Clifford Myers and Dane Burghgrave were just two of the nearly 1,000 students working on the electrical engineering bachelor's degree offered online from the Arizona State University Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering last fall.
Now graduated, Myers and Burghgrave are both starting the next stages of their careers with an added distinction. Each passed their state's Fundamentals of Engineering, or FE,and Practice of Engineering, or PE, exams with the National Society of Professional Engineers — an accomplishment both graduates accredit to their experience in the Fulton Schools’ electrical engineering program.
Educational goals for professional ambitions
Myers has worked a variety of jobs at SMA America Solar Technology, an international solar inverter manufacturer, from field service to engineering management.
He sought out the Fulton Schools’ program in 2012 when he decided he wanted to become a professional engineer. The program, an ABET-accredited electrical engineering degree offered online, was one he could pursue while he continued working — a key factor in his success on the job.
“I can avidly recall learning certain concepts at ASU and being able to apply them directly to the work I was doing at SMA,” Myers said. “This was definitely a factor in my rapid advancement.”
Burghgrave had been working in finance, but decided engineering was more his passion. He now works at a communications technology company specializing in digital interoperability called KTS.
For many engineers, getting licensed as a professional engineer is part of their career journeys. Licensure demonstrates an engineer’s mastery of his or her field, commitment to high standards and is a standard recognized by industry, government and the public. In some cases, companies and job positions require their engineers to have professional engineer licenses.
However, neither Burghgrave or Myers worked at a company that required licensure examinations. Instead, each decided to take the PE exam after graduation to fulfill a personal goal. Both graduates say earning the licensure is a way to demonstrate confidence in their knowledge and skills.
The path to licensure starts with the Fundamentals of Engineering. Students close to completing their bachelor’s degree and recent graduates from accredited programs often take the 110-question, computer-based exam for their specific discipline.
The Practice of Engineering is the next step in the process to becoming a licensed professional engineer. The exam is designed for engineers with at least four years of professional work experience in their chosen field. The Electrical and Computer PE exam, for example, is offered twice per year and consists of an eight-hour, 80-question, pencil-and-paper test to demonstrate competency.
ASU courses provided a solid foundation
While the Fulton Schools electrical engineering curriculum didn’t cover every topic on the exams, Burghgrave says the Fulton Schools courses were rigorous enough to be a good primer and to learn how to study for the exams. And when the material did overlap, the course materials were “invaluable to have as a resource,” Burghgrave said.
“EEE 120 and the notes that came with that course were instrumental in me being able to answer correctly the digital logic questions of the FE exam,” he said.
Myers agrees that his ASU course materials were excellent for exam preparation. He says he often referred back to them when preparing with PE exam study guides.
“Numerous times, my friends and colleagues warned that I might be overambitious by hoping that I could pass the exam without any additional class or structured materials,” Myers said. “Despite their cautions, I had confidence in my resolve and in the resources I gained from (faculty members) and ASU.”
Myers passed the Electrical and Computer: Power PE exam on his first attempt — which has a 57 percent pass rate for first-time takers — just a few months after he graduated from the electrical engineering program delivered online.
“When I arrived for the exam, people had hand-trucks to haul the mountains of books and I felt out of place carrying just five ASU books and the relevant code books,” Myers recalled. “My success was definitely rooted in the material that ASU offered and my level of comfort using those books.”
A future full of opportunities
As standardized exams with equally difficult questions, FE and PE exams put a grad’s knowledge into context for employers looking at candidates from engineering schools across the country. More than 820,000 engineers are licensed Professional Engineers, according to the NCEES.
“While some employers may not be familiar with the rigors of a particular engineering school, everyone has heard of the PE or FE exams,” Burghgrave said. “It’s sort of a foolproof way to demonstrate the quality of the education you’ve received.”
It also opens doors to new opportunities that aren't available to non-licensed engineers.
“The biggest advantage that I have from becoming a Professional Engineer is flexibility in my career progression,” Myers said. “I have virtually removed the limitations of working as an electrical engineer. I have the credentials to approve designs, to offer consulting and even to start my own engineering firm.”
Fulton Schools electrical engineering Senior Academic Success Specialist Gia Giamarino McLaughlin says it means the world to her and the electrical engineering program faculty to hear about their students’ success.
“We have been working so hard for the past four years on the development of this program’s online delivery, and to see our students, specifically our working-adult students, be successful is awesome,” McLaughlin said.
Thinking of taking the PE and FE exams?
“Don’t cut any corners,” Burghgrave recommends.
While courses are a good start, he says it’s helpful to take the National Society of Professional Engineers practice exams, get the recommended calculator and even watch YouTube videos about the PE and FE exams.
“There are many good prep materials out there from people who have already taken the exam that can be accessed as open source information,” he said.
But, most importantly, Burghgrave says, is to relax on test day.
“The ASU program will put you in a good position to do well on both exams,” he said. “All that is required of you is to do what you did that got you to graduation.”
The test covers a wide scope of engineering knowledge, but Burghgrave said, “the questions on an individual basis are not as difficult as some of the tests you are familiar with in upper-level engineering classes.”
Myers recommends students set goals for the FE exam and licensure early, “then work head-first toward them and don’t stop until you’re successful. Stick to your plan, don’t delay your opportunities to take the exams if you feel unsure, and intend to learn from your mistakes if you aren’t successful on your first attempt.”
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