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Going from Soldier to Engineer

  1. Apr 16, 2012 #1
    Basically, I've been an Infantryman for the past 6 years, ever sience I was 17, and what with the way the army is going I've decided to get out and use the GI bill to do something productive with my life. Space has always interested me a lot but in early life I never considered myself smart enough to try to get into it (plus some other things going on that need not be relayed) so acidemically I just skated by. Now that I've been out in the world and had time to assess myself by myself, I think that i'll go ahead and aim high at being a aeronautic engineer for NASA. Now I know I have one hell of a uphill battle in trying for this, what with my horrible GPA and late start into colledge but I like to look at it as a nothing ventured nothing gained and don't mind putting in the extra work. What I don't have is any real information regarding even basically how colledge works nor especially what to do in colledge to make me a better applicant to NASA, and would like to obtain that information. My plan as it stands now is to go to the wife's hometown and enroll in a university there, not a fancy school but it's accreditaded and has good ties to Kansas University. Once in do everything I can to stay on the top of the class, and if I find success there try to bump up to KU or another better school with the long term goal to get a master's degree before even trying for a job (figure more likely to get picked up that way).

    Any information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2012 #2


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    Since you've been away from school for a while, start by taking math classes. Chances are the school you plan to attend will give you a placement test to try to find which math you need to start at (if they don't require the test, take it anyway). Do *not* think that because you're highly motivated, you can skip over the first few classes. For success in higher math, you need a solid foundation. You need to get to a point where doing algebra as easily as walking.

    Don't be surprised to find that math is difficult even at the "beginner's" level. You should expect challenge at every level, don't be discouraged by that.

    Best of luck!
  4. Apr 16, 2012 #3
    Ive found my self in somewhat of a similar situation. I was in the navy for six years, and while I had decent grades, I didn't care at that time and they could have been alot better.( But such is the folly of high school mind) My University didn't really check too much in to my background, but I had a load of technical engineering in the navy. They were more happy to get my GI bill.

    What lisab said is true. I skipped 2 courses that probably could have helped me with my foundation. I havent been struggling that bad but information from 10 years ago is bit hard to dig out of your mind.

    I was looking at NASA as well. I know some of my fellow students who have gotten the NASA internships here in Virginia. I havent been picked up yet, but put it on the back burner as I found a well paying co-op. I feel on the same level as them, if not better than them just because of older does pay off in terms of focus and diligence. (had i gone to college out of HS, I'm not sure I would be doing as well as I am with deans list and top 15% of class.

    NASA would still be cool, but one word of advice is still that its goverment paycheck. There is more money to be made in the private sector. The NASA internship I have heard does make you a much better candidate for DOD internships, which are more lucrative and have you doing rather interesting(likely classified) work after you graduate.
  5. Apr 17, 2012 #4
    Adding to what lisab said. I wouldn't skip even entry level math unless it's 100% dirt simple for you. In any engineering field, math has to be very solid and the most basic of basic math courses will determine how well you do at higher levels. IMO, success any math class is very dependent on the class before, so don’t just nail the grade; master the knowledge. Additionally, if it is fairly easy for you, the beginning algebra will give you a refresher, help you get into the swing of studying, easier "A" and all without beating your brain into mush while you are learning to be a student again.

    You are now older and wiser. You will be a better student because your education is now your choice and not thrust upon you by parents or the system. Your time in the military has undoubtedly taught you patience, discipline, and how to get a job done. Stay focused and on task and you will do well.

    AND...... Thank you ever so much for the time you both have served!
  6. Apr 17, 2012 #5
    Have you considered engineering through the military? I was a reserves infantryman for a while, although this tenure was during my time studying engineering. So I deferred uni and forgot quite a bit of maths. So when I resumed again I had to instantly get back-to-scratch with upper-level calculus and algebra which wasn't easy and I rather had some tough times because I couldn't remember basic stuff.

    What you're trying for is not impossible, but you definitely should start at the basics to make that foundation strong, you will be better for it.
  7. Apr 17, 2012 #6
    some really good reference material for math and basic physics:


    find out what your lectures are about (if it's written down somewhere in a syllabus. If not, just ask the prof) and watch the relevant youtube clip the day before. Having some familiarity with the topics will make leaning in lectures much much easier.

    start by doing practice problems with worked solutions. Make sure you try every problem set as soon as you can, so that you can ask at least one intelligent question about it during every week's office hour.

    if you're having trouble keeping on task, form a study group and leech off the good scheduling of the people around you.

    good luck!
  8. Apr 18, 2012 #7
    I don't share your military background, however I did work for around 5 years after leaving school before going to university for the first time to study physics. You sound as motived as I was/am and so getting into the swing of studying again shouldn't be too hard. I think you'll find it really fun. Education is completely different when you're there by choice, studying towards something you really want. I 100% agree with what lisab said though, don't skip on the math or think that some things don't matter. I didn't have any background in mathematics apart from basic highschool math (which didn't even go into things like complex numbers or basic calculus!), so getting thrown into algebra, calculus I and calculus II in university was pretty intense. Just read everything on a math subject you can find and do all the examples you can get your hands on. You'll find that for a lot of things they assume prior knowledge (which I didn't have) or that you've mastered everything from your previous math course. So yeah, don't skip on the math!
  9. Apr 18, 2012 #8
    Everything everyone said here is good stuff. However, I'm going to take a slightly different approach: Make sure you can write a coherent page of text that communicates a complex point well.

    Honestly, if I had a dollar for every technical person I know with lousy written communication skills, I'd be very wealthy. You have probably already learned leadership skills in the Army, but leading in civilian life also involves a certain degree of salesmanship. Yes, I know, you're getting in to engineering. But as I've said to others, if you do not have good communication skills, you will become someone's pet idiot savant. I have seen a lot of those too.

    ...and as others have said: Thank-you for the service to your country.
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