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An engineer is defined as a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works. There are now six major branches of engineering: Mechanical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Management, and Geotechnical, and hundreds of different subcategories of engineering under each branch.  

An engineer uses science, technology, and math to solve problems. We can see engineering everywhere in the world around us, improving the ways we work, travel, communicate, stay healthy, and entertain. Engineers design machinery, build skyscrapers and oversee public works, but they address society’s needs and problems on many other levels. At a molecular level, they work on drug delivery systems that work inside cells. At a macro level, they look at the particle flow of pollutants through the soil to clean up oil spills, abandoned industrial sites, and other biohazards. At a galactic level, they design spacecraft for other-planet exploration. At an atomic level, they develop data storage that focuses on the spin of electrons in atoms. Clean drinking water, safe food storage, and the protection of our environment are also under the engineering umbrella.

Education and experience are important in becoming an engineer. While many aspiring engineers go the route of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, is it possible that someone can become an Engineer with an Associate’s Degree?  The answer is yes. 

For Example Schoolcraft College Michigan an excellent Community college in Michigan (among many other colleges across the county) offers Engineering programs.

An associate degree in engineering is a two-year degree that provides the basic education needed to work as an engineering technician. Engineering techs assist senior engineers in a variety of ways. The duties, as well as potential salaries, depend largely on the engineering specialty chosen for the associate degree. However, salaries also rely heavily on employer and location.

Many companies hire people with 2-year engineering degrees as both technicians and CAD/Designers. They have as many techs in place as engineers, and often times, employers have more technicians than they do engineers. Another advantage of an associate’s in engineering is that a degree will help with the transfer process, should you decide to move to a 4-year program. It also would help if you can’t complete a 4-year program for any reason. An Associate’s Degree is better than listing “some college” on a resume.

An Associate’s degree can help you move up to entry-level supervisory or management positions. You might have a harder time competing with traditional four-year degree holders if applying for a job from the outside, but once “in the door” your performance counts for more. Working in a field related to your degree means that you have the knowledge & tools to succeed. An AAS degree, in particular, is very practical and hands-on.

An Associate’s Degree is a relatively fast and efficient way to enter the workforce. If a high school student dual-enrolled at age 16, they could have an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science along with their high school diploma by age 18 and the foundation for a very good job by the age of 20. All this is achieved with a VERY modest investment. Often, states and financial aid programs will pick up a good portion of the cost. The beginning salary and first year’s earnings would likely be more than most who enrolled at a traditional four-year college.  Should the student want or require additional education, many employers would then pick up the tab for future tuition as a part of their employee benefits package. With proper pre-planning and execution, it is quite possible to leverage this strategy into a low-cost bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“What’s the catch?” you ask. Not enough students are interested in enrolling in these associates programs. Most high school students want to go to a traditional four-year school, live away from home, attend football games, pledge the Greek system, and major in fields like Psychology, Communications or Pre-law — not realizing that in the future they could wind up working for Starbucks while saddled to pay off student loans. Meanwhile, numerous prospective employers, who can’t fill jobs, are standing around frustrated.

Earning potential is important to many considering their educational path. The ability to be rewarded well for one’s efforts is a key draw to positions such as engineering. Prospect students should look at what the specific tasks are for a given engineering discipline as well as what one could make.  Just heading into an area because it pays well can lead to stress, burn out, and job dissatisfaction. Knowing what the future may hold can lead to greater personal and professional satisfaction.  

Mechanical Engineering Techs

Mechanical engineering techs assist mechanical engineers in the design, development, and manufacture of equipment, products, processes or machinery. Duties may vary, but they may include data analysis, preparing cost estimates, creating computer models, or preparing reports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for mechanical engineering techs was $53,830. 

Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technicians

Electrical and electronic engineering techs assist engineers with developing, designing, and testing electronic equipment, such as computers, navigational devices, cell phones, and medical monitoring equipment. Some techs work in quality control or product evaluation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for electrical techs in May 2012 was $58,070 annually. 

Civil Engineering Technicians

Civil engineers design infrastructure projects, such as highways, utility systems and bridges, and civil engineering technicians help them do it. Techs may help with computer-designed plans, conduct site inspections or test materials to ensure they meet specifications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an annual mean salary of $49,220 for civil engineering techs.

Environmental Engineering Technicians

Environmental engineering techs help environmental engineers execute their plans. They sometimes collect samples to test for pollution, operate equipment used to clean up or prevent damage to the environment or modify equipment. As of May 2012, environmental engineering techs received a mean wage of $49,380 annually, according to the BLS. 

Looking for a career option that which requires the right balance of thinking and doing for long term success? An Associate’s Degree in Engineering for many is a great place to start.

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