Student Orgs Foster Career Success

By Susan Shullaw

Ready for a pop quiz?

Which of the following were highlighted in the first-ever UI College of Engineering Professional Development Awards Banquet earlier this year?

(a) Building bridges
(b) Launching rockets
(c) Reviving traditions
(d) Learning which fork to use

If you guessed “all of the above,” you’d be right. And if you guessed that student organizations in 2015 are about more than making friends and completing service projects, you’d be right about that as well.

“Student organizations enable our students to develop professional skills that reflect the needs of future employers,” says Kelli

engineering professional development.

“Employers know our graduates receive an excellent engineering education and are ready for the technical aspects of any job,” she explains. “But companies also want employees who can communicate, problem solve, lead teams, be passionate about their work, function within a diverse community, and exhibit other ‘soft skills’ that compliment what they learn in the classroom. Student organizations offer tremendous opportunities to develop those skills.”

Today, the college hosts nearly 30 engineering-related student groups, including honors organizations, departmental and multi-disciplinary organizations, minority and professional organizations, and industry-specific organizations.

Students may belong to one or more student organizations, and all are active in multiple ways, from attending regional and national conferences, to participating in technical competitions with other schools, to arranging guest speakers and industry site tours. Many take part in community engagement activities, especially with local K-12 schools, which has long been one of the college’s outreach priorities. Each organization has a faculty advisor and often maintains strong ties
with industry partners as well. 

Delfosse’s role is to keep student organizations informed about ways the college can support their efforts, whether it’s suggestions for growing membership, ideas for projectbased fundraising, or making students aware of opportunities and resources. She credits the UI’s Center for Student Involvement & Leadership for additional guidance and support, including opportunities for engineering students to partner on cross-campus collaborations.

Recognizing excellence

Working with student organizations across the College of Engineering, Delfosse sees the big picture. But with so many organizations focused solely on their individual departments or industries, she began to realize that the big picture
deserved broader recognition.

So Delfosse conceived an event that would recognize student organizations for their achievements, provide a professional development opportunity, and allow the entire college, across the disciplinary spectrum, to appreciate what individual student organizations had been accomplishing.

Thus was born the college’s First Annual Professional Development Awards Banquet, this year featuring an etiquette presentation, held in

the Feller Club Room of Carver-Hawkeye Arena on April 23, 2015. As Delfosse told the 150 students, faculty, staff, and corporate partners who attended the banquet, “the purpose of tonight’s event is to foster a strong sense of pride in our college and encourage students to seek out experiences that make them great engineers and leader The evening began with an experiential lesson in dinner etiquette from Callista Gould, a popular speaker, writer, and founder of the Des Moines-based Culture and Manners
Institute. Gould covered everything from table manners to networking tips, which are sure to be valued by students’
future employers (and likely by their parents as well).

Delfosse and her colleagues then proceeded to recognize student organizations and individuals for their achievements.

A few highlights:

• Outstanding Student Organization for Service: Continental Crossings, the UI student chapter of the Bridges to Prosperity, for assisting communities in rural
Nicaragua in building footbridges to overcome the isolation experienced during the rainy season. The UI chapter was named the national Bridge Builder Team of the Year at the annual Bridges to Prosperity Bridge Builders Conference in Fall 2013.
• Most Improved Student Organization: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) UI Student Chapter, for successfully raising more than $2,000 to help design, build, test, and compete in a highpower rocket competition. The UI’s AIAA also sponsored a visit to campus by former astronaut and AIAA National Executive Director, Sandra Magnus.
• Outstanding Student Organization Collaboration: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) UI Student Chapter, which teamed with the UI Campus Activities Board to revive the Corn Monument on the UI Pentacrest, a treasured Homecoming tradition that began in 1919. The 2014 Corn Monument, at a height of 26 feet,
was one of the tallest ever built.
• Outstanding Established Student Organization: American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) UI Student Chapter, for being recognized as an Outstanding Student Chapter by national AIChE for 10 consecutive years and being named National ChemE Jeopardy champions in 2013 and 2014, among other national and regional honors.

Focus on the future

By all accounts, the inaugural awards banquet was a major success, generating the college-wide visibility and pride that Delfosse was hoping to create. Now, she’s looking ahead to the next big event; what she describes as the college’s annual “student organization fair” and ice cream social sponsored by Deere & Company, to welcome incoming students and make them aware of what student organizations have to offer.

“We strongly encourage all students to get involved in one or more organizations,” says Delfosse. “Organizations help students develop friendships, meet people with common interests and allow them to see early on what they can accomplish as an engineer. But more important, these organizations can get students in front of companies in their chosen industry and provide opportunities to build their resumes, which can directly lead to internships and full-time jobs after graduation. Here, student organizations are really all about career preparation.”

And if that’s not incentive enough, Delfosse looks forward to handing out even more awards at next year’s banquet.