Success in the Program


My name is Tully McCarthy.  I attended Humboldt State University from Fall 1996 until Fall 2000.  I was NEVER a good student in high school but I was fortunate enough to do well here at HSU.  I succeeded and can recommend the program to anyone who has the desire to become an engineer.  When I first got here, I was anxious to get my education going.  I broke into every class with enthusiasm, hard work and lots of studying.  I was still far from a good student, and I continued to learn many different lessons from many students and professors along the way.

As you begin your course of study in engineering, you will immediately recognize that this is a field that will require a great deal of study and hard work.  You may conclude that you dont have the ability or that the course of study is too hard.  Rarely is this the case.  The most important factors for success do not have any thing to do with your IQ. I found that doing well came with working hard in all areas: attending class, completing homework assignments, projects, and studying for and taking tests.  The following techniques worked for me, and many other ERE students I have known.

Class Attendance

Attend all classes and pay attention.  The first time you have an opportunity to learn the material is when its presented in class.  One of the best ways to show a professor you DO NOT care about your success in a course is to not attend.  Not only should you attend all classes but also you should participate in class.  If you actively participate in class, you will be learning and keeping with the class.  I always tried to stay with or think ahead of the mathematical expressions being presented on the chalkboard.  Stay with it and think about applications for the material at the same time.  Where does this stuff fit in with what you have already learned?  Remember, if you are cataloging this information while it is being presented, you can recall it better, later.


Do all of your homework and keep your returned assignments. Dont be fooled into the thinking that just because homework is only worth 10 to 20 % of your grade that some homework assignments are not necessary.  Some teachers dont even collect homework or give you grades based on your homework.  Never-the-less homework assignments are all important, and here's why.  I have found that teachers have simple methods for determining if you have learned their material.  This includes testing students on the material presented in class and required in homework.  Teachers will ask test questions regarding the same material.  Homework improves your problem solving skills.  Engineering classes are not like most arts and humanities classes.  You will generally not be asked to remember facts, figures, and names.  You will be required to solve complex problems involving analytical thought processes.  Mathematical analysis problems can be solved best by practicing on homework and then practicing again prior to tests.

Electronic Technology (e.g. computers and calculators)

Embrace technology, especially calculators and computers. I used the Hewlett Packard HP48G, its all I needed, and its about $120.  The Texas Instruments TI-89 is also very popular and costs about $150.   If you are not sure what calculators to buy, ask another student or a teacher. Once you get a calculator treat it right.

Computers are always changing, but my general advice is to buy the best that you can afford. Saving money here will put you in a productivity hole. That hole will only grow larger. You will be studying engineering for at least four or five years here, and as time moves on, your computer will get more out of date. Buying a computer that is toward the top of the line may mean that you will have to buy only one over those years. By the time you graduate you'll see what I mean. I chose a PC, but many people in education favor Macs. The one thing that makes the Mac so popular is that it is easy to use. However, MAC software is harder to find and costs more. I would rather go with something that everybody will be using once I graduate. This is the PC platform. EVERYBODY HAS HIS OR HER OWN BIAS, THAT'S MINE. Regardless of which computer platform you choose, become proficient with keyboard commands. There is always a keyboard command for everything you do with a mouse, and it takes much longer in the long run to use the mouse all the time. The less time you devote to sitting in front of a screen clicking instead of thinking the better.

Test Taking

Preparing for tests should mean reviewing work you generally know how to do.  If you are studying something for the first time and the test is tomorrow then it is going to be a tough test for you.  It is far better to stay current with the course work. Here is my strategy for reviewing for tests: review your notes, homework and text for key concepts.  Make up review sheets by chapter or topic.  These can be hand written on the back of recycled computer paper and are generally one to two pages per chapter.  So for example when reviewing for a Chemistry test, where the test covers say five chapters, you should have about seven or eight pages of the mathematical techniques and/or chemical property information.  Once this review is completed, you should practice problems.  Rarely do teachers put problems on tests from material or concepts not covered in class or on homework (Notice I said rarely, but not always).  Do yourself a favor and work problems from the chapters that the teachers have assigned as homework.  Rework old homework assignments, class exercises, and example problems in the chapters.  That should be good.  My final secret is to review those hand written review sheets just prior to the test and continue to review until the teacher said OKAY PUT EVERYTHING AWAY.  After the test, save your notes for the rest of the semester for use on the final exam.

Work Ethic

Work Hard, Work Hard, Work Hard (Enough?) and stay current with all of your assignments.  Easy to say but hard to do.    That being said though, I have learned over the years that people just have limits.  The key to balancing all of your work is to get most of all your work done instead of just all of some of your work done.  Keep up with your assignments.  If you dont you will find out right away that you will be buried and not be doing so well in classes.

Study Groups

I cannot over emphasize the importance of starting or joining a study group for every course that you take. No other advice I can give you is more important than this. A good size is three to five members.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with two other students who shared the same passion for serious study in the engineering curriculum.  We took many classes together, worked together to solve difficult homework problems, scheduled times to meet, kept our word and studied together, explained concepts to each other, and had a lot of laughs at the same time.

Writing Papers

I was not that good at technical writing. Basically you must prepare to write a paper just like you prepare for anything else.  First, read, and reread, the assignment sheet that the professor will handout to you.  Make notes to yourself about what needs to be done.  Then you are off to the library.  If you are new here, start by talking to the librarian.  They will have lots of information about how to conduct research.  This is a crucial step.  The one problem with the technology age is that research channels are FULL of information about your subject, but most of that info is not usable.  You'll need very few good sources instead of lots of very unhelpful sources.  After you have collected information read it and make notes on your computer.  To save time, work directly on the computer with your information collection.  Enter in the reference information and save it for later.  Remember to save your work often and make multiple copies.  When you finally get ready to write the paper, here is one strategy that I recommend.  Begin by typing you ideas as fast as you can.  Don't worry about format, grammar, and spelling.  Get the ideas down in the order you want.  Then later come back and correct it.  Do your writing in stages, or chunks.  Chunk it out is the expression I use.  I wrote stuff in chunks, then read over it once, made a few changes and then saved it and do something else for a while. At various stages, have someone that you trust review your work and feed back the hard truth regarding its quality.

General Stuff
  • Buy, Read and Keep your textbooks.
  • Learn how to use the computer.  There are many tips, techniques and tricks that will help make you proficient on the computer.  The CIS department teaches nice easy classes in MS Word and Excel. Take them if you like.
  • Get a copy of a "Fundamentals of Engineering" test review book. The F.E. exam (also called E.I.T) is and 8 hour national exam you should take near the end of your college career.  Obtaining this booklet will help you in two ways.  Number one, this book is like Cliff Notes for literature students.  It contains many of the equations and solution processes you will encounter in your years studying engineering.  Second, having this book will help you become familiar with it prior to taking the exam, something you are going to wish you had done.Take it from me; I know from sad experience.
  • See your instructors.  Here at HSU the class instructors are much more willing to spend time with students than at larger universities.

How to Apply

So environmental resources engineering sounds interesting, but you are still not sure if HSU is right for you? Explore what HSU has to offer to both freshman and transfer students.