Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Students in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign can consider a co-op program, where they can spend two semesters in a work setting gaining valuable experience. Both professors and professional mentors can help students select the degree program that best suits them.

Credit: Amara Rozgus, Managing Editor

My little brother, Alexander, has started looking at colleges. I think that he should, of course, attend the University of Illinois—my alma mater—but that's another story. He has received countless brochures, attended college fairs, and already visited two campuses—with more to come this summer and fall.

I've taken it upon myself to help him select the best college for his interests. He is gifted in the study of languages and is a dynamo on the pitcher's mound. Selecting the college that's perfect for him is not just a matter of perusing pamphlets or trailing a backwards-walking tour guide who can rattle off statistics about the college. Selecting the right school and course of study is a decision that has to be made early in life (too early, in my opinion) and will affect everything he does after he receives that coveted degree.

Many high school—and even college—students don't have anyone who will help guide them through the decision of whether they should become engineers or writers or anthropologists or veterinarians. This terrifies me. Since college degrees are almost a necessity today, careful selection of that college major or career path shouldn't be made by the toss of a coin or by a busy school counselor.

The decision should be made after the student has had the opportunity to really learn about what it means to be a traffic engineer or a chemist or an architect. High schools are too busy to take on this task in most cases, so how can a teenager possibly know that he wants to be a linguist or a consultant or a financial wizard? He needs you.

With our public works experts retiring or moving on to second careers, we all know there will be a shortage of experts in the not-so-distant future. Who will monitor these massive desalination plants or run our cities or devise a way to better eliminate solid waste? By taking a high school or college student under your wing, you can mentor the public works officials of the future.

PUBLIC WORKS magazine has an editorial internship program. Although we don't pay our interns much money, we offer them the opportunity to work in the “real world” and gain valuable hands-on experience. We work with each intern closely for 12 weeks to teach them the inner workings of a magazine and how it can serve its readers. I encourage you to take on a similar challenge. Find that student with some interest in science or engineering and take him to work with you a few times—or start your own internship program. Show him how important a water treatment plant really can be, or how challenging and rewarding a road project is.

Although my brother has absolutely no interest in the sciences (how on earth can we be related?), I plan to show him what an impact a magazine has, since he's shown a glimmer of interest in journalism. I hope that I can share my passion for magazines with him, and I urge you to share your passion for public works with a student as well.