Hitting the ground running: How internships give Wayne State engineering students the edge

Internships and co-ops are crucial for engineering students who want to understand how to succeed on the job from day one. They could also be the difference between landing one's dream job and settling for something less.

An estimated eight out of every 10 students in the Wayne State University College of Engineering completes at least one internship prior to graduating. These students learn to work in interdisciplinary teams in rapidly evolving industries, applying academic lessons in real-time environments.

Interns develop both hard and soft skills, both of which are valuable to employers. Computer science student Cory Simms said his co-op at DTE Energy in Detroit "provided me with meaningful programming experience." Through his internship at KUKA Robotics in Shelby Township, Michigan, mechanical engineering student Thomas Zacharski learned "how to work within a corporate structure, organize goals and tasks to accomplish projects with a wide scope, and work with other professionals and communicate ideas effectively."

Rodrigo Hernandez is an intern at Great Lakes Engineering Group.
Civil engineering student Rodrigo Hernandez is working at Great Lakes Engineering Group this summer.

Rodrigo Hernandez, an intern at Great Lakes Engineering Group in Bingham Farms, Michigan, received a firsthand look at the range of steps taken to arrive at the construction stage of a project through his involvement with the I-75 rebuilding project this summer, and was given opportunities to make decisions as an inspector.

"I have learned that calculations, when it comes to the design of a structure, are critical," said Hernandez, a civil engineering student. "They go through many revisions and checks involving multiple engineering tiers to ensure the safety of the proposed structure."

Hernandez and hundreds of other aspiring professionals work in a variety of settings, from smaller independent firms to some of the most globally known corporations, many located just a few miles from Wayne State's campus in Midtown Detroit.

Rebecca John is an intern with the technology commercialization team at General Motors. "The work we do is license GM's technologies and patents to third parties to establish new products and services," said John. "I am learning so much about market analysis and business models."

Other students ventured farther away from home. Computer science students Nasr Almansoob, Anu Anne John and Ibrahim Hakim spent six weeks in Mexico as software engineering interns for ITexico.

"This internship abroad gave me the experience to learn how companies work globally," said John. "Also, I had the experience of working in a different country full of rich culture which helped me gain a new perspective on work culture and the software industry in general."

Jasmine Saad is a quality engineering intern at Federal Mogul Motorparts.
Electrical engineering student Jasmine Saad is a quality engineering intern at Federal Mogul Motorparts in Southfield.

According to annual surveys taken one month prior to graduation, nearly 40% of Wayne State engineering graduates over the last three years who had already landed a job did so via an internship or co-op.

"I started as an engineering intern back in February, and in June they promoted me to an assistant engineer even though I didn't graduate yet," said Mohamad Ataya, an electrical engineering student working at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Plymouth, Michigan.

The number of internships Wayne State engineering students complete varies. Renee Cole is doing her first internship at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. She noted the value of networking and establishing a baseline of experience for future opportunities.

Computer science student Mahjabin Haque has done two internships with NASA, electrical engineering major Shaharun Sama is at HELLA Electronics for the second summer in a row and industrial engineering student Michelle Wesner has completed four internships for three different companies.

"Each job I do teaches more and more about what options I have with my degree," said Wesner, who has worked for such corporations as Ford and Disney. "I have learned skills and have experiences in so many different industries that I can apply the things I've learned in unconventional ways anywhere I end up."

The genesis of many employer-to-student relationships can be sourced from the college's Engineering Career Resource Center, which helps students with their professional and career development goals. The ECRC hosts numerous workshops and events, including two career fairs annually, to better prepare students for their career pathways.

"I discovered Hemlock Semiconductor through a Wayne State career fair," said Grace Sexton, a mechanical engineering intern. "In October of last year I gave them my resume; that same evening, I received a call from the recruiting team to set up an interview for the next day, and a week later they offered me an internship - and accepting it has been one of the best decisions I've ever made."

Ultimately, the goal for faculty, academic staff and employers is the same: nurture talented and industry-ready graduates who have a much clearer vision of their professional goals.

"Never give up looking for your dream job," said Wesner. "You never know where you will find what you're meant to do."

The Wayne State University College of Engineering is proud to celebrate National Intern Day. Visit the photo gallery on Flickr to learn more about where WSU engineering students are working this summer.

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