The Degree is Engineering Technology. The Career is Engineering.©

03 Feb 2017

What is an “Engineering Technology” degree and how is it different from an “Engineering” degree?

Engineering Technology degrees, such as those offered at Vermont Tech, are a pathway to an engineering career.

Engineering Technology degrees put an emphasis on practice-based learning through hands-on laboratories that use state-of-the-art equipment. Students examine and solve real-world problems in the process of learning engineering. They are taught by faculty who are actively engaged with today’s cutting-edge technology industries. The degrees offer internship opportunities with local businesses through faculty connections. These degree programs recognize that workforce experience is an important component of the curriculum.

Consider which of these scenarios best describes you as you study and learn:

A. Are you most comfortable reading a text or reference document, reflecting on its meaning, using mathematical models to represent what you read, and considering how that information can be projected to other situations?

B. Or, conversely, do you routinely wonder how things work, like to take things apart to see how they work, do experiments to see what happens, work on your car, or in general tinker with things?

If the first scenario describes you, a traditional engineering program may suit you best. If scenario B describes you better, an Engineering Technology program may be just what you are looking for.

The cornerstone of Engineering Technology programs is laboratory exploration. If you ask a Vermont Tech Engineering Technology student, they will tell you that they do a lot of lab work and real-world projects. Essentially all technical studies are accompanied by lab exercises in which students learn to operate state-of-the-art scientific and technical equipment and to appreciate its capabilities and limitations. In comparison, traditional engineering programs put much less emphasis on laboratory work.

Traditional engineering programs emphasize the study of the more theoretical concepts in math and science, as appropriate to intense, detailed analytical modeling of machines and the world. Engineering Technology programs, on the other hand, focus on how math and science methods and tools can be used to identify practical uses of technology to solve real-world problems. That is, to help answer why things work and to identify ways to make them work better.

“The difference between Engineering (science) and Engineering Technology (a.k.a. applied engineering) really comes down to theory versus practice,” says Michael Marceau, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology at Vermont Tech. “An engineering science degree prepares students to work in research and development using the latest techniques that science has to offer. These programs also provide students with more math and science – for example, theoretical physics, Calculus III and beyond.”

“Engineering Technology provides students with more ‘practical-based’ learning. What is being used now and how problems can be solved using this technology,” Marceau says. “Students spend much more time working in a laboratory environment and discovering new ways to use technology.”

Engineering Technology’s emphasis on lab work creates an advantage for prospective students who may have work experience in a technical area or have had technical training from other institutions such as the military. Because that type of experience may substitute for lab work, students entering with that background may be able to accelerate their time to graduation.

Harrison Heist, a Vermont Tech student, agrees. “Engineering Technology is geared toward the design, prototyping, and construction of systems while Engineering is more geared toward the theory and higher level analysis of a system. Engineering Technologies require more problem-solving skills and a goal-oriented mindset. Engineering requires high-level calculus skills and an analytical mindset.”

“Students who really like labs and being hands-on will often enjoy Engineering Technology more,” says Dwight Cross, Associate Dean of Enrollment at Vermont Tech. He adds that students in a traditional engineering program often will not encounter labs until a few semesters into their program. “Math and science are very important in Engineering Technology, but there are different starting points,” he explains. “Vermont Tech students will take calculus, but likely not first semester, and our students have an option of algebra-based physics or calculus-based physics.”

Andrew Harhen is another Vermont Tech student and President of the Vermont Tech Chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). He describes himself as a visual learner and likes to see a problem laid out visually to better understand it. He listens carefully and asks clarifying questions, even if he’s sure of the answers.  “Employers seem to like Vermont Tech graduates because they are better prepared and have a realistic sense of the goals at hand. They don’t just have theoretical experience.” He went on to say that a Vermont Tech grad is practical and capable of thinking on the fly. For his senior project, Andrew is working on a team to analyze, evaluate, and conduct a report on the energy needs of installing a new HVAC system in a building.

Much demand for new graduates today is concentrated in what are termed “STEM fields” – science, technology, engineering or math. While STEM-related fields encompass a wide range of studies, central among those is the study of engineering where professionals apply math, science and technology to address issues important to the society and environment in which we live. Engineering Technology degrees are a doorway to STEM fields, where graduates are in high demand.

In addition, if you feel a pull toward entering a “helping profession,” you will have the ability to use your new technical skills to help people, animals or the environment. A wide variety of career paths are possible and Vermont Tech students are highly desired by employers across the country. The graduating class of 2016 saw a 100 percent placement rate into employment or higher education.

As an Engineering Technology graduate, you will have value in the eyes of potential employers who can identify and implement practical solutions using available technology. Employers will know that you understand the key facets of problem-solving in a real-world environment. They will appreciate that you are familiar with the capabilities and the limitations of state-of-the-art technology.

Now that you have a better idea of what an Engineering Technology degree is, the next step is to narrow down which program may suit you best. Vermont Tech’s admissions office and faculty members can help steer you in the right direction. We’re here to help.

Used with permission. Copyright ETC.