You're damn right I'm going to take a backpack-wearing, first-day-of school photo.
— Geof Morris (@gfmorris) August 17, 2011
With more free time than I intended to have these days ((Again, thank you, AK, for that. You really pumped my tires.)), I’ve decided to go back to school. I still live close to my alma mater ((This means “nourishing mother” in Latin, which you probably didn’t know if, like me, you didn’t take Latin, or if you hadn’t looked it up on Wikipedia.)), and I knew that I could get re-admitted with a minimum of fuss. The premise was pretty simple: with Washington a mess and my likely next engineering career path on hold until government contracts are let, I’ve got the semester to knock out some coursework. I tried to get to full-time status, but I just couldn’t get the fourth class I wanted as I didn’t apply for admission until late July.
I had options as to what I could do, and here’s what I considered:
- Engineering management. I’ve actually started on this once before, but I got very busy at work and something had to drop. I could have taken two, maybe three classes in this. I decided against engineering management because I wanted some flexibility in my academic support of my professional pursuits. Going back to engineering management would be pigeonholing myself, and I’m not even sure that it’s what I want to do right now.
- An MBA. This would be along the lines of the EM work, but it would be towards the center of the business field and open up a lot of positions. I’ll admit that I really didn’t think about this until Dad inquired about where I was going, but I don’t think it would have been the right fit. I wanted some more undergraduate work.
- English. During the fall of my first year at UAH, my honors seminar professor ((The late Dr. Stephen Szilagyi. Man, I liked that guy.)) asked me, “Why do you want to be an engineer? I could walk you down to the department office right now and have you in an English program of study within the hour.” I explained that I liked technical problems as well as having a steady job. He conceded my point mainly on the merits of my first response. If I ever had the unlimited time/funds to do it, I would enjoy a double major in English and psychology. It would probably take me five full-time semesters, but it sure would be a lot of fun thinking about things.
- Mathematics, which is what I chose.
Mind you, when I was an aerospace engineering student, I needed just one additional 300-level mathematics course to have a minor. Did I do it? No. I saw math as a tool and not something to be studied, so I kept on with my other studies ((And all the other extracurriculars. I looked at my transcript the other day and I was not happy with my performance.)). If I could go back 11 years and tell me that I’d be in this position, past me would have a good laugh.
I just ran into two friends, both aeros, both with Ph.D.'s. I told them I was doing math: "Ugh. Have fun with that!"
— Geof Morris (@gfmorris) August 17, 2011
Why mathematics? I see mathematics as foundational to the sciences and engineering disciplines in the same way that English is foundational to the liberal arts. If you can logically think through a mathematical construct, you have a sense of the issues at hand in the same way as a focus on the study of my mother tongue would have me carefully considering the words that I choose to speak and write. Having a mathematics background will keep me from being pigeonholed as an aerospace engineer, as I do have a greater breadth and depth of knowledge. Engineering curricula are designed to teach you how to think about problems and their solutions, but shortcuts are often sought to maximize efficiency. That’s nice, but I find myself wanting to dig a bit deeper.
I could also teach with a mathematics degree, something that I could not do with an engineering degree. I don’t know if secondary education is for me, but I would like to try it. If I cannot find a job in the short- or medium-term, my goal is to support myself with substitute teaching and tutoring work. It will make for busy times, but these bills do not pay themselves.
I have to complete eleven classes to get this degree, eight of which are upper-level mathematics courses. I’m in the foundation course now as well as a couple other general education requirements for a BS degree that weren’t a part of my BSE curriculum. ((UAH offers a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree. It’s designed to be a well-rounded engineering curriculum upon which the major coursework is laid. I don’t know how well-understood it is.))