U.S. professional licensure is daunting, but doable

Published by Amjambo Africa! | July 14, 2022

Oumalkaire Said Barkad, Professional Engineer and immigrant from France

Oumalkaire Said Barkad

When Oumalkaire Said Barkad arrived in Maine in 2014 with a master’s degree from the Engineering School of Reims, France, she didn’t know about the many additional steps required to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) in the U.S. She soon waded into the complicated process for Maine residents with non-U.S. degrees – in many fields beyond just engineering – to receive professional certification. After receiving her PE in 2020, she’s now licensed in 11 states and is pursuing a 12th.

“Even though I came to the U.S. with limited English, I was able to get an FE [Fundamentals of Engineering] and PE, which only 20% of engineers have, and among those, only 12% are women. I haven’t seen a lot of women who have a PE. I haven’t seen any Black Muslim women who have a PE,” said Barkad, who watched movies, documentaries, and the news to improve her English. She also attended networking events. She strategically took jobs below her skill level, in order to learn about the U.S. culture, work environment, and language, but she knows that’s not an option for everyone.

She knows many skilled people haven’t been able to pursue credential evaluations or sit for exams. She wants them to see what’s possible and how to do it. “I know someone who has 20 years’ experience, four kids, working at night and his wife working in the morning. He was an engineer so he wanted to pass his FE. But how is he going to study? … There are a lot of people who are in the same situation as him, that really want to work with their credentials, but they have no idea where to go and how to start.”

Engineers must have sufficient education, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), have four years’ relevant experience then also pass the NCEES Professional Engineering exam. “But I wasn’t aware of that because it didn’t exist in France,” Barkad said.

As she began looking for a job in Maine, she found that many engineers had only bachelor’s degrees; she wanted to demonstrate that she had a master’s degree and therefore was quite well-qualified. To verify her education, she obtained a credential evaluation. “When you’re getting your credential evaluated, it’s like saying, ‘My master’s degree in France is equivalent.’ They evaluate your courses one by one.”

This involves gathering a college or graduate school transcript, diploma, and details of each course, all of which must be submitted in English. The process is costly: an evaluation report is about $250-350 and, at about $50 per page, translation quickly adds up, too, according to the New Mainers Resource Center, which lists several resources that may help with fees. See “Credential Evaluations and Professional Licensing for New Mainers” at www.nmrcmaine.org.

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