Asee peer logo

Mid-Career Change: Benefits and challenges of leaving industry for academia

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Developing New Engineering Educators

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Shannon L. Isovitsch Parks P.E. University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

visit author page

Dr. Shannon Parks is a registered Professional Engineer with 20 years of broad-based experience in the water resources and environmental engineering fields. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Science and doctoral degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently teaching water resources and environmental engineering at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

Prior to joining University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Dr. Parks’ worked for over seven years at the Alcoa Technical Center focusing on development and commercialization of sustainable wastewater treatment and solid waste reuse technologies. She also served as a member of the Alcoa Foundation Board of Directors, providing environmental expertise to support the Foundation’s focus areas of Environment, Empowerment, and Education, as well as her experience with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for women. Prior to joining Alcoa in 2008, Dr. Parks worked for approximately seven years as a consultant to government agencies, municipalities, and industrial clients performing water resources engineering design and permitting. In addition to her corporate experience, Dr. Parks served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, supporting a local Non-Governmental Organization on water sanitation projects.

visit author page


Laura J Dietz University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

visit author page

Laura J. Dietz, Ph.D., trained as clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, completed a clinical internship at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL, and pursued postdoctoral training in clinical research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Dr. Dietz’s research interests focus on early psychosocial interventions for mood disorders in youths and adapting developmentally appropriate interventions for depressed children and their families. She has been studying the effects of stress on health risk behavior in undergraduates, with a particularly focus on first-generation college students.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Mid-Career Change: Benefits and challenges of leaving industry for academia By Shannon L. Isovitsch Parks, PE, PhD, and Laura J. Dietz, PhD

Typically, a career in academia begins immediately after graduate school or after retirement from a long career in industry. Transitioning from industry to academia at a mid-career point is often challenging because potential faculty members have not had the opportunity to publish, or develop an independent program of research. However, as many colleges are expanding their STEM programs and offering more applied degrees in the engineering sciences there are new opportunities for recruiting faculty members with industry experience who can teach and train a new generation of engineers. This is particularly true for faculty appointments at teaching focused, rather than research-based institutions of higher learning.

This paper presents a case study of a new tenure-track engineering faculty member joining academia after almost 20 years working in a combination of consulting, non-profit, and manufacturing industries. Several aspects of this mid-career change will be discussed, including the benefits of leveraging industry experience to enhance the quality of the material presented to students in the college classroom and facilitating collaboration between college students and local industry as a part of coursework. Student satisfaction measures of the class and the importance they place on new faculty members having industry experience will be collected, analyzed, and presented. Challenges such as being the only female faculty member in the department, with only 1 female student (4%) in the classes taught the first semester; as well as adjusting to a new work-life balance, with a 90-mile commute and a child starting day-care, will be discussed. Methods employed by the department and other faculty members that helped with the transition, such as a reduced teaching load the first semester, and a faculty discount at local lodging are included.

Parks, S. L. I., & Dietz, L. J. (2017, June), Mid-Career Change: Benefits and challenges of leaving industry for academia Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28666

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015