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Should You Go Into Engineering?
November 1954 Air Trails Hobbies for Young Men

November 1954 Air Trails
November 1954 Air Trails Cover - Airplanes and RocketsTable of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.

The middle of the last century was a time ripe with opportunities for people with a penchant for innovation, experimentation, designing, and building high technology products. Aviation, aerospace, land and sea transportation, medicine, manufacturing, chemistry, physics, astronomy, communications, electronics, mechanics, nuclear technology, remote exploration of space and the sea, and many other realms were pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge (or pushing back the frontiers of ignorance, depending on your viewpoint) at an incredible rate. Both trade and hobby magazines often featured articles encouraging participation as technicians and engineers in a field related to hobby interests (Ham radio, model airplanes, boats, and cars, etc.). Air Trails magazine ran many such pieces, including this 1954 example. The author, himself a Ph.D.-level scientist, proposed a set of a dozen questions someone can ask himself to help determine whether the engineering career path is a suitable endeavor based on a self evaluation of personal characteristics. To a large extent they still apply in today's world. BTW, I had to look up the definition of a "four-flusher," a term with which I was not familiar. I though maybe it had to do with someone so full of it that it took four flushes of the loo to dispose of all the BS ;-)

Questions and Answers for Self-Analysis

Dr. A. Pemberton Johnson is a Mechanical Engineering graduate ('32) of Johns Hopkins University - Airplanes and Rockets

About the Author

Dr. A. Pemberton Johnson is a Mechanical Engineering graduate ('32) of Johns Hopkins University who became interested 20 years ago in aptitude testing. Since then he has worked with psychological tests in business, in military service, and in engineering and legal education, meanwhile earning a Master of Science degree from Stevens Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. degree from Purdue University. At Purdue University during 1946-49 he counseled nearly 2000 engineering freshmen regarding their careers in engineering. Since 1949 he has been Project Director for Engineering Tests at Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey. Educational Testing Service is a non-profit educational organization formed in 1948 to provide nation-wide service in tests for education, government, and industry in the U. S. It does not test or counsel any individual students. This is the organization that gives the College Entrance Examination Board Tests.

Do you really have the aptitude? Here the project director for engineering tests at one of the countries leading educational testing services shows how you can find out for yourself

By Dr. A. Pemberton Johnson

Engineers are primarily men of action, inquisitive (always asking why? why?), imaginative, and creative. They like to do, make, or create things easier, faster, better, more cheaply than ever before. They have made possible more for your money in electricity, the telephone, radio, television, the automobile, the airplane, and thousands of other civilian or military products and services in America today. Most, but not all, men who become engineers are graduates of an engineering college. Some exceptional men with little or no college background become recognized as engineers because of their important engineering accomplishments.

If you are between the ages of 15 and 25, your chances of becoming an engineering college graduate are greatest if you can honestly answer Yes to most of the following questions. I have assumed that you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't think you were somewhat interested in engineering. Don't be surprised if you can't answer yes to all of the questions that are presented here - few men will be able to do so.

After you have answered all the questions, compare your answers with the section on interpretations of answers at the end. This section should help you judge fairly well your chances of graduating in engineering, even though you can give a yes answer to only five or six of the questions.

If you can answer yes to only a few of them, you may want to talk the matter over very carefully with your parents and your high school principal or guidance counselor. If you have any doubts after answering these questions, I suggest you see your principal or counselor about taking a series of vocational aptitude tests.

1. Have your grades in high school mathematics courses been in the top third of your class?

Yes _____  No _____

If you are interested in technical work and your grades in arithmetic and geometry have been good but those in algebra and trigonometry have been poor, you may want to consider carefully a two-year technical course of study that is available at a technical institute, a community or junior college, or in a few industrial concerns, rather than an engineering college course. Some men make top-third grades in easy or poorly taught mathematics courses. It's best then that they have a counselor check their performance on a standardized achievement test in mathematics, particularly in intermediate algebra.

2. By the time you graduate from high school, will you have completed successfully the units of mathematics you need to enter the engineering college of your choice?

Yes _____  No _____

Most engineering colleges require the completion of at least 3 units of mathematics including elementary and intermediate algebra, 1 1/2 units; plane geometry, 1 unit; plane trigonometry or solid geometry, 1/2 unit. A few colleges require enough mathematics so that the student may begin calculus in the first semester of his freshman year. If you like mathematics but won't have enough units in it, don't give up. Talk with your principal and write the admissions officers of the engineering colleges of your choice for ideas as to how to get the mathematics you need.

Spectrochemical analysis - Airplanes and Rockets

Spectrochemical analysis.

Mechanical Heliarc welding - Airplanes and Rockets

Mechanical Heliarc welding.

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Scientists Explore Thermal Barrier

No sooner had man conquered the "sonic barrier" than another barrier loomed up to challenge his ingenuity. This time it was heat, or in scientific terminology, the "thermal barrier" which presents a chief problem to be overcome in the immediate years ahead. If an aircraft maintains a sustained speed of Mach 2 or better (more than 1500 mph at sea level), the friction created by its passage through the air will generate temperatures high enough to melt or seriously weaken most present materials used in the airplane's structure. New temperature-resistant metals and inorganic materials such as plastic must be found before long-range, ultra-high-speed planes can be built successfully. New paints and finishes must also be developed. For this purpose, Northrop Aircraft Co. Inc. of Hawthorne, Calif. has established a research laboratory which devotes special attention to thermal barrier problems. Elaborate scientific equipment tests every type of material from temperature-resistant steels, titanium, plastics, adhesives and various chemicals to glass, textiles. A machine shop fabricates test specimens. Photos show - p. 20: making carbon determination in steel.

3. Have your grades in your high school science course(s) been in the top third of your class?

Yes _____  No _____

Middle range grades may suggest a two-year community college or technical institute program.

4. Have your trades in high school English courses been in the top half of your class?

Yes _____  No _____

If your mathematics grades have been in the top third but your English grades have been poor, you may "get by" in engineering college. Your later opportunities may be limited, however, if you cannot write letters and engineering reports which say clearly, forcefully, and effectively what you want to say. A number of colleges now have reading and/or writing "clinics" which can help those who have reading or writing difficulties.

5. Do you have sound habits of work and study?

Yes _____  No _____

Engineering college students have to begin, soon after arrival at college, a steady round of assignments, laboratory work, and homework which their teachers expect them to complete on time. If you don't get around to things, if you haven't learned to work or study even though you are bright, you may fail in college or after college.

6. Can you visualize objects well in three dimensions, imagine them accurately from a two-dimensional sketch or drawing and also visualize the correct appearance of a drawing from the object itself?

Yes _____  No _____

From the standpoint of graduation from engineering college, possession of this characteristic, though important, seems to be somewhat less important than mathematical aptitude.

7. Are you interested in the why of things?

Yes _____  No _____

For example: Why are military air-planes more often jet-powered than are commercial airplanes? Why are some radio signals often weaker in the day-time than at night? Why are fluorescent lamps tube-shaped and incandescent lamps bulb-shaped? Why is most aluminum soft? Why are concrete highways usually laid in a series of slabs and not in one continuous strip? Why do suspension bridges have the same typical curves in the main cables?

8. Are you interested in improving things?

Yes _____  No _____

Have you ever tried to improve on a piece of home or farm machinery, a bike or plaything; or a traditional way of doing something?

9. Can you get along well with the other fellows in your class?

Yes _____  No _____

Almost all engineers today work with a number of other engineers and often with a number of other men who are not engineers or technical people. An engineer, to be successful, must be able to talk with these other people, must respect them for what they can do best, and must be the kind of man other men can respect and get along with. The "book-worm," the "odd" boy, the "sissy," or the "prissy" fellow may find himself out-of-place among men in training as engineers. Our leading engineers are real gentlemen equally at ease among men and women or among men alone.

10. Have you ever known an engineer and talked with him about what an engineer does?

Yes _____  No _____

Plans are being developed in many states so that your high school principal can arrange for you to  get in touch with some engineer to learn more about the wide variety of work that engineers do. Every year a number of young men come to an engineering college thinking that a professional engineer is a man who runs a steam, diesel or electric locomotive, who repairs radios, television sets, farm or home equipment or the like. The men who do these things are vital contributors to American life, but they did not have to go to an engineering college to learn to do these things. A trade, apprentice, vocational or technical institute program has fitted them for that work.

11. Do you try to be honest and fair with yourself and with others?

Yes _____  No _____

This may be difficult for you to answer thoughtfully. No man who "kids" himself for very long either as to what he knows, or what he can do, can really be successful in any kind of work, No man who is unrealistic about his capabilities can survive long as an engineer. Successful engineers are too good at "smoking-out a phony," at discovering the "fake" and the "four-flusher." On the other hand they will admire and respect you if you know or can do a particular thing well and know that you can without being obnoxious.

If you are thoroughly honest with yourself, you have a splendid basis for being fair and honest with others, for treating them as you, ideally, would like them treat you.

12. Are you in good health?

Yes _____  No _____

Robust health is particularly required of the civil or construction engineer. Good health makes possible the steady long-continued hard study and work of all successful engineers.

Some persons will advise you that you cannot hope to do well in engineering unless you can work well with your hands (in high school shop work, for example) or can do drafting well. Although it is an advantage to have these skills, it is far more critical for the prospective engineer to have the inquisitive, analytical, mathematical imaginative and creative traits previously mentioned.

Not directly related to the question, "Do you have engineering aptitude?" but vitally important is the following question:

Can you obtain (legally, of course) the necessary money to pay your way through an engineering college?

(The names and addresses of engineering colleges with accredited curricula in chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering, mining engineering and other specialized engineering fields are given in the reprint "Accredited Undergraduate Engineering Curricula in the United States" published annually in November by the Engineers Council for Professional Development at 29 West 39th Street, New York 18, N. Y., for 25 cents per copy.)

Suppose, after you make careful estimates for each of several colleges, you decide you don't see how you can obtain the money you will need.

If you are a top-level student, have you inquired about one or more of the many types of scholarships available? Did you know that many millions of dollars worth of scholarships go "begging" in the United States every year?*

Have you investigated the opportunity to earn almost all your way through an engineering college which offers evening study or which follows the "co-operative" plan? Under the cooperative plan you go to college for 6 to 12 weeks, then work for a similar period, and continue alternating periods of work and college for 6 to 8 years. Cooperative plans of study are marked in the list of accredited curricula.

If you can not afford four years at an engineering college, have you investigated the possibility of taking the first two years in a nearby liberal arts, junior, or community college and the last two or three years at an engineering college?

Many companies encourage night and part-time technical courses. If you are called into the armed forces, you may receive some technical training and become eligible for considerable educational benefits after your period of service is over.

Wherever you are in America today, educational opportunity is available in some way if you want it enough to find out how to get it. An engineering education will open the door to many unusual opportunities for those who want it and have the aptitude for it.

Interpretations of Answers

You would have the greatest likelihood of successful completion of a four or five year engineering college course if you could truthfully answer Yes to 10 or more of the 12 questions.

You would ordinarily have a fairly good chance of graduating from a four or five year engineering college if you could honestly answer Yes only to questions 1, 2, 3, 7, 10 and 12.

If your answer is No to question 4 or question 5 or both, you can usually get help to overcome those difficulties.

If your answer is No to question 6, remember that even some engineering graduates find it difficult to do this sort of visualizing.

If your answer to question 8 is "No, I am interested not in improving things but in ideas which someone else could use to improve things," it is entirely possible that you could be a successful engineer with the help of a good mechanic or someone who loved to tinker with things.

If your answer to question 9 is No or is "sometimes Yes, sometimes No," remember that you can, with the help of others, learn better "how to get along with other people."

If your answer to question 11 is No or is "sometimes Yes, sometimes No," try being more realistic with yourself and more understanding and fair with others. You'll improve your chances of a successful career.

The author wishes to acknowledge with appreciation the help of many of his friends in the engineering profession in making possible the development of these questions, answers, and interpretation of answers.

* You may want to look at "Scholarships and Fellowships Available at Institutions of Higher Education" published by the US. Office of Education. This may be obtained by sending the price of 55 cents to the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington 25, D. C. The listings are according to schools and subject-matter.



Posted November 14, 2020

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