The Countdown to Careers Starts on Day One

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Iowa Engineer Magazine
2008 No. 1
Text by Jean Florman

At Iowa, virtually every undergraduate engineering student graduates in eight semesters. The office of Engineering Professional Development teaches students how to make sure that at the end of those eight semesters, they also graduate with good jobs in their back pockets.

As part of the Student Development Center team, Engineering Professional Development Director Phil Jordan and Associate Director Kelli Delfosse provide an array of services and resources to help Iowa engineering students and alumni find employment and to help companies, government organizations, and universities find and employ Iowa engineers. These connections are created and nurtured through the Engineering Professional Development Web site (www.engineering.uiowa.edu/ epd), two annual employment fairs, experiential education, and on-campus recruiting by companies.

Delfosse plans and coordinates the college’s fall Engineering Career Fair and spring Engineering Job & Internship Fair. The two events have seen dramatic increases in the number of participating employers during the last several years. Large corporations, small consulting firms, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations set up booths in a downtown Iowa City hotel to discuss fulltime, co-op, and internship opportunities with more than 600 Iowa engineering students and alumni.

CareerConnection

“In addition to participating in the career and internship fairs, we have used a variety of forums to remain connected to the college,” Robert Kress, partner in Accenture and a member of the College of Engineering Advisory Board, says. “We present to classes and seminars, provide internship and co-op experiences, sponsor engineering student organizations and events, offer scholarships, and participate on college and departmental advisory boards.”

But “engineering professional development” does not end on graduation day, and to help support the University’s engineering alumni, the office now offers a new service for its alumni and corporate partners.

CareerConnection for Engineering Alumni helps match UI engineering alumni outside Iowa with technology career opportunities at companies and agencies that partner with the college. Alumni learn about career opportunities with companies and agencies, and the college’s corporate partners can find and attract well-qualified Iowa engineering alumni—a win-win for everyone.

Alumni interested in companies needing seasoned engineers can access information on www.engineering.uiowa.edu/.

Companies wanting more information on how to participate in CareerConnection for Engineering Alumni can contact: Marketing and Communications Office, College of Engineering, The University of Iowa, fred-streicher@uiowa.edu

“The fairs enable us to meet with students and explain what we do, as well as the opportunities we offer for engineers,” says Robert Kress, partner in Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company. Kress, who earned an M.B.A. at Iowa (1981) and is a member of the College of Engineering Advisory Board, adds that almost 200 Iowa alumni work for the company, about a third of them engineers.

The college particularly encourages first-year students to attend the Career and Internship Fairs so they can begin exploring career options and networking with engineering professionals. This attention to students in the beginning of their college careers is a hallmark of the Engineering Professional Development office.

“We devote considerable time to first-year students,” Jordan says. “In fact, even before students enter the college, we impress upon them that once they’re engineering students, it will be important not only for them to keep up their grade point averages but also to get their hands dirty.”

“Getting their hands dirty” means applying what they learn through experiential education, be that a co-op, internship, or study-abroad experience. Professional practice during engineering education not only enhances students’ classroom experiences but also enables them to explore various work settings and forge professional relationships that may benefit them when it comes time to leave the academic world.

Experiential education is particularly important in helping students nab the best employment opportunities. Each year, the first students hired are those who have completed co-ops or internships. Often the company where they did this work hires them after they graduate.

“It only makes sense,” Jordan says. “A company, agency, or nonprofit can assess the technical competence of students in co-op or internship positions and also determine whether they fit into the organizational culture. Engineering employers invest a lot of time, effort, and money in new hires, and they’d like to better assess whether they’ll stay. Internships and co-ops help employers make those decisions.”

Of course, students also benefit from these experiential opportunities, putting their classroom learning to the test and scoping out the careers and work settings that will be the best fit. Long before they have constructed a concrete canoe or derived the formula for the equation of viscous flow in a pipe, students have constructed their resumes in Engineering Problem Solving I, a first-year course that includes a resume-writing module taught by Jordan and Delfosse.

“Resume writing is one of the first assignments in EPS,” Jordan says, “so that by the end of their first semester at Iowa, every engineering student will have a resume that they can continue to build through their careers as students and professionals.”

“And by the end of the first year,” Delfosse adds, “every first-year student has spent at least 30 minutes in the Engineering Professional Development office reviewing that resume with us.”

As students progress through their studies, Jordan and Delfosse continue to work one-on-one with them, guiding them through the job-search thicket. By the time they graduate, between 80 and 85 percent of Iowa engineering students have completed some form of experiential education, including work in research labs. Students whose work experiences include sufficient academic and professional rigor can register for the engineering co-op course. Jordan is responsible for managing the co-op/ internship program and for grading the required papers, in which students must explain and evaluate the work they are doing. He says most students take the assignment seriously, and the few who do not receive a “short note of encouragement from me.”

While the Engineering Professional Development office enhances the lives of students while they are at Iowa, Jordan and Delfosse also see the impact of their efforts after students graduate. The most recent postgraduation statistics speak volumes about Iowa engineering education and the support of the Engineering Professional Development office: A mere three months after graduation, 94 percent of students graduating in May 2007 were employed or pursuing graduate or professional degrees.

By the time they graduate, between 80 and 85 percent of Iowa engineering students have completed some form of experiential education, including work in research labs.