Meet an Undergraduate Student
Renee Dorsey: Electrical Engineering Undergraduate Student
Renee is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with a concentration in Digital Signal Processing at Drexel University.
Her advice to prospective Drexel students is that it is not necessary to have everything figured out before you start college. Deciding what field of engineering or what job you want are decisions that can be made during your university experience. She says, "One thing I have found out is that you cannot go wrong with a degree in engineering. An engineering education is extremely diverse, creative and rewarding and prepares you for many other fields if you change your mind altogether. However, should you remain in engineering, there are an unlimited amount of careers to choose from, ranging from more technical positions to project management. And right now, engineers are in such high demand that there are many options waiting for you when you graduate."
The following interview provides some insight into both undergraduate engineering education, and the decision-making process of someone considering Drexel for undergraduate engineering.
Q & A
Q: When did you know you wanted to become an Engineer?
Dorsey: I began my studies in physics. I enjoyed the classes I was taking at the time and I started working in a physics lab at a university where a lot of interesting research was taking place. It was there I realized that, although I was fascinated by the field and by the research, my education (primarily in graduate school) would be mostly theoretical and extremely specialized. I made the switch to engineering because the topics covered are much more diverse and the options I would have upon graduation would be greater. Becoming an electrical engineering student was the right choice for me. I am still able to satisfy my curiosity of the physical world around me, especially in regards to electricity and magnetism that interested me the most in my physics classes, but I am also able to work on a variety of interesting projects from design to completion.
Q: What is your college experience like in terms of the amount of time you find you need to study each day?
Dorsey: The amount of time I need each day to study varies and each student has a way that works best for him or her. For me, it is most helpful if I devote approximately 3 to 4 hours each day in order to keep up with the class material. During exam time, I spend a little more. Doing well in a class means more than scoring high on exams. Sometimes, simply cramming toward the end of the term can do this. However, I find that it is much more fulfilling to have the best grasp on the material as I can and I do this by preparing what will be covered in each class ahead of time and then spending time after class reviewing what was discussed. This can get a bit overwhelming when taking the typical 5 to 6 classes per term. But it is definitely a better way of retaining the information and being able to recall it long after the class is over.
Q: Are you incorporating any work experiences while you are a student?
Dorsey: Since I have been in school, I have had several jobs and co-ops. These include working in labs doing research and doing co-ops in industry. I have worked in some type of lab doing research since the beginning of my school career and I am currently doing a co-op at an architectural engineering firm in their electrical department.
Q: How did you prepare for your college experience?
Dorsey: I did not begin college immediately following high school. When I did decide to go, I started at a local community college that had a great transfer program with several universities in my area. It was there that I began my studies in physics. Before I transferred, I decided I wanted to study engineering so I transferred a school in the area that is known for having an excellent engineering program.
Q: Did/do you have a mentor that has helped guide you thus far?
Dorsey: I have not had a mentor, but I have developed relationships with several professors and graduate students that have greatly benefited me. It is helpful to have someone to talk to regarding recommended classes, research opportunities, field of study and personal challenges as a student. For me, I do not have one person that has guided me in all areas, but several that I have received direction from in specific areas.
Q: Is there a specialty area you have focused on in engineering? If so, what is it, and how did you decide on this specialty? Also, at what point in your college experience did you decide?
Dorsey: I am studying electrical engineering with a concentration in radio frequency electronics and digital signal processing. I decided on these specialties during my third year (out of five) due to the fact that I found these classes the most interesting and careers in these fields seem like a good fit for me.
Q: Is it hard to balance your engineering studies with other college activities (entertainment, travel, having fun)?
Dorsey: Sometimes it is difficult to find balance as an engineering student. I think it is usually most difficult in the first two years of school since the classes are focused on a wide range of fundamentals. The college experience is also new and there is a lot to learn about yourself as a student and what works best for you. For me, I had catching up to do since I did not take the preparatory classes in high school and did not plan on studying engineering. The first two years were difficult and I spent a lot of time studying and making sacrifices like spending less time with friends and not being involved in extra-curricular school activities. It was worth it to me, though, and I was so excited about everything new I was learning. Now I have a lot more balance. I am entering my fourth year and, although the classes are actually more difficult, I have learned ways to study and to learn that are more effective and time efficient. I belong to several organizations at school now and I am able to make time for travel and having more of a social life.
Q: Do you find yourself studying more in a team situation or alone? Do you have a preference?
Dorsey: In the beginning of my college career, I preferred studying alone. This still works well for me. However, I have experienced many benefits from supplementing individual study with studying in a group. Often in a group setting, some in the group may be more/less knowledgeable about a particular topic. I find that I really understand something if I can explain it to someone else and that helps me put the material I am learning into my own words. Also, it is helpful to work in a group because each person has their own way of understanding the material and I have benefited from these perspectives that are different from my own.
Q: What's the hardest thing you have found about your college experience working toward a degree in engineering?
Dorsey: Often I find that I can spend a lot of time learning and trying to figure something out before I finally understand a new subject. Sometimes those hours spent where it seems like nothing gets accomplished can be extremely frustrating. However, I have found that this is a necessary part of learning for me and if I do not give up, I will eventually figure it out. Those periods of time when nothing is working or I cannot seem to figure out the right answer are the times I learn the most and those periods are never a waste of time.
Q: What's the most rewarding aspect about working toward a degree in engineering?
Dorsey: The most rewarding aspects of being an engineering student are the challenging and creative ways I am able to apply the technical and theoretical topics I am learning to useful and practical real-world problems. Engineers have the ability to improve society in many ways and I find that very rewarding.
Q: Do you think you'll continue studying engineering, or do you think you'll switch to another area? Why??
Dorsey: I will definitely continue studying engineering. I still find the field extremely interesting and there is no limit to what I can learn and the various ways it can be applied.
Q: Do you have any idea what sort of industry or work you'd like to do when you graduate? If so, how did you find out about this industry or field??
Dorsey: Right now I would like to work for an international telecommunications company doing radio frequency engineering.
Q: Do you think you'll want to pursue additional degrees after you complete the one you are working on? Why or why not??
Dorsey: Right now I am finishing the Bachelor degree and I will be pursuing the Master degree in the Fall. I have not yet decided if I would like to stay for my PhD.
Q: Did you think that school will prepare you for the way the work gets done in the real world??
Dorsey: School prepares someone to think like an engineer and to have a wide variety of tools to use in order to solve a problem. School also teaches you how to learn new things quickly and to work in a team. These are skills I will definitely need in industry although I may not use all of the specific information and technologies learned in the classroom.
Q: How many engineering schools did you apply to? How many accepted you??
Dorsey: I only applied to Drexel, and I was accepted. I chose Drexel because it had a reputation for being an excellent engineering school and is involved in a lot of interesting research.
Q: What should high school students be doing to prepare themselves to take on the work that engineering students do??
Dorsey: I would suggest taking any college preparatory calculus, physics and chemistry classes offered at the high school (most importantly any math classes that are available). These classes will give a student a huge advantage in the first year of engineering studies at a university. Also, a lot of universities offer summer programs for high school students where they can take classes, participate in laboratory assignments and talk with college students and professors in various fields.