In my mind, it had all the makings of a convincing Master Card commercial.

One night's stay at a hotel: $90
Money for gas: $40
Souvenir school sweatshirt: $30
Convincing your daughter to get into mechanical engineering: Priceless.

Unfortunately, that last part never happened. The attempt was certainly there, but the other mind was not willing to listen.

As a result, I failed miserably in trying to persuade my soon-to-be college freshman daughter to look into an engineering degree at Purdue University.

After all, the Purdue Schools of Engineering are consistently ranked among the best in the country. Also, the schools' programs to recruit, retain, and place women and minority students are regarded as some of the best in the country.

I know. I did my homework before we left for a recent campus visit to West Lafayette, Ind. While daughter had thoughts of exploring only the liberal arts offerings, dad had visions of pushing her to career opportunities in this industry.

No ‘Ands' Or ‘Ifs,' But Plenty Of ‘Buts'

Opportunity first knocked while passing through Purdue Memorial Union, on the way to the Stewart Center. Many civil, as well as mechanical, engineering students were seated on the floor, sketching various building segments and architectural structures. At least the scene piqued her attention - for at least a minute.

"What are they doing?" my daughter asked.

"Those are mechanical engineering students," I answered. "Since you like to draw, that would be an excellent field ..."

"No way," was the quick response.

"But you haven't even ..."

"No, Dad. Forget it."

"But ..."

"No. I'm not into math and sciences ..."

"But ..."

"Do you want me to get into something that I won't like?"

"But ..."

It was to be that kind of day. A "Kodak moment"? Naw, it was more like teenage tune out time.

During the guided tour of the campus, the Mechanical Engineering Building was pointed out. I gave my daughter a wink. In return, I got a nasty look. Great.

Speechless Over Speech

During lunch, I tried to point out the importance of how homes, office buildings, industrial plants, airplanes, cars, and computer technology all rely on complex HVACR systems to create and maintain safe, healthy, and comfortable living and working environments.

I tried to explain that many industrial, medical, technical, and commercial processes also depend on sophisticated heating, cooling, air quality, and ventilation systems. I tried to convince her that HVACR people are problem solvers - experts who contribute to making equipment work better, more efficiently, quicker, and less expensively.

In my eyes, this was a great speech. To her, though ...

"Dad, you talked about this before," she said. "My answer is the same. I am not interested. You talked before about being a contractor, but that's not me. I know there are plenty of jobs for a service technician, too. You told me that before, but I'm not interested. I already told you that. How much plainer can I get?"

One More Chance?

So as not to ruin the entire visit, I went along with my daughter to explore the Psychology Department, the Art Department, and other liberal arts offerings. It was frustrating, but then what can a parent do? I know other contractors have informed me that they tried to convince their son or daughter to tap into this ever-growing industry, but received the cold shoulder. That did not make me feel any better, though.

On the way home, I wondered if my father felt as helpless as I felt. He had four sons, but not one opted to take over his television sales and repair business. It wasn't for me. This is exactly what my daughter was saying, rather emphatically.

By the time we pulled into the driveway late at night, I felt that I had somehow betrayed this industry. But then came this flicker of hope, after I shut off the car.

"What other colleges are on your ‘must-visit' list?" I asked calmly, opening the car door.

"Well, I want to see Michigan State, Ferris State ..."

Ferris State? Ferris State? Hmmm. The wheels began turning again.

Because this school located in Big Rapids, Mich., is nationally known for its HVACR programs, there is hope again.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 03/01/2004