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Across Multiple Disciplines

August 2013

University of Maryland Wind Tunnel, a research facility in Aerospace Engineering.

When I graduated high school 25 years ago, I went off to the University of Georgia for journalism school, while a few of my best friends went to Clemson University to study engineering. And even when they would tell me what their specialization was – mechanical, civil, chemical – I have to admit I really didn’t understand what they were studying. Twenty-five years later, apparently I am not the only one.

A recent report from the National Academy of Engineering “finds efforts by the engineering community to communicate to the public about the field have made progress, but much more can and should be done to improve the image of engineering.” The report, “Messaging for Engineering: From Research to Action” details efforts by the engineering community to increase the public’s understanding of engineering. “Highlighting the importance that engineers play in shaping our society’s future is critical to making progress toward the goal of greater public understanding of engineering,” said NAE President Charles M. Vest, who co-chaired the project. “This requires greater effort from engineering programs, professional societies, industry, and others in the engineering community who want to promote a more dynamic image of the profession.” One of the goals is to cast engineering as “inherently creative and concerned with human welfare, as well as an emotionally satisfying calling,” the report said.

What many people don’t know is that almost any type of company would benefit from employing an engineer and that engineers can be found in

Networking for Success

The Society of American Military Engineers, the premier professional military engineering association in the United States, unites architecture, engineering, construction, facility management and environmental entities and individuals in the public and private sectors to prepare for – and overcome – natural and manmade disasters, and to improve security at home and abroad. Maryland has three local posts including one in Harford County, the Chesapeake Post (

William Baker, post president and executive vice president of engineering at Frederick Ward Associates, says that the organization includes engineers, environmentalists, scientists, contractors, construction workers and government employees, among others. “It’s all about personal and professional enrichment and a way to network and learn,” Baker says. The group holds monthly meetings and brings in speakers from APG, the FBI, energy companies and local municipalities, for example.

SAME also presents college scholarships to support talented students to pursue careers in engineering, architecture, project management or the physical sciences. It also gives scholarships to high school students to attend engineering camps across the country and helps coordinate college internships.

The organization also offers continuing education classes such as “Competing Successfully for DOD Architect-Engineer Contracts,” “Increasing the Sustainability of Existing DOD Buildings” and “Managing and Leading a Successful Business Development Team.”

almost any field. Just take a look at the diverse specializations at the master’s degree level at area schools – biomedical, nuclear, aerospace, cybersecurity, sustainable energy, robotics, fire protection, civil, systems and computer engineering, just to name some of the programs offered. And like most jobs, engineering does not operate in a vacuum; engineers use their problem solving skills to tackle workplace issues and work hand in hand with myriad company types – finance, human resources, healthcare, information technology, education, etc.

Engineering A Healthier Nation

Engineers play a key role in the medical field, according to Eileen Haase, Ph.D., senior lecturer, biomedical engineering, and program chair, Johns Hopkins University Engineering for Professionals, Applied Biomedical Engineering. “Engineers solve problems within clinical medicine as well as with instrumentation used to diagnose diseases,” says Haase, who points out that there are several specializations within applied biomedical engineering – biomaterial such as artificial hip design, instrument design and imaging, for example. “Engineers aim to design imaging devices to gather more information for physicians, which is a great alternative to surgery for patients. However, it can be challenging. If a satellite takes an image from space, it’s basically a still image. However, when you are imaging a human heart, it’s constantly moving. It’s hard to isolate it when it’s moving at all times. This is where an engineer comes in.”

Haase says that many of the students in the Hopkins program are employed in applied biomedical engineering, but some are career changers. “Some are from the defense industry, and they want to use their engineering knowledge and experience to apply to the human body,” says Haase, who notes that others want to learn problem solving skills to apply to medical or law school.

“Our program balances engineering and medicine. Some students are strong in engineering principles but need to know how cells work and interact, while others are strong in biology but need engineering knowledge,” says Haase, who adds that a new requirement mandates some sort of hands-on work outside the classroom such as research or an independent project. Lab research work can be done on campus or at institutions like the Federal Drug Administration or National Institutes of Health, or students can work independently on the design of a new medical device, she says. “One student did an independent project where he worked with a professor at Kent State University studying vehicle crashes to see how the type of car or the car’s restraining system affects how badly passengers are injured.”

Due to Maryland’s concentration of medical and research institutions, Haase says that most graduates find employment right here in Maryland.

Engineering to Solve Financial Problems

If you’ve ever met an engineer, one thing is clear – they love a challenge and love to find answers to a problem. It’s no wonder then that Paul J. Hickey of Laurel has had a successful career solving financial challenges by utilizing his engineering educational background. Hickey, who graduated in 1993 from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, worked for years in the government contracting field as an engineer before progressing to top positions in finance.

Hickey began his career as an engineer with a small company but realized there was little room for advancement. He then worked for a company that would eventually be bought by General Dynamics Information Technology. His initial role was as a senior engineer, but he says he knew all along that he did not want to be a “cubbyhole engineer.” He was promoted to a program manager, and then obtained his MBA from Rutgers University. “I knew all along I wanted to be in a management role and after graduating from Rutgers, I was promoted to senior program manager, director of business operations and eventually senior director of finance,” says Hickey. He also relocated from the Philadelphia area to Washington, D.C., at the urging of the senior vice president of the company. “Moving to D.C opened a lot of doors for me. In my previous location, my main customers were Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy, but D.C. presented a great growing experience for me professionally,” says Hickey, who grew up in Germany as his father worked for the Department of Defense.


Students in Johns Hopkins’s applied biomedical engineering program learn how to design devices and instrumentation that aid physicians. (Insert) Research gives engineering students hands-on experience at the University of Maryland.

And although he was no longer working as an engineer, he says the problem solving skills he learned as an engineer were valuable in his new career in finance. “General Dynamics is a very fiscally focused company, so there was definitely a learning curve; however, my engineering background taught me how to think clearly and walk through something logically. This helped me in my finance role (managing organizations ranging from $1 million to $200 million in annual revenue), as I was able to delve in and solve problems.” For example, at General Dynamics, Hickey was able to streamline operations and ensure compliance with established government and corporate requirements by identifying procedural voids and develop corresponding corrective actions. His top-secret clearance also allowed him to protect national security by monitoring technology transfer of the AEGIS Weapon System to the governments of Japan and Spain within guidelines established by the U.S. Government through Foreign Military Sales.

He says that one of his biggest challenges was getting employees in different departments to work together better. “Engineers and finance people don’t always speak the same language. My job was to act as a translator and facilitate better communication,” says Hickey, who notes that his normal day involved working with individuals in government, operations, finance, contracts, human resources, recruiting, corporate compliance, and suppliers.

Engineering Facts
• 7 of the top 10 highest-paid college degrees are in engineering [2013 data report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers]
• Topping the list of highest-paid engineering degrees is petroleum engineering, with an average starting salary of $93,500.
• Engineering jobs expected to climb 11% through 2018 [U.S. Department of Labor]
• Other top engineering degrees include computer engineering, chemical engineering and aerospace engineering, which offer starting salaries ranging from $64,400 to $71,700.
• Engineers are rewarded with high salaries because of the great demand for qualified, skilled professionals in these fields.
• In the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ report, James Sells, chair of the mathematics department at San Jacinto College, notes, “A few years ago, one of our keynote speakers at Engineering Day told us that only 6 percent of college students major in engineering, yet 65 percent of the jobs listed by colleges are engineering jobs.”
• Maryland leads the nation in the number of engineers and scientists with graduate degrees.

Despite his success in finance – after General Dynamics he landed a job with AECOM as director of business management of a $60 million business segment that included Afghanistan wartime operations and Intelligence community customers – Hickey got the engineering itch in 2009 when he heard that the University of Maryland was starting a master’s program in sustainable energy engineering. As an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at the University of Maryland, Hickey served as a key member of the Pride of Maryland II solar car entry in the Department of Energy’s “Sunrayce,” a solar car race from Dallas to Minneapolis. In addition to driving the car, his primary responsibilities included solar array and ergonomic cockpit design and construction. “Since then I have always been interested in sustainable energy, so this program spoke to me. The problem was that while my employer was willing to pay for my MBA, this program had no correlation to my job duties, so I would have to pay for it myself. Luckily, my wife funded it,” he laughs.

“I had not taken an engineering class in almost 20 years, so a class in thermal engineering was definitely a wake-up call. Unfortunately, shortly after graduation, I got laid off. I knew then that this was the time to pursue entrepreneurship, which I had always wanted to do.” Hickey joined two companies as a part-time CEO.

One such job is with Solar System Express (Sol-X), a small, minority-owned space company founded in Baltimore in 2010 focused on creating products for use in outer space. The company has developed a Gravity Development Board, a powerful and versatile hardware prototype. The company says that the “GDB has been designed to be the first space tolerant open hardware electronic prototyping board, enabling any type of person or company to create space qualified hardware. It’s a powerful and versatile programming board that engineers, artists, designers, and students can use in any project they can imagine.” “I am able to bring both my mechanical and sustainable energy engineering knowledge and finance experience to the company,” Hickey says.

Hickey is also a founding partner for Unified Controls, a start-up company that is developing technology to allow people to age in place safely via systems installed in the home where relatives will able to monitor a senior citizen’s activity remotely to ensure his or her safety. Hickey says in the future he hopes that the company will be able to utilize sustainable energy for these systems.


University of Maryland students experiment with a green gas/laser flame.

Further illustrating engineering’s close relationship with the business sector is the University of Maryland’s master’s program in project management. What makes the school’s program unique, however, is that it resides not in the business school but in the Office of Advanced Engineering Education in the James A. Clark School of Engineering. The program is designed by and for engineers and other technical professionals and “in response to significant input from customers (students, engineering and construction firms, systems engineering corporations, Federal and State government agencies) … and from practicing professional project managers,” according to the University of Maryland.

Noting that over 70 percent of technical projects are not completed on time and on budget, project management students learn critical business skills, such as how to manage multiple projects simultaneously, tailored for engineers to advance their careers. Engineers also engage in substantial research at the University of Maryland, such as the application of the research in “Positive Psychology” to create high performance project teams and workplaces; energy, environmental and infrastructure management using operations research methods as well as analysis of related public policy issues; water policy and management taking into consideration global climate change and the changes in water availability; and disaster management research. Students can also study abroad through partnerships with the University of Manchester, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Warsaw University of Technology.

Not surprisingly, engineers and other working professionals who excel at project management are in high demand. Graduates of the program have landed jobs at such places as Aberdeen Test Center, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Federal Highway Administration, Human Genome Sciences, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Qatar Petroleum, T. Rowe Price, The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and The World Bank.

>>University of Maryland’s James A. Clark School of Engineering’s graduate programs collectively rank 19th in the nation according to the U.S. News & World Report’s“America’s Best Graduate Schools.” The Clark School is ranked 11th in the nation among public universities. The Clark School’s undergraduate programs collectively rank 23rd in the nation and 11th in the nation among public undergraduate engineering programs.
>>Johns Hopkins’s Whiting School of Engineering is ranked No. 17 in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Online Programs” list.

Engineering More Secure Technology

The field of cybersecurity is a leading economic engine for the State of Maryland (see following story on cybersecurity in this issue), but while many people think that it’s just computer science technicians who are securing companies’ networks and servers, it’s actually engineers who are the key players. “Engineers work on not only computers, but also cell phones, security cameras, visualization applications, etc., when working on cybersecurity,” says Michael Smeltzer, Ph.D., vice chair of the master’s degree program in cybersecurity at Engineering for Professionals in Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering.

“Cybersecurity will be the hottest topic in employment for the next 10 to 20 years, especially here in Maryland as the area has so many job opportunities stretching from Washington, D.C., to Aberdeen Proving Ground. The whole world is in transition to a mobile paradigm, which presents a whole new set of security problems,” says Smeltzer, who also does cybersecurity work for the U.S. Pentagon. He adds that JHU recently changed the name of the program from information assurance to cybersecurity to better reflect today’s nature of the field. While information assurance is focused more on the defense aspect (preventing against cyber attacks), cybersecurity includes defense, operations and risk management. He says that many students in the program are career changers as they see the large number of job opportunities in the field.

“This presents a challenge for us as we have a mix of novices and experienced working professionals in the field. We have to keep the experienced students from getting bored while not losing the newcomers to the field. I’ve had students from medical fields, government employees, as well as a student who builds cell phones,” says Smeltzer, who teaches “Introduction to Ethical Hacking,” a course that exposes students to the world of computer hacking to provide an understanding of how vulnerable systems can be attacked as a means to motivate how they might be better defended.

Smeltzer notes that the faculty come from a variety of industries – government, private industry and premier research organizations, including the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit center for engineering and research and development that works on more than 600 programs serving the Navy, Air Force, Army, NASA, and other government agencies. “One of the biggest challenges for cybersecurity engineers is to stay current on the technology, which is constantly changing. Just look at smartphones – you have Blackberries, iPhones and Android-enabled devices, and every year, a new model comes out.” I95