Never Too Late to Earn the PE
An article in the April issue of PE magazine told the story of NSPE member Mark Johnson, P.E., who proved that there’s not one standard path to earning the PE license. Johnson first took the FE exam in 1987, five years after he graduated, and last December, at age 50, he passed the PE exam.
After the article was published, PE magazine received the following letter:
I just wanted to let you know what a good job I think you did on the Mark Johnson article about how some people just don't get around to being licensed until later in life. I too took the "nontraditional" licensing path and wanted to relate my story to reinforce that it is never too late to advance within your profession.
I originally graduated with an MS in geology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1981 after doing thesis research in ground water transport and contamination. After working in the petroleum industry for 2 years, and for a state regulatory agency for 6, I decided to enter the consulting business about the time that underground storage tank remediation became big business in the late 1980's. Up until that time I had no thoughts of ever being licensed as a P.E. and was content with my profession as a ground water geologist. However, when I began working for my current firm, who are consulting engineers and where I have now been for nearly 22 years, I began to see that many of my advancement opportunities would eventually be limited.
I first applied for approval to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam through the "non-ABET accredited institution" provisions under Illinois' licensing regulations. Although I was approved, I took the FE twice and did not pass. However, in 1998 I learned of a distance learning program being offered by my alma mater, SIU-C for a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Although not an ABET-accredited curriculum, I thought it would "as good as" being licensed and would at least give me an educational background on par with my peers. For three years while working full time as an engineering project manager I was also enrolled as a full-time graduate student. I eventually graduated in May 2001 at the age of 45 with my second MS from SIU-C. Newly armed with fresh educational experience, I once again applied again to take the FE under the "non-ABET accredited program" provisions of Illinois' licensing regulations feeling that I now possessed the necessary technical background to be successful.
Just in case I was feeling overly confident, the State Of Illinois decided to put one more hurdle in my path, if for no other reason, than to simply test my resolve. I was informed that I needed four more hours of higher level math before I would be approved to sit for the FE. This class proved more difficult to find than my MS classes, because a class like this is usually offered only during the day when I would normally be at work. As fortune would have it, my local community college decided to offer a night class in differential equations during the summer session. In the summer of 2003, I attended class two hours a night, four nights a week, which thankfully only lasted for 8 weeks. My 25th wedding anniversary was spent studying for a DE test that would be the next night. After passing the class I was told I would be allowed to sit for the FE exam in the spring of 2004. This time I took full advantage of on-line study resources and was more disciplined in my study habits after being relatively fresh off of my most recent college classes. I was informed that I passed the FE in June, 2004. I gave myself a one month break and started studying for the PE which I took in October 2004. I learned that I had finally passed my PE in December 2004 at the age of 48. I estimate that I spent in the neighborhood of 600 - 700 hours preparing just for the FE and PE exams in 2004, which does not include hundreds more hours of study earlier in the decade while in graduate school. Perseverance and organization were key to passing these milestone in middle age at a time when I was older than even many of the proctors of the exams.
I am deeply indebted to the engineering faculty at SIU-C, and in particular to Dr. John Nicklow for making these additional opportunities available to me and my fellow "non-traditional" classmates. I am now an associate and group manager and supervise 13 professional and technical staff including several PE's. I am obviously an advocate for professional licensing and continuing education and believe I can serve as an example to my co-workers that one is never too old to accomplish life's goals, both professional and personal. Thank you to NSPE for all your services and for the support you provide to your members.
Allen O. Oertel, P.G.,P.E.