break it down into segments and solve them one step at a time, which was frustrating for an impatient 7-year old girl who just wanted to reach the correct solution as quickly as possible.
My father studied civil engineering at an engineering college in Bangalore, India. After graduating, he immigrated to the United States in 1991 for his master’s degree, and later worked as an environmental engineer for 10 years. When I first asked my father why he chose to study engineering, he laughed and told me that he didn’t have much of a choice. In his days in India, engineering was the automatic chosen field of study for a college-ready boy. The academic environment stressed upon mathematics and science, and because of societal norms and parental pressure, my father didn’t have an option to think twice about pursuing any other discipline. Hearing this was shocking, as I assumed someone who was forced into studying a subject would be unhappy, but to my surprise, he tells me he’s grateful to have pursued engineering despite having no input in the decision. In 2002, he completed an MBA from Cornell University, and greatly attributes his success to the strong technical knowledge he gained during his undergraduate years, even if his achievements lie in fields outside of engineering.
Taking inspiration from my father’s positive experiences while applying to college, I was ecstatic when accepted to the University of Houston for biomedical engineering. However, my eagerness was intersected with anxiousness. Engineering is known to be a notoriously difficult major, and I was still unsure what that realm consisted of. It was only after I attended an orientation hosted by the Cullen College of Engineering for prospective freshman students when my doubts were cleared. Through hearing experiences from enthusiastic upper-level engineering students, touring research labs, and meeting with encouraging professors, my sparked interest about what I was going to study for the next 4 years was solidified.
My experience as an engineering student at the University of Houston has been incredibly rewarding. Apart from the like-minded friends I’ve made and the engaging classes I’ve taken, the skills I’ve learned from meticulously solving physics and math problems have seeped into the decisions I make outside of being an engineering student. I currently serve as the Director of Operations for Frontier Fiesta and the president for UH’s Club Theatre, and I constantly find myself using the same methodical logic I apply in my coursework to my extracurricular activities. Through my experiences, I’ve realized that my father’s advice was applicable all along. Engineering isn’t limited to the walls of my mechanics lectures or my chemistry research labs. Thinking like an engineer means looking at situations from every perspective possible. It means perseverance and ingenuity. It means slowing down to enjoy the process rather than fixating on its conclusion, which is how I like to think I’m navigating my undergraduate years. The engineering program at the University of Houston has made me a well-rounded student, giving me the technical and interpersonal skills to confidently achieve my academic and personal goals, and I’m grateful that it is at this institution where I am learning to think like an engineer.