Marianas Variety

Last updateWed, 23 Aug 2017 12am

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    Tuesday, August 22, 2017-3:06:18P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

STEM and the CNMI: The engineering endeavor

HAFA adai CNMI!

First of all, I appreciate the time you’re taking to follow the series thus far. In this piece, I will be discussing my experience in STEM as an engineer. You often hear that engineering is about solving problems. The beginning of understanding is asking the right questions. As an engineering student, the most important question you will ask is, “Can you explain that again?”

When I began taking engineering classes in a large university in the mainland, sitting in lectures with students who were supremely confident in their science and math skills, I often did not have the courage to ask that question. I struggled and often needed to see a concept two or three times before I started to truly understand the material. As Darren said in the previous article, grit was important for getting through those challenging classes. But grit does not mean staring at a problem for hours, struggling to figure it out yourself. Genuine learning takes humility, where pride leads to frustration.

I learned that lesson junior year, in a digital systems class. I had just done poorly on a midterm and I needed help. I had a very tough professor who often said in lectures, “If you understand this, let me hear a resounding YES!” In a sea of “YES,” I screamed “NOO!!,” releasing the anxiety stemming from my confusion. Several students around me cried, “Thank you!”, and the professor patiently re-explained half of the lecture to a relieved class. For the rest of the term, our professor paused more often in lectures, and did more to make sure no one was lost. When you ask for help, you are taking responsibility for your learning. And your teachers and peers will thank you for it.

When you get to graduate school, the questions you ask will become deeper, as you realize that four years of hard work in your engineering major only allowed you to scratch the surface of your field of study. You will start to read papers in scientific journals, authored by leaders in your field, and learn how to critically read them. Just because a paper has pretty graphs, doesn’t mean it’s telling a complete story. In graduate school, you will also be encouraged to question authors’ hypotheses and expose the assumptions they made toward reaching their conclusions. Your professors will become your partners in learning, welcoming your opinions. Thanks to graduate school, I had the opportunity to truly appreciate electrical engineering as a subject, and I was much more prepared to take on the difficult problems my lab is trying to solve in microgrids.

For engineering, I highly recommend getting at least a Master’s for whatever field you choose. At a company, it can be the difference between testing a system or designing a system, the latter being much more interesting to me. Most importantly, graduate school will hone your engineering skills, enabling you to quickly pick up and apply diverse concepts in the real world, where almost everything you encounter did not show up in your classes. These skills will allow you to clearly see the ways you can use engineering to solve problems you see at home. The solutions you have will be the key to a brighter future for the CNMI.

BLANE WILSON
Stanford University