As the marathoners plan to beat the two-hour marathon record, I reflect on a trait that will make this possible. No trait was ever as important as this last one that I learned in Engineering school. Persistence. Engineering school is tough, period. If you’re going through it right now, I feel for you. It does get slightly easier though as you delve more into your interests and applicable studies. Persistence, grit, determination, perseverance, whatever you want to call it. This one attribute became paramount.
Before I started school in 2008, my dad and I drove up to Fayetteville for the Freshman Engineering Orientation. This was an exciting time for both of us. My father got to send me off to college, and I was more than happy to experience college. When we arrived, they maneuvered us into one of the large auditoriums in the Bell Engineering Center where we would be having most our classes. We found a seat among the hundreds of other eager prospective students and their parents. After they described the various engineering disciplines and courses, they laid it on us hard and heavy. They described that most of the forthcoming students would not make it out of the University with an Engineering degree. Wow! This was tough to hear for many of the kids and parents alike. There was a lot of nervous shifting in chairs and anxious coughs while everyone digested what the Engineering Dean just stated. This is exactly what I needed to hear though.
Like most engineering students in college, high school came easy for me. I studied rarely, but never really knew how to study. I hadn’t had to understand how to study in high school. I would say that I learned quickly when I made the leap to higher education though. With classes like Chemistry 2, Calculus 2, and Physics 2, I had to learn quickly. I began to enjoy the grind associated with getting decent grades. Not everybody had the same affinity for the “grind” as I did though.
As I continued through the freshman and sophomore years of the engineering school, I began to see what the Dean was talking about. Many of my friends that I encountered in classes started to slowly drop out. They decided that they didn’t quite enjoy the pressure of maintaining good grades, while the classes got tougher and tougher. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the engineering classes took place in the “early” morning. Guess they figured the engineering students wouldn’t be partying as much! I’m not going to say that I took the hardest classes on campus, because there were far harder ones in the Chemical and Biological engineering schools. Most of the ones that dropped out, did so in the first two years though, when everyone in engineering takes the same core classes. After this two-year period, you start to branch off and become more specialized in your degree.
Throughout the program, your moxie was tested. There were late nights studying, missed parties, and missed social opportunities. I did my best to balance my scholastic life with a social life. I joined a fraternity my freshman year, in hindsight, this might have been a bad idea. I did my best to maintain my educational standards while enjoying the social activities involved with the Greek system and succeeded. I maintained my grades and had a good time doing it. Needless to say, sleep came at a premium freshman year. Throughout all the struggles, including thermodynamics, I came out on top and graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. Azim Premji, an Indian business mogul and engineer once stated, “You have students in America, in Britain, who do not want to be engineers. Perhaps it is the workload, I studied engineering, and I know what a grind it is.”
I am grateful for my experience at the University because of the skills I learned along the way. The hard work and determination needed to pass the classes was probably the biggest take-away from my education. The classes were meant to teach about the various aspects of engineering, but they ended up teaching much more than that. Once I graduated from school, this became ever more apparent. I would like to restate the quote I inserted at the start of this chapter because it has meant so much to me and my goals. Calvin Coolidge has been attributed to this “persistence” quote but has never actually been confirmed to have written it. Regardless, the words of this familiar quote resonate with all those who are working toward a seemingly unobtainable goal. The quote goes like this “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” I challenge you to reminisce on these words when you need them most. I guarantee that they will help through the “tough times”.