I first learned what engineering was from a mentor I had in my senior year of high school. I had completed AP calculus already and wasn’t interested in AP Statistics. Instead I took this ‘course’ of sorts that had been trialed a year before me when three students were in the same situation as me asked for a way to take more math that the district had planned for, without having to adapt their schedules to fit a college course. It was a course in mathematical proofs and basics of set theory.
For the fall semester of my senior year, each morning I reported to the library instead of a “real” class. I had a book to follow and a notebook to scribble in. Once a week, an engineer from a company in town came and met with me for an hour. This was actually an amazing mentoring experience. He wasn’t really my teacher, I worked through most of the material on my own. He was there to meet with me weekly to check on my progress some, but mostly to give me someone to discuss the material with.
The things I remember most though was conversations about applying to college though, since I was also working on applications at the same time. He encouraged me to study a science or math in undergrad and study a more applied engineering in graduate school. That was the first time I was really exposed to the idea of going to graduate school. It was when I first started to understand the difference between sciences and engineering. In the end, I chose engineering over a science, but I was able to make a more informed decision.
The way I was graded for the course was to present a proof that was demonstrative of the material I had covered for a committee of people who would approve the course and me earning credit for it. The planning and preparation for the presentation was another highlight of the mentoring experience. He guided me to reflect over the topics covered and select which one were the most important to demonstrate to the committee. After choosing a proof to present, he helped me in rehearsing the presentation, which at the time was one of the longest presentations I had given. He guided me to present in a more fluid manner and develop a better balance between prepared verbatim and prepared notes portions of the presentation.
Eventually, some of the material from the course helped me in classes, but what was most valuable were the various bits of wisdom from my mentor and being pushed to sort things out on my own. Learning to set my own learning goals and actually push through the material without a teacher providing it directly was important for college and has been one thing from as far back as high school that I can directly say has helped with graduate school.