Gregory Sterling of Bristol, Tennessee only worked for a few years in the chemical engineering field after he graduated with his B.S. in that discipline from Tennessee Tech University. However, he says what he learned in the process of going through the program prepared him for his professional career in ways he never imagined.
“Over the years I've tried to emphasize that all engineering disciplines are great at developing students into terrific problem-solvers,” he said. “While technical content may differ across disciplines, or within areas of specialization, engineers work well together to approach and solve difficult problems.”
Sterling says he came to Tech because of the engineering program’s strong reputation and because he was looking for a low student-to-teacher ratio. Once enrolled, he enjoyed the hands-on lab projects, as well as the opportunity to participate in student organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ where he made many close friends. He also got the opportunity to work for 12 months as a co-op for textile manufacturer Milliken & Company in South Carolina.
“There were about seven or eight different engineering co-ops at the same time, all working for Milliken across the state,” Sterling recalls. “We stayed in touch throughout the year, and all met together quite often, staying at each other's apartments for weekend trips. During that time, I got to work closely with engineers – including a Tech grad – and that helped me see what the real world would ask of me as an engineer and helped guide my future career paths and goals.”
After graduating with his degree in 1996, he started out in manufacturing as a production supervisor before moving to a role in corporate engineering. A few years later he returned to school and earned a M.S. in experimental psychology from Middle Tennessee State University. Upon graduation, he headed to the Air Force, where he has held various positions, including independent test and evaluation engineer, business development, defense contractor, test operations engineer and wind tunnel test section manager. Today, he works as an aerospace engineer, working toward planning future wind tunnel test capabilities.
“While I may only have worked as a chemical engineer specifically for a few years, the education, experience and training greatly prepared me for diverse - and even tangential - new opportunities,” Sterling said. “All of which have led me to develop a broad experience base that serves me well in working as part of different teams to solve a wide range of problems.
“While receiving an engineering degree can be a long and arduous process, it is exactly that journey that bonds such like-minded individuals out in the workforce,” he added. “The detailed tools you are asked to learn along the way are just that - additions to your toolbox that you can rely upon at a later time to apply to your tasks.”