Joel Dickinson, Chemical Engineer

December 11, 2008
Posted in interviews
December 11, 2008 Terkel

Interview: How To Become a Chemical Engineer

This is the story of Joel Dickinson. He’s not rich. He’s not famous. He’s made a lot of the same choices and mistakes as the majority of us in our youth. But what makes Joel’s story so important is that when he realized he wasn’t happy with his situation, he did something about it.

Joel did what many of us do when we have opportunity- we take it for granted. He dropped out of school and took his first job in road construction. He liked it, but he wondered after several years of doing, if it’s what he wanted to do for the next thirty years.

Ten years after dropping out of school, Joel decided to go back. He started wanting to be a civil engineer because it was familiar to him. But it turns out that he discovered interests he never even knew he had.

Today, Joel is an engineer for sustainable initiatives and technology with SRP. He’s working everyday to bring us clean, affordable, and long term solutions to our energy problems. He’s got a dream to chase down. And it’s all because he didn’t settle.

Here’s Joel’s story in his own words…

I ended up going to the bar and drinking beer instead of studying. I was immature and not ready for school at that point. It was a natural progression to go from high school to college because all my friends were doing it. I didn’t appreciate what I had at the time.

Looking back, I regret it. I look at all these young engineers that I work with now that go straight through school and I think, ‘Man. You’ve got so many more opportunities than I had because you did that.’

I didn’t plan on going back. I always wanted to, but I didn’t think that was going to happen. It wasn’t until I think I realized that it was dangerous work, you’re on the road at night, you work weekends, you don’t go home right away. So I finally said, ‘Forget it. I’m going to quit and go back to school.’

That was very scary. I’m 32 years old and was talking to my wife about how I could start the process. I laugh now about it because I told my friends from high school about my decision to go back and pursue engineering. They’re were like, ‘Yeah right. And I’m going to fly to the moon.’

In high school, it was fairly easy for me. But I didn’t do very well. I was always middle of my class. But once you’re older, that’s when you look back and apply yourself. It was very rewarding going back. Very rewarding.

When I went back, I thought I was going to pursue civil engineering. Then, when I got into the engineering classes, I realized all the engineers take the same math. So I said, ‘Well heck. I enjoy chemistry. I might as well do chemical engineering.’

One thing that I think is kind of cool about what I’ve ended up doing is that I don’t think anyone should ever count themselves out. It’s never too late to go back to school. If you don’t like what you’re doing, change it.