Engineer Adjacent

Mitch Cieminski ‘16 on his plans for after Olin, and the things about his college experience that led him to the path he’s exploring now.

I was working at Insper in Brazil halfway through my sophomore year. And I think the reason I decided to leave Olin and do that wasn’t because I was some great engineer educator. I didn’t feel like I knew anything. But I just needed something to change and I didn’t really know what it was. That was coming off of a summer of research that was interesting but I didn’t totally love it.

The opportunity to go to Brazil just kind of presented itself. I went and it was awesome, I’m sure anyone at Olin can attest that I didn’t stop talking about it for almost three years. Why I liked it is because really what I was doing there was being an engineering education consultant. And consulting is like a really broad term, but basically I was a collaborator and designer and people respected me by virtue of my position.

Insper professors would ask me questions and seriously want to know my answer because it would seriously affect what they would decide [to do]. I very much felt like my position was not tokenized while I was there, even though we were all kind of worried that it would be. But we really did real work there, so I loved being this engineering education consultant. ‘OK, how can I do this for the rest of my life?’

And that is where I started.

I [figured] I would probably want a degree so people would believe I know things. So I started looking at engineering education programs. And I came across one at Purdue University. And that’s where Mel Chua was going at the time. I didn’t know her at all. I kind of just like emailed her out of the blue and said, ‘Hey I’m thinking that maybe I might want to study engineering education. And you’re doing it right now and you’re an Oliner, so maybe we should talk.’

We had a conversation while I was still in Brazil; that was the first time I ever met her. It was a weird conversation, in part because she told me to not go to grad school. She said to get some years of experience as an engineer and then think about it.

That was like pretty decent advice. But I spent the next two years trying to say, ‘Well if I’m going to be an engineer what kind of an engineer am I going to be?’ I was trying to find jobs within engineering that I liked and it turned out that all the ones that I tried I didn’t really like.

My SCOPE project went really well, and I think that was the best engineering experience I had after it came back [from Brazil]. But in general I realized in being back at Olin that I like engineering but not as an engineer. More as an engineer adjacent.

At first I wanted to be the socially engaged engineer who cares for the world. But now I want to focus way more on the social engagement than the engineering. And slowly that became, ‘I want to be a social scientist who studies engineering.’

Now I’m on the Alumni Council and there are a lot of Oliners who do not identify as engineers. Given that so many Oliners aren’t engineers, what is our rallying cry at this point? Who are you, fundamentally?

I think that in the world there’s a lot more flexibility than people acknowledge. I can make a big decision about where I’m going to grad school right now and the truth of this that in two years I could leave with a master’s degree and do something else or at the end of five years I could have a PhD, and just say, “actually I just want to be an engineer,” and I could go back to that. Or I could just decide to do something totally different; I actually do have a lot of flexibility.

And I’m young so that’s useful and. I have skills, so those are useful as well, but I’m in a very privileged position to be able to have that kind of flexibility. Right now, I’m living with my parents in between college and grad school and that’s because they can support me through that and they’re willing to as well.

If I make the wrong decision I can probably deal with it. And I’m pretty confident I can do that. Most people I’ve met in my life, especially at Olin, can definitely do that as well. Switch and figure things out.

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