What UCONN Engineering School Advances Mean to New Students

I have been fortunate enough in my career to do something I love – cover technology and be involved in all the most innovative happenings from the early eighties until today. Tech is one of the markets which experiences constant change, moreover, the ability to learn something new presents itself virtually every day. Whether you are a system administrator, programmer, database designer or microprocessor designer you are not only in demand, you are able to constantly do new and innovative things in the course of your work.

Of course some jobs are better than others and if you do not keep up you may find your skills become obsolete. Furthermore, not every moment of a techie’s life is exciting but what has been constant for three decades is techies are in demand, treated well and given numerous opportunities for advancement.

In addition, as the US sees more international competition for jobs, it is imperative that high school and college students look towards math and science because this is where the future jobs are.

As a child I was always fascinated by tech and gadgets. I even discovered programming in my teens and found I loved it as well.  But like most high school students I thought I knew everything and subsequently decided that I wouldn’t need math so I tried to avoid it whenever possible.

As it turns out I ended up in UCONN’s School of Engineering because I wanted to learn about computers and there was no non-engineering alternative at the time in this university (I didn’t want to switch to another). I originally thought I was going to be a biology major but I realized that programming and computers excited me more than categorizing animals, examining mitochondrial DNA and studying the makeup of cell walls.

Because I went through this engineering program – sometimes kicking and screaming, I prepared myself for a career where I am able to meet with and understand what virtually any company in the tech space does.

Did I mention there were over 10 math classes engineers had to take? If I could do it over again, I would pay really good attention in Advanced Math in high school – this was a foundational course I didn’t think I would ever need. Doing really well in this one class could have made my college math and physics courses much less challenging.

Fast forward to today – as the CEO of a media company focusing on tech and communications, I am the luckiest person around. This is primarily because I am at a competitive advantage as most of my peers don’t have such a degree. When you consider how much technology has changed media in the last few decades (we used to call it publishing in fact) you realize that because of what I learned at a great engineering school I’ve been able to grow a rapidly evolving company as it navigated the changing world of the internet, search engine optimization and the like.

The benefit of studying engineering is that it taught me to solve problems and this background has given me a foundation which has and will continue to help me for a lifetime.

I consider what I did infinitely repeatable – any student who likes technology – video games, tablets or other tech, should really delve into math and science and consider an engineering degree. Even if you aren’t a gadget person, you should consider this field as it is amazing, rewarding and exciting.

You may argue that you really don’t love math and science or even engineering but my response would be that it is better to like what you do and be able to use it to support a family than have a degree in something you love and graduate with little or no job offers and end up living in your parent’s basement for years.

Our economy has been uncertain for more than a decade and if I was a student I would seriously consider a career path where I am likely to be able to graduate and get a job quickly. I would argue this is even more the case if you are taking out a student loan. Yes, you hear people give advice like only do what you love – but I know too many people qualified for jobs which don’t exist and who are jobless with mountains of debt. This doesn’t seem to be a great way to start off your career or independence.

In my home state of Connecticut, the challenge is we are falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to science – in actual terms we are holding steady but others are achieving higher rates. Even though Connecticut is ahead of the 2011 average, seven states just pushed ahead of us on the national ranking.

This is sad news for my fellow residents of the Nutmeg State. You see, I firmly believe the answer to the nation’s economic problems is to increase employment and science and math proficiency will aid in achieving this goal. To that end, all states need to improve in both areas and fast.

I have complained before about having gone from a culture obsessed with NASA to one fixated on the Kardashians, Jersey Shore and other forms of entertainment which seem to be more focused on atrophying our brains than enriching them. It is time to reverse this trend.

Before I put the soap box away I want to remind readers that the world is the most competitive it has ever been and workers in any country could take your job tomorrow – usually with the click of a mouse. A site like Elance, for example, allows a user to hire a contractor anywhere in the world and to date, the site has almost 1.5 million registered contractors and is responsible for at least half a billion dollars’ worth of work being transacted. Elance, and in fact many employers, could care less where you live as long as you can get a job done – well and cost-effectively. So you can see, the more relevant education and experience you have, the more likely you are to find work.

Last week I was up at the University of Connecticut Storrs campus for an Engineering Advisory Board meeting with the faculty and other members of industry to give our input on ways to make the school better. The great thing about UCONN is they have been improving the school in general and the School of Engineering in particular. They are laser-focused on taking this institution to the next level.

The good news for qualified students is the more of them who are admitted, the more the university can reinvest in making the school better. It is worth pointing out that admission is not limited to Connecticut residents or even US citizens. The information we gathered at our meeting was fantastic. Last year saw about 50 new computer engineers enrolling and this year that number has gone to at least 80 – a 60% increase. The number could go higher still. Another professor in the room, from Yale, said they are noticing similar enrollment trends.

More good news courtesy of Reda Ammar, PhD Professor and Department Head, Computer Science and Engineering and Alexander Russell, Professor, Computer Science and Engineering & Mathematics:

  • 10 of our faculty are winners of the prestigious NSF CAREER award; three hold named professorships.
  • Our faculty are internationally-recognized leaders in bioinformatics, networking, and security.
  • Our research expenditures have grown to $2.7M annually.
  • Our undergraduates are in intense demand: nearly 100% of our graduates immediately join industry or academia.
  • Our graduate students are commanding prestigious positions in academia.

In addition, in our meeting we were told the school is building a new 70,000 square foot engineering building, they have recently purchased a $600,000 HPC machine for student use and $825M will be spent on a biosciences research center.

In short, UCONN is investing in making the school better for students and graduates of the Computer Science and Engineering department seem to have wonderful opportunities ahead of them. Besides, this institution is involved in really fascinating research in areas from voting machines to security.

In high school, I didn’t know the wonders of engineering and I might never have have chosen this education path if it wasn’t the only way to learn about computers at the school I was in. But now, I would consider any other education and career path to have been the wrong one. I am sure my choices aren’t correct for everyone but I can say the following with a high degree of confidence: if you are looking for a stable career which has a high likelihood of being financially secure for years while being intellectually stimulating, your chances of making this goal a reality will increase if you focus on doing really well in school, your SATs and then, apply to an engineering school.

And maybe someday soon, your company will be responsible for inventing the next must own-gadget, app or life-saving vaccine. With all the global excitement surrounding the Facebook IPO, we should all be reminded that technology innovation not only allows individuals to change the world but it can be financially rewarding as well.

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