This may seem like a unique question let alone an answer for a question about why did you choose engineering. However, for me this pretty much sums up my early life and how it created my desire to become a civil engineer.
I can remember playing in my sandbox since I was about 3 or 4 years old and you could say that was my first 40-a-week job. But I think I pulled in a lot of overtime, especially in the summer months. I tell my mom, and she agrees, the sandbox was pretty much a babysitter for me. I can also remember being dragged away from some sandboxes that featured a backhoe digging device you sat on.
To be honest I still feel tempted to go and sit down and start digging when I see one today. This was actually my first “hands on” coop experience although I was pretty much just mixing sand and water and moving sand with the loaders. I remember creating just about everything from sub-divisions to harbors (yes, I used to flood the box and bring out the boats). As I got older and really looked at construction jobs around me I used to place bits of metal in my sand/water forms. Okay, I’ll admit that is VERY nerdy of a 8-10 year old, but I had a good excuse and its paying off today.
When you enter civil engineering you still use your sandbox experience, except now you’re digging (excuse the pun) into the chemical and materialistic properties of sand, water, cement, and metal along with other details of basic concrete. You begin to learn how certain proportions of each component allow you to build new and unique structures. Then you can go back and see why your early sand mixtures didn’t hold up very well. As you get more education about the materials going back to your old methods really goes against everything you’ve been taught and this unfortunately can take the fun out of going to the sandbox with someone younger. You WILL make everything more complicated than the 4 year old will do it.
When the weather got bad (rain or snow) construction has to adjust, for me this meant going downstairs to my hundreds (probably thousands) of Legos and create something else new. I built just about anything you could think of from aircraft carriers to zoos. If I saw something on TV, I would go downstairs and after time, a copy of it would be made. I can’t exactly remember my earliest Lego adventures, but I did start with the jumbo blocks and moved down. Legos were also another built in babysitter function my parents had, as long as I didn’t choke on a piece. Christmas and birthdays were my favorite times because that meant new Lego sets. I could easily put new sets together in no time, and my family would ask why I would put it together so fast. I couldn’t answer because reading the plans was like second nature to me and this really helps me today, granted the plans are a lot more detailed and a little harder to understand at times.
And to provide another nerd factor to me, I actually created blueprints for hotels and other structures I built. Hey, when you got utility, structural, elevator (yes, I built working elevators) and roof details you need to remember how to build that feature in the future. I unfortunately had to retire from Lego building somewhere around middle school, but I still own each piece I ever had neatly sorted my a process I still know today. I think a while back I decided to see just how engineering school has complicated my ability to easily construct something. I think I tired to build a hallway cross section. Things got hairy quickly because I was trying to leave room for utilities, drywall, and exterior wall features. I decided to give up after I got really frustrated. I think today bridges might be the easiest for me to build. The only real beef I had and still have with Legos is the inability to build things at a certain angle.
So, as you can see my engineering track was set pretty early. I can also thank one of my uncles, who is a civil engineer, as he helped provide insight on to what they do and not to mention showed me blueprints at an early age. I take pride in being able to tell people that I knew I wanted to be a civil engineer since I was about 6-7. It may sound weird, but I’m proud as can be because I’m applying what I’ve learned and will learn to help people in main ways that they might and might not see.
So, YES a sandbox and Legos can create an engineer (it did to me) . In other words, let your future children play in the sand and buy them plenty of Legos (the basic sets (town and random pieces) more than that character stuff (Harry Potter and Bionicle)), not only will you have a cheap babysitting service, but you’ll be contributing to forming future engineers, which isn’t that scary. Unless they start taking everything apart at home (I’m guilty here and I still do it to this day), then you may need to monitor them a bit more. Legos and sandboxes allow children to build imaginations and dig into their creative tracks. Being creative in engineering is sometimes overlooked, but a creative idea can get the project done quicker and cheaper at times. Not to mention, engineers are somewhat outside the normal box of society anyways, and this facet is shown off in the vast array of engineered projects across human time. Another factor, I will probably try to build something of Legos in the future, but probably after creating CAD drawings, specifications, and a contract. But, I still owe everything to my family for buying Legos and to dad for building the tree house sandbox that lasted for many years. I will go ahead and say my kids will be playing in the sand and with Legos, probably next to me.