Engineering students follow in their parents’ footsteps


Choosing a major is a critical decision every BYU student must make. According to the BYU Undergraduate Catalog, students can choose from 181 different majors.

In the engineering school, chemical engineering students Colton Van Wagoner, Rebecca Prymak and Hayden Etter followed in the footsteps of their parents and other family members, becoming second- and third-generation students in their specified field.

Colton Van Wagoner

Jeff and Colton Van Wagoner both pursued chemical engineering degrees. Colton said he wants to be like his dad. (Colton Van Wagoner)

Van Wagoner pursued chemical engineering, the same field as his father, Jeff, who graduated from the University of Utah in 1983.

Upon graduation, Van Wagoner’s father entered the semiconductor industry and has since worked at Motorola, Medtronic and Lawrence Semiconductor Research Laboratory in Arizona.

Van Wagoner said his father’s career did not necessarily influence him to major in chemical engineering but stimulated his interest in the STEM fields. This helped him realize he enjoyed chemistry and solving problems, making chemical engineering a good fit for him.  

His career piqued my interest in science and technology fields. He is a very smart guy, so I wanted to be like him. Also, I saw that engineering has brought financial stability to our family,” he said.

Van Wagoner said while he is not as likely to enter the semiconductor industry, he is still considering a career dealing with oil and gas, chemicals or manufacturing. No matter what he decides to do, he is hopeful “to excel in the role he ends up in.”

In addition to his father, Van Wagoner followed his two brothers, who also graduated in chemical engineering. He said it has been nice to have conversations with them when talking about something technical.

Rebecca Prymak

Rebecca, sixth from left, and David, fourth from left, Prymak come from a family of engineers. (Rebecca Prymak)

Prymak followed both her father and grandfather into engineering, making her a third-generation student.

Her father studied chemical engineering during his time at BYU until his senior year when he ultimately decided to pursue a career as a chiropractor. Prymak said her father’s time studying chemical engineering gave her the exposure she needed to pursue this path.

My dad’s career showed me how lucrative the STEM field is. It influenced the direction I want to take my career, which is the biomedical route in chemical engineering,” she said.

Prymak’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe during World War II. He graduated from Columbia University as an electrical engineer. Her brother studied manufacturing engineering technologies at BYU.

“Growing up, I saw these successful people in my life as engineers,” she said. “I saw working as an engineer as something that was admirable and empowering because it was something hard that not everyone could do.”

Prymak said she plans to graduate and work in the biomedical field. She is also considering the possibility of pursuing additional education.  

“The best part of me and my dad studying the same thing is I have someone to talk to who understands the classes I’m taking and is knowledgeable about the field,” she said.

Hayden Etter

Hayden Etter, right, hopes to become an engineer like his father, who works at Intel. (Hayden Etter)

Etter’s father, Rob, graduated from Oregon State University in 1996 with a degree in electrical engineering, which gave Etter a firsthand account of what it was like having an engineer as the head of the family.

Etter said his father’s career had a major impact on him because of the happy and comfortable lifestyle he could provide for his family. He said his career allowed his father to gain other skills that helped their family.

“My father was a very intelligent man that was able to take care of a lot of the other things that needed to be done to take care of our family,” he said. “He knew how to fix things around the house, take care of bills and help us with our homework. I believe his career helped him become competent in all of these areas.” 

His father’s career steered Etter toward the path of an engineering degree because he saw he could provide a great life for himself and his future family.

Etter said he is thinking about pursuing a career in nuclear power or nuclear security research. He said having a father to help him decide these things and relate to has been a huge help.

“We have had very similar struggles and classes in college, so he has been able to give me advice and tell me about his experiences, which have helped me in my studies.”

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