January 26, 2006

  Get Your Foot in the Door

An instructor at a Manhattan university well-known for its engineering program recently told me that her students were rather bright when it came to math and science, but were clueless when it came to their careers.

�A lot of them want to know how to get practical experience, and where they can apply for internships,� she said. �But many don�t have any idea where to begin.�

And while professors around the country grind their students to gain necessary skills for the workplace, many students say they feel a deep disconnect between the academic environment and the real world because of limited career guidance. In a large engineering program, for example, students with weak or mediocre grades might get overlooked by their professors and miss a valuable mentorship opportunity.

But almost all universities strive to provide professional resources to their students- such as career fairs and online job boards. In fact, recruiters from reputable firms like Bechtel and Turner Construction Co. say that they rely heavily upon job fairs and campus career centers to put them in touch with young people with budding potential.

�Educate yourself about what�s going on at your particular campus,� said Rosemarie Demonte, director of recruitment for Turner. �If a company is coming to a campus that interests you, look for an opportunity to meet with them to do what�s necessary to get your foot in the door.�

Most companies will also list internship or job opportunities on their website. If students are unsure about what engineering, design or construction companies are out there, the firm rankings on www.enr.com are a great place to start research.

Professional organizations on campus, such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) or Engineers Without Borders, are also great resources for networking, job and internship opportunities. Recruiters value �relationship building� between students and existent employees, and generally tend to hire someone who�s made contact with those who work in the company. Joining professional societies is a good way to make these connections.

Also, it might be wise to have a brainstorming session before you begin your internship search to determine what you want to do or what experience you�d like to gain, and how you can achieve that goal. For example, if you�re interested in alternative energy, such as wind power, you should investigate some of the companies who are doing major work in that area. From there, look online to see if they�re offering internships, or contact their human resources department. You might even try getting in touch with some of the people working there, and letting them know you�re serious about interning.

"What are some other ways for students to find internships, and what advice would you give them about gaining experience while in school?

Send us your thoughts.

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  •   January 10, 2006

      Coping with the Office Age Gap

    In a strange twist of fate one recent weekend, I ended up having dinner with six engineers and architects who all went to my university and now work for firms from Seattle and San Francisco to New York City. I couldn�t help but do a little research over our wine and pizza, and a topic of conversation continued to surface: how to co-exist with an aging workforce in the office.

    For a 20-something straight out of school who just landed a job in engineering or construction, their happiness may depend on more than just a professional challenge- it also depends on their ability to connect with co-workers, they said.

    �The old guys in my office have this thing about golf,� said the mechanical engineer. �They�ve been around for awhile, and have the liberty to just leave the office for no reason and go play golf. I don�t play golf, I surf. So I�m never invited.�

    Many young graduates starting their careers face a tremendous age gap between their colleagues, and in most firms they are the only youthful faces in the office. And while age shouldn�t matter while getting the job done, these young engineers and architects say that meeting people in their age group is important to their happiness inside and outside work.

    �Everyone is older than me,� said the structural engineer. �I spend the majority of the day in the office, and by the time I come home I�m too tired to do anything or meet new people.�

    For those who live in a metropolitan area and are surrounded by youth, meeting new friends is easy. But for someone who has to relocate to the Mojave Desert, for example, being isolated from their age group may be problematic to their personal happiness and consequently, their productivity on the job.

    What can be done to help young engineers adjust to an office of age difference? Share your thoughts on �Next� with us and we will post as many replies as we can. Send us your thoughts .

    Read comments >>

      January 10, 2006

      Calling All Engineers!

    For years, scientists, educators and industry experts have argued that America is in dire need of engineers to stay competitive in the globally expanding business world. But a report issued last October by the National Academies suggests that it is getting tougher to provide incentive to companies to hire from within the United States. For the price of one U.S. engineer, a company can hire 11 engineers in India, the report said.

    And American universities aren�t producing enough engineers to maintain their technological and fiscal superiority. Last year, for example, only about 70,000 engineering students graduated in the United States, while India graduated 350,000 engineers and China produced more than 600,000.

    From a global perspective, some may say that this trend is leveling the playing field for the prospect of quality life in financially depressed countries. And why should a company, critics say, pay an American engineer 12 times more than an equally competent engineer located abroad? Business is business, and investors will inevitably go where they can get the most for their money. That is why many graduate students at Harvard and other prestigious universities have opted to take internships in India this year, rather than Wall Street.

    But others adamantly insist that the United States boost its number of engineers in coming years to avoid weakening its economy. For decades, America has enjoyed financial prosperity as a result of its technological innovation. Without a steady supply of engineers, some fear that the United States will lose its competitive edge in the world, and thus its supremacy.

    The report, titled �Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future� discusses some solutions to this dilemma:

    • Fund the education of top students through four-year scholarships to help them obtain bachelor�s degrees in science, engineering, or mathematics, in addition to a commitment to work for five years in public schools.
    • Develop, recruit, and retain top students, scientists, and engineers from both the United States and the international community
    • Develop an organization called the �Advanced Research Project Agency- Energy� that sponsors research to meet the nation�s long-term energy challenges.

    The report can be found online at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309100399/html.

    Share your thoughts on �Next� with us and we will post as many replies as we can. Send us your thoughts.

    Read comments >>

      January 10, 2006

      The Dilemma of the �Super Seniors�

    It takes a lot of work to be an engineer, but the process of becoming one is taxing. The average amount of time to graduate is roughly five years, according to Michael Gibbons, the director of data research at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), and those years are maximized with schooling. And besides the demanding classes coupled with complex subject matter that make on-time graduation a challenge, students who are paying their own way through school may continue on even longer because they must take quarters or semesters off to work.

    There is no solution to this dilemma; engineering is a profession that necessitates much education and rightly so. The infrastructure, technology and safety of our lives rest in engineers� hands, so students should be properly prepared before they enter this profession.

    But a more problematic question arises- does this reality turn off those with potential at a time when the United States needs as many engineering grads as it can get? And how are the academic communities responding to tired or discouraged students? I remember numerous people in college who had brilliant minds that switched their major from engineering to subjects like philosophy and theatre, because they couldn�t bare the thought of seven years of math. When I asked them what their professors thought about their decisions, many said they didn�t have relationships with any faculty.

    In fact, the culture of engineering higher education has come under scrutiny in recent years. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled �CEO�s worry about the Future of New Generation of Engineers,� which argued that the 40 percent drop out rate for students could be attributed to the �boot-camp� model of engineering curricula. The article said that they �throw� math and science at students for two years, before they let them be creative (which is the impetus for many engineers).

    A follow-up article ran a month later, entitled �Angry Engineers Pin Shortage on Low Pay, Layoffs, Age Bias.� In it engineers argued that that industry trends of salary stagnation, age discrimination, the boom-and-bust cycle of the field, and displacement by foreign workers hired under the H-1B visa program contributed to the drop in graduation numbers and consequent work-force shortage.

    Facing years of tough schooling (not to mention the work it took to get into a competitive university) and a changing industry, engineering students may be becoming tired before they even begin their careers. Perhaps faculty and industry people need to find some way to reward their efforts with employment and good salary, and show them that those five years are worth while.

    Share your thoughts on �Next� with us and we will post as many replies as we can. Send us your thoughts.

    By Carrie McGourty

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