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Position for the Right Careers Provides an Optimism Advantage

On the farms of Illinois, my great uncle, Harvey Swanson, used to provide his share of homespun wisdom. One of my favorites was, “It’s easiest to ride a horse in the direction it is going!” That is a lesson in career positioning in a sentence—“If you are good at what the world needs to take advantage of innovation and change, you have every reason to be optimistic.”

Today, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released results from its Winter 2010 Salary Survey which isolated the top paid majors among the 2010 college fields of study. Engineering disciplines account for eight of the 10 most highly paid degrees. The NACE press release states: “The only non-engineering related degrees in the top 10 were computer science and information sciences and systems. Petroleum engineering earned the highest starting salary reported at the bachelor’s degree level—$86,220—more than one-and-one-half times the average starting salary reported for bachelor’s degree graduates as a whole ($48,351).”

Both China and India have targeted engineering as a primary focus for their education priorities. Although the US may still graduate more engineers per citizen and our quality of graduates may be superior, there is no question that China and India have seen the wisdom in develop trained engineers to fuel innovation for years to come. In 2004, they found that the U.S. graduated 137,437 engineers versus 112,000 from India and 351,537 from China. Now, those numbers may be a bit suspect due to the majors included, but there is no question that they are committed to increasing and improving the number of engineers they have.

It’s time we in America wake up to the challenge and the opportunity to increase the number of engineers we are graduating. The Kern Family Foundation has initiated the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) program. KEEN is a network of private engineering colleges across America who are working together to change engineering education to keep America in its technical leadership position in the world by instilling the entrepreneurial mindset into engineering degree programs. Dr. Timothy J. Kriewall is their Program Director for Engineering Entrepreneurship. Dr. Kriewall most recently served as President of Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee. He’s served in various capacities at 3M and Medtronic corporations, focusing on the invention and commercialization of innovative medical devices.

Kids are always asking what career should they focus on. I love to reply, “Don’t worry. Half of what you could do hasn’t been invented yet.” But it’s clear that if you have the right gifts, there is no better focus than engineering. You can make a difference and make a good living helping to invent the future.

As I discuss in my new book, The Optimism Advantage, claiming your optimism advantage isn’t just about attitude; it’s about being active in positioning for opportunity.

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