Students with one degree under their belts return to study engineering at ECU
By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Everywhere Gordon Beverly III goes, he sees things that could be improved through engineering: the unorganized flow of checkout lines at some fast food restaurants or buses taking numerous left turns when right turns are more efficient.
That’s part of the reason Beverly, 27, returned to East Carolina University this fall to begin pursuing a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Engineering. He already holds degrees in mathematics and mathematics secondary education from the university, and left a teaching job at D.H. Conley High School to come back to school.
Beverly is one of a handful of students studying engineering at ECU after first earning other degrees or embarking on unrelated careers. Dr. Hayden Griffin, chair of the Department of Engineering, noticed the trend this fall.
“I think the national attention to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEM careers has a lot to do with it,” Griffin remarked. “There was a piece on the local TV news recently about how engineering salaries are high and there are plenty of jobs.
“One other attraction may be that the second-degree students I know all live around here, so proximity and our willingness to work with them, to allow the credits from their previous degree to count toward their engineering degree, are probably factors.”
That was the case for Lauren Bridgers, an alumna of Colorado State University who moved to North Carolina with her husband in 2007. After three years teaching second and third grade, Bridgers realized the career path she’d chosen wasn’t for her after all.
“While I loved teaching…I felt like that was 10 percent of my job and the rest was paperwork, counseling and working with parents,” she said.
“I’m passionate about the environment and the root cause of a lot of environmental problems are machines. I want to use engineering to save the world.”
Bridgers, also 27, said she considered attending N.C. State University, but chose ECU because “it’s a smaller program so I knew I would get more of a personalized education.”
She is scheduled to graduate this May.
Not all second-degree students are former teachers. The department includes a student with a bachelor’s degree in music, and recent graduates entered the program with prior degrees ranging from accounting to athletic training.
Barbara Sage, 24, graduated from ECU in May 2010 with a degree in exercise physiology. Originally planning to continue her education in a physical therapy program, she was disappointed by the job she saw in field observations her junior and senior years.
“Everybody has a niche and that just wasn’t mine,” Sage said.
She considered medical school and started a graduate degree in biology before bailing out and starting over – again – in biomedical engineering. It proved a good fit.
“Engineering is a lifelong learning degree,” Sage said. “I’m really excited about working in industry.”
Second-degree students are excelling in the program, Griffin said, and often outpace traditional undergraduates. The students agree that it has a lot to do with maturity.
“If I’d gone into engineering right away, I wouldn’t have stuck with it,” Bridgers said. “It’s a lot of work for a first-time college student. If I have one day not doing homework, it’s amazing.”
“People who have already (completed) a degree know how to study, know what helps them learn,” Sage said.
“When I know I’m going back to school and (know) what I’m going to get out of it,” Beverly added, “the motivation is already there.”
More information about ECU’s Department of Engineering is available online at http://www.ecu.edu/engineering/.