The Rigor and Reward of Engineering

03/04/2015 12:46 pm ET Updated May 04, 2015

I grew up in a strict household, where education was the number one priority in the early stages of my life. We moved to Illinois from Iran when I was in junior high school. My parents -- especially my mother -- made it clear that this new life in America was an opportunity for all of us. We often heard her saying "you do not waste an opportunity, because you never know when another one will come up." My parents had a lot to do with driving my ambition.

Math and science came easy to me growing up. My teachers understood how to encourage those interests. They challenged me, but they also built my confidence by giving me opportunities to serve in leadership roles such as math team captain in my school. My mother helped me build discipline. She often grounded me for not working to my potential in a subject, but she gave me incentives and rewards for doing well in subjects where I excelled -- mostly related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

It's determination and focus that helped forged my career path. I knew that engineering was a path to financial independence. According to Career Cast, four of the 20 best jobs are in engineering. Engineering positions are ranked second and third on Business Insider's list of High-Paying Low-Stress Jobs. No one should pass up this opportunity.

Beyond the financial rewards, there are so many diverse jobs within the profession. Some engineers have strictly technical roles, choosing to spend most of their days in their offices, but working in industries as diverse as oil and gas and video game design. Other engineers choose roles in which they can see and feel their creations, often traveling to exotic locations. This is one of the few professions in which you are involved with every step of the progress of an idea from start to finish.

Most importantly, engineers love to solve problems, and we can apply that intuition to a large range of disciplines. I began my career managing a number of instrument and electrical projects for multiple technical units. From there, I moved to a chemical engineering position and then a supervisory role in a mechanical shop. Now, I'm an economist overseeing budgets and working to maximize the output of products. An accountant or finance person cannot fill this role because it requires firsthand engineering knowledge to evaluate what materials are worth purchasing. The rigor and systems-thinking approach that are unique to the profession are not only what we are trained to do, but also define who we are as engineers.

My career also gives me the chance to have a lot of fun while giving back. Through an educational outreach program, I work with colleagues to volunteer at local science classes. We show students how their class projects connect to real life. We also answer questions about becoming an engineer. I always say that it starts by embracing your interest in STEM subjects when you're young. But everyone has different motivations as they work toward their future. The best part of engineering is that there are plenty of opportunities to meet those motivations in myriad ways.

Sean Safavinejad is a refinery economist at ExxonMobil. He holds an M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.

Through the support of ExxonMobil, Be An Engineer is a multi-faceted initiative seeking to inspire the next generation of engineers. The program aims to highlight the meaningful contributions that engineers make to the world, as well provide resources to assist young people interested in pursuing the profession.