As a first-year engineering student at Oregon State University, Katie Merrill worked as a methods process analyst for Boeing’s 787 Program, collaborating with top engineers within one of the largest global aircraft manufacturers. The company rarely hires freshman interns, but Merrill made an impression.
She attended the Oregon State University Career Fair for engineers and struck up a conversation with a Boeing manager. She asked questions and showed interest. Her double major in industrial engineering and finance was also appealing. Two days later, Merrill interviewed for the internship and was on her way to becoming career ready.
In today’s economy, students such as Merrill — with her business skills and industry experience — are in high demand. A 2012 report by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers showed that multidisciplinary and business skills were among the top professional traits deemed most necessary for future engineers (communications was first). Hands-on experience is also a must. In a 2013 survey by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, the biggest skills gap among new recruits was lack of practical experience.
Merrill has further honed her career competence with a second Boeing internship, now helping the company find other eager recruits from Oregon State.
“For the past two summers, my previous manager has selected interns from Oregon State, and Boeing is excited to continue to recruit at the OSU Career Fair in the future,” she said.
With solid, hands-on engineering skills under her belt, Merrill is in the enviable position of having multiple internship offers, which she attributes directly to the Oregon State Career Fair. The experience validated her interest in industrial engineering and exposed her to the real-world business environment, which will ultimately help her make a seamless transition from classroom to workroom.
“I never thought I’d be able to work with the amazing 787 Dreamliner and learn from everyone who makes the plane a reality. I never thought I’d be able to go to Texas and work with suppliers. I never thought I would have the opportunity to do outreach and help other students pursue their goals. And it’s all because I met a manager at the Career Fair,” she said.
The Oregon State Career Fair offers students the chance to network with employers and explore a position or organization that they may not have considered. An engineering-specific fair brings together diverse firms and would-be employees, with the fall 2013 event drawing 125 companies and 1,682 attendees.
Scott Paja, coordinator of career and leadership development for the College of Engineering, said that Oregon State’s Career Fair gives students a roadmap to industry before they graduate.
“The Career Fair is an opportunity for them to interact on a professional level with members of industry. Whether you’re a freshman and have no intention of doing an internship yet, it’s still a chance to get comfortable in the environment,” he said. “When you do participate in an internship or co-op experience, you can apply the technical skills you’ve accumulated in classes and hone critical professional competencies to enhance your marketability for full-time employment down the road.”
The engineering profession has changed dramatically with the rapid rise of new technologies and increased global connectivity. As a result, engineering students must change along with it by building proficiencies in technical skill, communication, practical experience, and multicultural sensitivity. Merrill’s drive to build her resume and career competence is one example of how students are preparing to navigate the increasingly complex economy. She encourages other students, no matter how early in their program, to start thinking about life after college.
“Having that internship solidified why I wanted to go into engineering, specifically industrial engineering,” she said. “The sooner you can get that verification, the better.”
Information on the Oregon State University Career Fair:
Check out the Winter Career Fair Seminars & Events beginning on Monday, February 10 through Tuesday, February 18, sponsored by OSU Career Services. These events are closely followed by the Career Fairs on February 19 and 20.
–Abby P. Metzger