For Jesse French, a 35-year-old father of three, engineering has run in the family for four generations. But in 1996, after two quarters toward a master's in mechanical engineering, French entered the Army, which had footed his college bill. His stint as a helicopter pilot took him "all over the world," and after his discharge, he spent two years as an "engineering missionary" in South Korea, Mongolia, and China, teaching techniques such as harnessing wind power. When French's engineering-professor father found him a graduate research position in composite materials engineering at the University of Tulsa in 2005, he jumped at it—and expects to finish his Ph.D. next year.
Goal: French is interviewing as a mechanical engineer to do design work and consulting but ultimately plans to teach at the university level.
Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 1995); M.S.M.E. (University of Tulsa, 2007). He expects to earn his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Tulsa in 2009.
Finances: The school pays his annual tuition of $14,000, and French says that although the monthly stipend of $900 for teaching undergraduate engineering and supervising the machine shop doesn't make him rich, his family is fed, clothed, and owns two cars. There's pizza on Friday night, but "we're not at the ballet." One positive: He has no debt.