Arkansas' Engineering Gold Rush

Lawrence E. Whitman Commentary

Arkansas' Engineering Gold Rush

When deciding on a career, people should consider their passions but also return on investment. Is the degree you choose likely to help you land a good-paying job soon after you graduate? Is going back to school worth the cost? Will it lead you to work that you enjoy, with an income to support the future you want for yourself and your family?

Finding careers with that perfect mix of passion and earnings potential can be difficult. But for those willing to study and learn and a curiosity as to how things work, engineering is a path that can take people anywhere they want to go.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for those with engineering degrees is projected to grow by more than 4% between now and 2031, with almost 201,000 vacancies per year. Some engineering fields are projected to grow by as much as 10% nationally.

Due to that huge demand, income for engineering professions is among the highest in the U.S., and Arkansas is no different. According to the BLS, median pay for electrical engineers is just over $101,780 per year, and $95,300 per year for mechanical engineers, with some specialties paying even more.

But more important than a good salary is having a career you love. For thousands in Arkansas, engineering is that career, allowing them to use their hands and minds while working with others toward shared, important goals. From designing environmentally sustainable buildings to creating and maintaining systems for the national electric grid, engineers solve our most challenging problems every day.

At the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics offers degrees ranging from specialized minors all the way up to doctorate to educate and train tomorrow’s engineering workforce. These degrees are only valuable if they are accessible, and UA Little Rock works to make these degrees affordable. In fact, a good portion of a $6.75 million donation the School of Engineering received last year will go directly toward providing financial aid to even more students.

Demand for engineering graduates couldn’t be any stronger in Arkansas. Recruiters from local and national firms alike are on campus at UA Little Rock regularly, offering students paid internships, hiring bonuses and starting salaries approaching six figures. In March we will host our annual STEM Career Fair. Last fall, more than 60 companies were represented and aggressively recruiting. Several of these companies partner year-round to engage our students in real-world projects so they graduate equipped with hands-on, ready-to-work skills to invest in Arkansas.

It’s a myth that a person has to be a genius or a math wiz to consider an engineering career. While students do need to be comfortable with math, success depends much more on personal drive, access to a quality education and connections to the employers.

I often use the analogy of an athlete. Athletes can be naturally talented, just as a person might have a natural talent in math or science. Others study and apply themselves to develop the skills they need. Nobody is truly great solely because of talent. They’re great because they work at it and have a good coach. I know plenty of excellent engineers who were not exceptional in math or even in their engineering courses. But with the help of quality training, they worked to overcome limitations and found a high-paying career they love.

In engineering, success in Arkansas isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about our ability to work together to create an educated, ready-to-work supply chain of graduates who will build a career here and grow our state’s economy.

Lawrence E. Whitman is dean of the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.