A Path Full of Crossroads to a Future with Wonderful Possibilities

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Featured on the Door of Clubs blog

Last week, UF President Kent Fuchs was featured in the student-run university  newspaper, The Alligator, with an insightful opinion column entitled “From President Fuchs: A new path may lead to wonderful possibilities.” President Fuchs didn’t always see himself becoming an engineer, let alone a professor or University administrator. He changed his major to engineering while in school at Duke University, pursued a master’s degree in divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, preached, pursued graduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois, became a professor, department chair, dean, provost at Cornell University, and eventually President at the University of Florida. Looking at his impressive list of titles and accomplishments, it’s easy to think that he must have planned ahead to achieve so much, but he says it wasn’t planned. He said, “During my years as a professor, I knew for certain I would never be a university administrator. I only wanted to teach students and work in my lab. I rejected opportunities to serve as department chair but then changed my mind and became a chair.” Similar situations occurred when presented with opportunities to become dean and provost. Through all of the crossroads that President Fuchs faced as a student and beyond, he persevered and made the most of the opportunities when they presented themselves.

Like President Fuchs, I too have had my fair share of crossroads in my life. I began my college career as a chemical engineer, which stemmed from my passion of chemistry that began in high school. I faced smaller choices as a freshman, such as what student organizations I wished to pursue or who I became friends with, but no significant changes to my academic track came until the end of my sophomore year. For the reader’s reference, the first several semesters of engineering curriculum are similar for all engineering degrees, filled with calculus, chemistry, physics, etc. However, during the third and fourth semesters, major-specific courses are introduced. Eric’s first major crossroad: enter stage left.

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Documenting the moment after one of my first networking experiences as a chemical engineer.

 

I was mid-semester in several chemical engineering courses and saw many of my colleagues excited and passionate about the topics that we were learning. Likewise, while I wouldn’t have described the classes as “enjoyable,” I didn’t want to jump ship immediately. I went through with another semester of chemical engineering courses before deciding that chemical engineering was not for me. A passion for chemistry did not equate to a passion for chemical engineering in my eyes, and after a bit of soul searching, I set my pursuits on a new goal: Industrial and Systems Engineering. After leaving chemical engineering, I wanted exposure to business and to see the “big picture” out in the engineering field. Industrial and systems engineering does a great job with both of those, but like chemical engineering, was ultimately not for me. I took two semesters of industrial engineering courses before embarking on my first internship with Walt Disney Industrial Engineering in Orlando, Florida.

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The happiest place on Earth!

Disney was a great place to learn about what to expect at an internship and learn many of the skills that would be put to great use after graduation. The Industrial Engineering Department had great employees, interesting projects, and a wonderful group of 18 interns that I enjoyed being a part of. With so many great aspects, it surprised me to realize that the work itself was not something that I could see myself doing as a full-time engineer. It was with many new-found experiences from Disney and a strengthening drive to find my passion that  I left Orlando for Fort Worth, Texas and began an internship with Lockheed Martin.

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The Texas State Capital in Austin

 

Texas is a HUGE state and has many things to offer, including great barbecue. It was in the Lone Star State that I found something that I could see myself working in for the rest of my life: the aerospace industry. The Aeronautics Division at Lockheed was an incredible experience, and I will cherish the time that I spent there as a manufacturing engineering intern. Setting aside the vast array of experiences that I had in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Lockheed exposed me to a setting that heavily relied on mechanical engineering, and while I cannot share many details of my work assignment, I can say that I was hooked from day one. The idea of building something significant from many smaller parts amazed me. Being part of the Lockheed team inspired me to pursue a mechanical engineering degree as well as a profession in the aerospace industry, two things that have been underlying interests in my life to that point.

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Doing the Gator Chomp at the Lockheed philanthropy event, “Tour De Cure” at the Texas Motor Speedway

Growing up, Apollo 13 was one of a handful of movies that would satiate me as a toddler (to my parents’ relief), and flight simulators were something that I loved exploring after school. I was one to build with Legos and K’nex and eventually launch rockets and build science projects like water balloon launchers. Even now, I enjoy to tinker with things like arduinos and WordPress websites and like to understand how and why things around me work the way they do. I think that Mechanical Engineering is a great fit for both my interests and skills, and I am glad to have found it, even if it meant a few bumps in the road, so to speak.

In brief, life is full of little crossroads, tiny decisions that we all make that lead us forward to the next one. Sometimes the crossroads are simple. Sometimes they are complex. Some decisions that we make will decide what we do tomorrow and some decide where we will be for the next several years. Whether they are expected or not, life’s crossroads will happen, and I’ve come to accept that as a student, an engineer, and as an individual. Through all of the difficult decisions that I’ve faced as a student, I have become increasingly prepared for the crossroads of tomorrow, ones that may potentially be more difficult or blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday. My college career is bound to have many more crossroads, but I look forward to each of them as my life continues to evolve.

In honor of the recent celebration of Back to the Future’s 30th anniversary, I’d like to end with a quote from Doc Brown in the final installment of the series. To anyone who may feel stuck at a crossroad or out of options about where their future is heading, “your future isn’t written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

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