Why One Student Chose an Engineering Career

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WHEN Tim Walter was in junior high, he wanted to be a lawyer. But a 10th-grade chemistry class changed all that. This May, Tim will graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. If the United States hopes to compete in the next century, it will need many more Tim Walters.

The biggest career influence, says Tim, was a high school chemistry teacher back home in Philadelphia.

By 10th grade, Tim knew he didn't like English or history. His chemistry teacher was showing that engineering could be very creative. ``He was really into encouraging students to enter engineering,'' Tim recalls.

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The teacher, David Becker, entered teaching in the aftermath of the Sputnik scare. It's not enough that engineers come in and talk to students, he says.

Such real-life clarifications are important, Tim says, because most high school students don't know what an engineer does. ``You have heard about an engineer, but what is it? Is it someone who drives a train, who builds bridges?''

Tim's father is an engineer - an important role model for him.

The lack of role models may explain why women and minorities are under-represented in science and engineering. A 1982 study of engineers found that 89 percent of them had a family member or close family friend who was a technical professional. In Tim's graduating class of 32 chemical engineers, there are only four women and one black - and that is considered pretty good, he says.

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