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10 Ways to Build a Career as an Architectural Engineer

10 Ways to Build a Career as an Architectural Engineer

Before I was a homeschool mom, I was an Architectural Engineer (AE).

Over the years, it’s seemed to me that AE doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. So I jumped at the chance to let homeschooling families know about it when The Old Schoolhouse Magazine did an issue on careers in engineering.

(The following article was originally published by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC in the Spring 2020 print edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. It can also be viewed online here.) 


10 Ways to Build a Career as an Architectural Engineer

As a high school junior, I remember trying desperately to decide between pursuing architecture or engineering, since I enjoyed design but was better at math.  When a teacher suggested I look into Architectural Engineering (AE), I had no idea what an excellent choice AE would prove to be!

Buildings are wonderfully complex combinations of intertwined systems – structural, electrical, lighting, mechanical, plumbing, fire protection, communications, and more.  Architectural engineers, with their broad understanding of building science and all its many facets, are highly sought-after, not only in AE positions but also in dozens of related specialized fields.  

If you have a student interested in building design, engineering, construction or similar areas, I’d highly recommend looking into AE as a college major.  Most AE programs begin with a comprehensive framework of building engineering, STEM, and humanities classes.  Later, students typically specialize in a certain discipline such as structural, mechanical or electrical engineering, or construction management.

Before college, there’s a lot students can do to work toward an AE career.  A strong foundation in math and physics will be necessary.  Electives such as drafting or architecture history are helpful, too. But, beyond the basics, here are ten suggestions for giving your student a head start building their career as an architectural engineer. 

10 Tips for Students Interested in Architectural Engineering

Shadow AE Professionals

Visit local “design-build” firms who often have multiple disciplines (MEP and structural engineers, architects, and construction management staff) all under one roof.  Companies are eager to build relationships with potential future employees!

Find Relevant Internships

Apply for summer jobs in the building industry and don’t feel limited to AE offices. Consider working as a junior draftsperson, an assistant at the village permit office or a stock person at the hardware store.  Positions like these help students learn the industry lingo while strengthening their resumés.

Volunteer in Construction

Get them involved with Habitat for Humanity.  Besides being the hands and feet of Christ to those in need, they’ll gain valuable hands-on experience at job sites that can’t be learned in books.   

Tour Buildings

Schedule field trips with the facility managers at any buildings that allow it.  These professionals are often excited to share their expertise on mechanical rooms, sprinkler systems, structural elements, aesthetic design features, and much more.

Study the Industry

The branches of AE are related but are also very different in their day-to-day job descriptions. Together with your students, research and prayerfully consider which of the industry niches God might be calling them to pursue. Check out books on architecture (start with any by Francis D.K. Ching), watch construction shows, and find YouTube videos that compare AE specialties.

Research Sustainable Design

Environmentally conscious design, engineering and construction are now mainstream.  Have your student familiarize themselves with the leading green building rating system, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Visit the U.S. Green Building Council for information on volunteer opportunities, LEED-certified building tours, and local chapter student membership.

Browse Building Codes

Students can explore the International Code Council’s website to see the content of codes used by building professionals. (Start with the International Building Code.)  While I wouldn’t recommend reading code books cover to cover (unless you need help falling asleep at night), some time spent skimming section headings or perusing local ordinances (check your town’s website) will give students an awareness of industry regulations.

Practice Reading Blueprints

Obtain and study floor plans for your home or other buildings (they can be hard to come by due to privacy concerns).  Or, do a quick search for “house plans” online which will bring up sample floor plans for educational reference.  The ability to read and understand blueprints is a necessary skill for all AE specialties. 

Learn Drafting Software

Fluency in 2D/3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) software is essential for students in any AE-related field.  AutoDesk, maker of AutoCAD and leader in the industry, offers free student versions.  SketchUp is another free program students can use to begin practicing 3D drafting and computer modeling.

Research Licensing Requirements

Get a head start on future plans by looking into licensing requirements for engineers and architects in your state. Start your research with the following websites: ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) and NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards).

By following these steps, your students will be well on their way to rewarding careers in the building industry.

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