You Drive It (Part 1)

“That’s not crazy. That’s Scyller-normal.” So said my friend of more than two decades.

January 2016, I started looking ahead to a number of career possibilities, half of which require the PE, Professional Engineer, designation. South Dakota, like most states now, requires an engineer to earn a bachelor’s of engineering as those are the only accredited degrees (graduate degrees are not). If I wanted the job opportunities of interest, I needed my PE and if I wanted my PE, I needed a bachelor’s of engineering.

The post below contains a fair amount of detail included for this purpose: someone reading right now wants to make crazy their new normal. I say, “Go for it!” with the following three commitments seared into your decision:

  1. Plan your action.
  2. Show up every day (and with a great attitude).
  3. Count on grace.

Before I could develop my plan of action, I had to decide in what and where I would finish my degree. Three different options presented themselves:

  • Mining Engineering at SD Mines (expand my understanding in salt cavern mining for natural gas storage);
  • Geological Engineering at SD Mines (I’m already in the department for my Ph.D.); and
  • Petroleum Engineering at MT Tech (my background, interests, and bulk of my undergraduate credits were here).

For my decision-making process I used the following criteria:

  1. This plan needed to be completed in three semesters or less (my estimated finish for my doctoral work). After I finished my Ph.D., I did not want to still be slogging away on a second bachelor’s degree.
  2. The degree needed to add to my skillset in a meaningful way.
  3. It needed to be economical, meaning, I needed to be able to pay cash for it and it could not pejoratively impact my income.

Criteria 1 and 2 eliminated mining. Despite my interests, the bulk of the degree went too far a field and would take more than two years to finish.

Criteria 2 and 3 excised geological engineering. My research pertains to geomechanics, a small segment of the overall discipline. While I could have finished in three semesters and the classes would be interesting, the bulk of the course work would not add to my skillset in a meaningful way. Equally important, the field camp would cost extra money and prevent me from working for 5 weeks in summer.

This left petroleum engineering at MT Tech, but precariously. I am a full-time student at SD Mines in Rapid City, a full 550 miles from Butte, MT. How exactly was I going to pull off two different degrees in two different states during the same semester?

April 2016, I approached the department head. After explaining my need and thought process, I asked, “Would he and the transfer advisor look at my transcripts to see exactly how many credits I needed (and of what variety) to finish my petroleum engineering bachelor’s degree?”

He paused. Then he said yes. Taking out a curriculum worksheet, we ran through the 130 credits needed. First pass, it appeared I would need 24 credits. However, with the new curriculum starting that fall, I would only need 16 credits.

Four and a half years I spent as a post-baccalaureate and then a master’s student. My fellow grad students teasingly gave me a hard time for taking every class of interest in any number of departments. In the end, maxing out every semester meant that I was only one semester short of a second bachelor’s degree.

This just might work.

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