Answers by Linda Schadler
The design of a bow would use both mechanical engineering and materials engineering skills. The materials engineer would be working to change the strength and stiffness and fatigue resistance (how many times you can string the bow before it might get a crack). The mechanical engineer would be figuring out the forces (loads) on the bow and changing the shape or the material to get improved bow response.
I recommend starting to read some of the many magazines about engineering that exist (the Smithsonian has one for Air and Space, and there are many others). You can get an idea from those stories if that is the kind of engineering you are interested in.
I have two favorite parts of my job. One is when we discover something new in the laboratory that no one knew before. The other is when I see students grow and mature in both their interest and expertise in their field .
A combined degree in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science is a strong one. Chemical Engineering tends to focusing on the processing of materials, while materials engineering teaches the relationships between processing, structure (atomic and microstructure), properties, and performance. Jobs in polymer processing and application, materials for separations, potentially biomaterials processing, and more would be available. A Master's degree in Engineering is often helpful. Sometimes you can get an MS part time while the company you are working for pays for it. Sometimes you can be hired as a teaching assistant while earning your degree. This makes it especially valuable to get an advanced degree.
Many types of engineering fields impact improving the cleanliness of our air and water. Civil engineers work on the big infrastructure that transports water and treats water. Chemical engineers might develop new kinds of membranes to clean water. Materials engineers work with chemical engineers to develop new kinds of materials that improve the efficiency of the membranes for cleaning air and water or with civil engineers to make longer lasting infrastructure. Materials engineers also develop new materials for scrubbing the air (for example catalytic converters have new materials in them). Materials engineers are also finding replacements for synthetic materials (for example, natural replacements for styrofoam – see www.ecovativedesign.com) in order to reduce the impact of some materials on the environment.
The difference between materials engineering and other engineering disciplines is that materials engineers relate the structure and the processing of the material to the properties and performance. Here are two web sites that might help you understand the materials profession better.
Every engineer runs in to challenges! Part of being an engineer is learning how to be comfortable with challenging problems that cause some degree of frustration. The biggest challenge I faced, and I see students facing, is a strong understanding of math and physics, and AS importantly a comfort level with tools and building and rebuilding. When you are confident in your ability to try out an idea, and are not uncomfortable with being wrong – instead are comfortable with just trying again – then you have won half the battle of becoming an engineer.
The graduation rates and grade point averages of women engineers at many engineering schools are as high as or higher than their male counterparts, and most universities track those statistics. Direct questions to admissions departments at the schools of interest asking for those numbers should yield an answer. In addition, web sites are an excellent source for learning about the philosophy of each Engineering School, and the programs they have available for students both inside and outside the classroom.
But the best thing to do is visit some universities and speak to the students to get a sense of the environment and whether their programs are a good fit for you. The amazing opportunities available across the country will quickly become apparent.
You may also be interested in enrollment and graduation statistics provided in an annual report published by the American Society of Engineering Education called By the Numbers. See the most recent 2008 report at http://www.asee.org/publications/profiles/upload/ 2008Profile Eng.pdf.
Two resources that support Women in Engineering are:
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE)(if the campus does not have a chapter, that would be telling)
Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN)(They have a Knowledge Center at http://wepanknowledgecenter.org/web/guest/home.)