A common question we get from prospective applicants is “do you have an aerospace engineering program?”. The short answer is no, we don’t have a degree with that name. But it is also an incomplete answer. Often, students don’t realize the broader implications behind that question, so we try to provide some context for their question along the following lines.
I find that frequently they are asking this because they have some interest in a career in the aerospace industries, such as aeronautics, satellites, etc. So it might make sense that a degree in aerospace engineering is the ticket into those careers. However, it’s not that straightforward, as illustrated in the following quote from an article about aerospace engineering opportunities:
“Because aerospace is such a broad, all-encompassing field, all engineers are valued, not just those with aerospace engineering degrees. “The companies are looking to all areas,” Wlezien says. “A third of what goes into a new airplane is electronics.” The industry needs mechanical engineers, software engineers, electronic engineers, civil engineers, and just about everyone else. “The aerospace industry needs people with every imaginable skill,” he says.
“I tell students that they can take an engineering degree anywhere,” Kostek says. “It’s the same skill sets and the same ability to solve problems. Civil engineers can build airplanes. It’s a structure, the same as anything else.””
So, an aerospace engineering degree is only one path to that type of career. (And I’m told by people familiar with the industry that the large majority of engineers do not hold aerospace degrees). At Waterloo, we see students in every discipline getting co-op jobs in the aerospace industry (companies like Boeing, Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney, Com Dev International, …), which certainly confirms the quote from the article above. At the end of your engineering program, employers generally don’t care what label is on your degree. They are more interested in your skills and future potential, and if you’ve already had a few work terms in the aerospace industry that will go a long way towards starting your career. There are also quite a few professors at Waterloo who do research work related to aerospace technologies, so design project and research opportunities exist for those students interested in gaining more knowledge and experience. And there are also a bunch of student design teams you can joint to compete in aerospace projects like micro-aerial vehicles, aerial robotics, rocketry, and satellites.
So, the broader answer to the question “do you have an aerospace engineering program?” is “yes, we have programs that can help launch your career in the aerospace industries through a combination of academics and co-op work experience”. As a starting point, we suggest you consider mechatronics, mechanical, systems design, electrical or computer engineering (perhaps with an option (minor) in mechatronics).