Becoming industry-ready: engineering students gaining valuable skills through summer internships
Now more than ever, engineers are expected to complete complex, interdisciplinary tasks in a range of unique settings. As the Wayne State University College of Engineering prepares its students to make an immediate impact on industry following graduation, one pathway of experiential learning that makes this possible is an internship.
Interns gain real-world experience that enhances employability and, likewise, employers looking for competitive advantages leverage internships as recruiting tools and talent development programs. Exit surveys over the last two years indicate that nearly 40 percent of the graduating Wayne State engineering and computer science students who had already landed a job did so via a past internship or co-op.
Every day, more Wayne State students are taking the technical and personal skills they develop in the classroom and creating positive career outcomes.
Fostering discovery through entrepreneurship
Mechanical engineering major John Pierick is helping the Wayne State University Innovation Hub achieve its goal of enhancing the entrepreneurial spirit of Detroit. The initiative, launched in 2017, aims to foster student innovation and provide connections to Detroit industries such as TechTown.
Pierick has worked with the Innovation Hub since June as a studio assistant, where he is primarily responsible for "student discovery." This requires Pierick to interact with the Wayne State student body, asses their creative spirit and help them develop their entrepreneurial ideas.
"The Innovation Hub hopes to serve as a dot connecter for students," said Pierick. "We will help connect them to the experts that pertain to their entrepreneurial goals. This includes Waye State professors who they may not have access to otherwise or Detroit professionals, such as those in TechTown."
Although Pierick is not directly using his mechanical engineering knowledge at the Innovation Hub, the problem-solving skills and creativity he has gained from his major have been invaluable assets during his time there.
"The best way to describe how I use my engineering skillset is to say I use a systems engineering approach," he said. "We are treating the hub itself as a startup right now. We have many ambitious goals, so we must navigate problems to support each student's entrepreneurial endeavors. I also feel confident that my degree in mechanical engineering will be valuable if students have tech-related business ideas."
Pierick has been involved in several ambitious projects and organizations during his time at Wayne State University, including The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Alternative Spring Break Detroit and the Lear Open Innovation Challenge. After graduating in December, Pierick hopes to apply what he has learned at the Innovation Hub and continue to promote entrepreneurship in Detroit.
Creating cleaner cars
Chemical engineering major Annabelle Chidiac has had a variety of engineering internships and co-ops during her time at Wayne State University. Currently, she is completing a second environmental engineering internship with General Motors. This summer, her work focuses on wildlife preservation and the management of waste, air and water. This means she contributes to environmental outreach programs and works closely with the company's environmental engineers to ensure all Enviromental Protection Agency regulations are followed.
"This is especially important for General Motors because they have recently gained many wildlife habitat certifications from the Wildlife Habitat Council," said Chidiac. "This means extra expectations are placed on General Motors to maintain and preserve these habitats. Additionally, the EPA began regulating even more ozone depleting substances, causing General Motors to modify its protocols for next year to meet these standards."
Although Chidiac has not used her chemical engineering knowledge while at General Motors, she is grateful for the opportunity to broaden experience with environmental engineering.
"I want to take advantage of any opportunity that comes to me. Even if an internship or co-op is not specifically focused on chemical engineering, I am still able to learn a lot and grow from the experience."
Chidiac also completed a gas control engineering co-op at DTE Energy, where she maintained databases and completed data analyses to minimize company mistakes and locate inefficient practices. In the fall, she will begin a chemical process engineering internship with Marathon Petroleum.
Reprogramming the utility industry
As Anu Anne John approached representatives from Consumers Energy last fall at the Engineering Career Fair, she remembered many of the lessons learned by attending the resume workshops and elevator pitch seminars sponsored by the Engineering Career Resource Center.
“Make sure you give a good introduction, a nice resume and are confident,” said John, a senior studying computer science. She made a strong enough impression to earn a summer position as an IT security intern in the company’s compliance department.
“Most of the projects I work on are to automate many of their daily tasks that they would otherwise be doing manually,” said John, who has now gained practical experience with each of Michigan’s two largest utilities. She previously completed a co-op with DTE Energy.
John has been pleased with the comprehensive nature of Consumers’ internship program, particularly job shadowing opportunities and plant tours. She also appreciates the flexibility that has allowed her to take classes this summer, keeping her on track to graduate in December.
“They are very engaged with and focused on the growth of all of their interns, and provide a lot of learning opportunities and make sure we’re not just doing busy work,” said John.
She has learned more about the process of how energy, both electric and gas, is generated. She is also encouraged by the company’s efforts to develop advanced technology in wind and solar energy as well as hydropower.
“It’s great to see the transformation to more environmentally sustainable resources,” she said.
The College of Engineering’s curriculum has given John — who has also been active in the Society of Women Engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery and Formula SAE — a good foundation of several programming languages, which she says allows her to take on more complex tasks at Consumers and prepares her for a career as a software developer.