One essential aspect of an engineering undergraduate education is the importance of gaining practical engineering experience before graduation. These days, experience is a requirement for those who want a position in a corporation as well as those who plan to continue their education to the masters or PhD level. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to gain this experience through the university, including the co-op program, the Engineering Career Resource Center (ECRC), student projects and various research opportunities. An ambitious student can obtain experience easily with a little effort.
The co-op program is a unique opportunity for students to put theory into practice by combining academic study with a supervised, progressive, paid work experience in their field of study. These placements are available to undergraduate and graduate students alike. Under the U-M College of Engineering, students begin the co-op program after their sophomore year, alternating between semesters at school and semesters working for a selected corporation, generally completing three work periods before graduation. With each successive period of work, the responsibilities of the student are increased, allowing the student to grow academically as well as professionally.
There are many advantages for a student in the co-op program, the biggest being the opportunity to “test drive” career options. Students gain exposure to the types of work that the industry has to offer, which can help them select classes with a specific specialty in mind. Theories taught in the classroom can be used in actual job situations. The job experience can lead to a better understanding of the learned material as it provides a solid foundation for new material. Enhanced self-confidence and financial independence are other benefits bestowed on co-op students. Many students find co-op an opportune way to pay for most, if not all, of their education. Finally, after graduation, co-op students are often offered a full time position with their co-op company, thus getting a jump on the job market.
Information about co-op positions can be found on the ECRC web site.
Another popular way to gain experience is through summer internships at various corporations. Some students prefer this arrangement because it provides hands-on experience without interrupting the standard academic schedule. The majority of large companies recruit through the Engineering Career Resource Center(ECRC). Interested students should visit the ECRC website for more information.
Many students have found additional ways to obtain a summer internship position. Every year in the Fall, Tau Beta Pi and the Society of Women Engineers co-host the Engineering Career Fair at which many companies collect resumes for potential summer interns. This is a fine way to informally learn more about a company while, at the same time, making a contact at that company. Another way students often obtain a summer position is by simply sending a letter and resume to a company of their choice, expressing interest in a summer internship; a finely-tuned resume can often get routed to a department in need of a summer intern. Sometimes the easiest way to get offered a position is to simply know somebody who knows somebody who works at a company where you are interested in working. All it might take is that one little note on the comer of your resume (“I hear this kid’s a real hard worker…”) that can land you the position.
Summer internships can be rewarding both monetarily and educationally. Much like co-op positions, summer internships can often lead to full time positions after graduation.
Student project teams are another great way to get hands-on engineering experience. The University of Michigan College of Engineering supports a wide array of student project teams. The Wilson Student Team Project Center, directed by Professor Peter Washabaugh from Aerospace Engineering, occupies a facility adjacent to the FXB building to support a diverse set of student team projects. Students gain experience with all phases of the design, build, test project cycle.
For information on aerospace-related student projects, visit the Students Teams & Projects.
A research position is the job of choice for some students. Those who stay on campus to take classes over the summer, or others who simply want the challenge of exploring new areas of study, can opt for a research position. Many students who plan to continue their education in engineering fields often choose this route. Research experience can often lead to connections in some of the country’s other top graduate schools, or at least to a good recommendation. Students should keep a watchful eye on bulletin boards and check with specific professors who may need help in their research, or who are working on projects of interest. Even looking at other engineering departments can be an option. In a worst-case scenario, unpaid internships are almost always available or can be sought out. Often, department secretaries are the best source of information in this regard.
Finding practical engineering experience can sometimes be a tedious job; but with a little hard work and a polished resume, students can almost always find some type of engineering position while still attending school. Oftentimes, these jobs are rewarding both monetarily and educationally. In addition, they can lead to fall time positions or good graduate programs.