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Fall 2006
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Job Market

ME degrees still hold value

Job opportunities are steady in industries from defense to automotive

Resume Drop Box

DaimlerChrysler hired Elsie Alvarado for its power train group.

DaimlerChrysler hired Elsie Alvarado for its power train group.

Rockwell Collins' Marieda Mergele is in test tool design.

Rockwell Collins' Marieda Mergele is in test tool design.

ME degrees are often seen as preparation for work in the manufacturing industry, but an ME can be a good springboard for jobs in a variety of technical areas.

Consumer demand for new products, from more user-friendly devices to more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, is expected to create jobs for MEs, even though the U.S. Department of Labor forecasts only "average" growth in the job market for the specialty. The defense and automotive industries also look promising.

Nissan: recruiting efforts go on
Despite layoffs in many parts of the automotive industry, newly graduated MEs are still being hired, and co-op and intern programs remain in place at many downsizing companies. Dave Venegas, human resources section manager for recruitment, compensation and benefits for Nissan Technical Center North America (Farmington Hills, MI) says his company continues to recruit on campus at nine colleges in Michigan and the Southeast.

What does Nissan look for when recruiting? "Good co-op or internship experience, evidence of automotive interest like participation on Formula One teams, and good grades, of course," says Venegas. "But much more than that, we're looking for engineers who can present themselves in a professional manner and who have excellent communication skills. We want people who can listen, especially to co-workers for whom English is not their first language. In a Japanese-owned company like ours, that's very important."

Nissan relies on recent grads to help identify other good candidates at their campus recruiting events, and asks new-employee volunteers to escort student candidates around Nissan's Michigan facility for a day. "Candidates are trying to sell themselves to us, but we're also trying to sell Nissan to them," he says.

Venegas can tell which applicants have done their homework, and stresses that a job applicant who has researched the company thoroughly makes a strong impression. "With all the information available now on the Web, candidates can be a lot better prepared than in years past."

And, yes, he jokes, many hope employment will give them a chance to drive Nissan's popular 350Z sports car.

Nissan co-op Abi Newth: a well-rounded view of engineering
Abi Newth

Abi Newth

Abi Newth has known that engineering is her future ever since she accompanied her engineer dad to work as a third grader. At Nissan (Farmington Hills, MI) she's already moving along an engineering career path.

Newth is an ME co-op student at the University of Michigan (Dearborn, MI). She expects to graduate in December 2006 and hopes to start full-time employment with Nissan before the end of the year. She has worked in three different areas at the company: body design, drawing on her dynamics and statics course work; then body-structure planning, working on a prototype of a not-yet-released vehicle; and most recently performance safety, where vehicles are tested against government standards.

"For anyone who loves automotive engineering, this is the perfect place to be," she says enthusiastically. "I know it sounds corny, but I love everything about working here, whether it's making friends, writing applications or seeing a finished vehicle and knowing I had some input."

Newth appreciates the chance to get a well-rounded view of engineering and to take on significant responsibilities at Nissan. She anticipates continuing to work while pursuing an MSME and an MBA in the future. "My main goal is to do the best job I can," she says.

Although she typically works from 8 am to 5 pm, she doesn't hesitate to stay late whenever needed. And when she drives home she's inclined to notice every noise her car (not a Nissan) makes along the way. "I always want to fix any squeak," she admits with a laugh. "If I get in the car and there's a problem I think, 'I would have done this better.'"

Marieda Mergele designs test tool fixtures for Rockwell Collins
Marieda Mergele

Marieda Mergele

An engineer dad also influenced Marieda Mergele's career choice. She grew up in a small town in Texas and headed to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN) because of its excellent reputation in ME. She graduated with her BSME in May 2005, and started at Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA) after completing a co-op stint there. Rockwell Collins is a communications and electronics firm.

Mergele had spent the summer of 2003 working for the civil engineering firm Washington Group International (San Diego, CA). Although she enjoyed donning a hard hat and going out into the field, she determined that road building and the governmental regulations that control building in environmentally sensitive areas were not for her. When she was recruited by Rockwell Collins at a job fair on her college campus, she jumped at the chance to work closer to her specialty.

Mergele moved to Cedar Rapids to live and work from March through August 2004. She returned to campus to complete her degree and came back to Rockwell Collins for good following graduation.

She's already returned to her alma mater twice as a recruiter and says she looks for qualities she thinks her own recruiter, now a mentor, found in her: an ability to communicate and a passion for ME. "Given the right training, anyone can do the work," she says. "Getting hired comes down to being the right personality fit."

Mergele knew from the start that she wanted to do design work. As a co-op student she did 3-D design on test tool fixtures, and then went back to the test tool area when she was hired permanently.

Seeing a working radio circuit board that she's had a hand in testing is the ultimate reward for her efforts, she says. She's motivated to work hard not only by her own pride, but because she loves the people with whom she works.

"People here are very helpful, which really matters because a workplace can be intimidating," says Mergele. "It's great working with designers, engineers and technicians. So many things have to come together. When I have a day where I've been able to meet with everyone involved with my projects and get some problems solved, I go home satisfied."

Mergele hopes that some day she'll be able to work in Texas closer to family, but is enjoying Cedar Rapids and Iowa. She is already making use of Rockwell Collins' in-house courses and anticipates getting both an MBA and a masters in systems engineering "just to make myself more valuable," she says.

DPC's David Rodriguez does mechanical design for robotic equipment
David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez says he is an entrepreneur by nature. But until it's time to start his own company, he's delighted to be learning new skills at medical diagnostic equipment maker Diagnostic Product Corporation (DPC, Flanders, NJ). There he works on the company's SMS product, a robotic device that transfers blood vials between DPC's Immulite2000 blood analyzer instruments in hospital settings.

Rodriguez is a May 2005 graduate of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey (New Brunswick, NJ), where he studied ME, then switched to industrial and systems engineering with an emphasis on mechanical design. He grew up thinking he'd like to make toys or construct roller coasters, and realized early that engineering would enable him to have a career building all sorts of things. He points out that the job he does could be done by an ME grad; in fact, he works with three MEs on his ten-engineer team. The team also includes two EEs, two ChEs, a computer engineer and one other IE.

What's surprised Rodriguez the most about DPC is the amount of responsibility he's been given. He started at the company as an intern in the summer of 2004, and was already well versed in the company's manufacturing operations when he was hired full time last summer.

Rodriguez started out as a college entrepreneur, selling "college cash pass" cards that gave Rutgers students discounts at area merchants. But he found running the business distracted him from his studies, and was glad to get DPC's internship offer. His summer-long assignment was to translate outmoded text instructions for assemblers into illustrated documents for sixty different procedures.

The experience taught him the value of time management and meeting deadlines. He bet his boss that he could complete the assignment on time, and motivated himself by charting his progress on a huge pie chart. He won the bet, and his boss had to wear a beanie for a day.

Following his internship Rodriguez worked part time while completing his engineering degree, designing a fixturing apparatus to be used by manufacturing assemblers. The result was a device that has improved efficiency and prevented repetitive stress injuries.

Rodriguez acknowledges that "the ante went up" when he was hired full time after graduation. But he's loving the challenge. "I really feel that people depend on me. I'm accountable for the end product," he says, "I doubt I'd have this much responsibility if I had not come to the company before finishing college.

"Initially I thought I'd be here two to three years and then start my own engineering-related company, or go back to school for an MBA. But I'm learning a lot about medical devices and if that means staying here four or five years to get the knowledge I need, I'll do that. I realize there's a lot going on in the immunodiagnostic-device field and appreciate the opportunities I've been given. DPC is a great place to work."

Elsie Alvarado works in DaimlerChrysler's power train group
Elsie Alvarado

Elsie Alvarado

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Elsie Alvarado has yet to embrace Michigan's climate, but she couldn't be happier with her job at automaker DaimlerChrysler (Auburn Hills, MI). She acknowledges the investment the company has made in her training and education, and can easily see herself staying there for her entire career. "Home is here now," she says. "I would love to work my way up to being a vice president."

Alvarado received her BSME in 2002 at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayag´┐Żez (Mayag´┐Żez, PR). She first came to DaimlerChrysler for a 2001 internship in the company's scientific labs, where she was in charge of testing dynamometer cells for different engine families. Before that she'd done two co-ops in the aircraft industry. The first was with Pratt & Whitney (East Hartford, CT), and the second with GE Aircraft (Cincinnati, OH).

That experience helped her appreciate the hands-on engineering opportunities offered in the automotive industry, so different from the CAD-based simulated design work for planes. "You can take a car home with you or drive it on the test grounds," she says with a laugh. "You can't do that with a giant aircraft. I love having total access to the product and being able to test components and play with prototype parts in the lab and in the field."

When Alvarado interviewed for her summer internship, she was honest about her lack of automotive experience. But her obvious eagerness to learn, she says, won her a place in DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Institute of Engineering (CIE) program after graduation.

As a CIE participant she rotated through several different departments while pursuing her 2004 MSME at the University of Michigan (Dearborn, MI) at night. Although her school was far away from her workplace and her home, leaving her little free time, she considers the broad view of Chrysler's operations that the CIE training gave her well worth it. Her rotations included eight months in material cost management as well as four-month stints in vehicle development, power train, manufacturing, chassis and her previous intern area in the science labs.

Alvarado completed the CIE program in May 2005 and took her current job in DaimlerChrysler's powertrain group, working on the V-6 base engine used in cars like Chrysler minivans, the Pacifica and the Jeep Wrangler. She's currently doing exhaust and intake-manifold design work.

She particularly enjoys her contact with engineers working on components with which her crucial auto parts interact. "It's opened up my network and increased my learning curve," she says. "I've been able to learn much more about manufacturing procedures and the testing involved in validation."

Alvarado has expanded her network by joining both the DaimlerChrysler Hispanic Employee Network and the company's women's forum. "Any time you can get involved with company groups, it's always a good thing for you," she says. "There is the stress reduction benefit, and the opportunity to meet people at all levels, even management."

She also serves as a mentor to summer interns and has helped recruit other Hispanic employees, even returning to the University of Puerto Rico. There is no automotive industry on the island, so she can offer students valuable insight into the exciting work she does.

Alvarado intends to start working on her MBA before the end of the year. In the meantime she's working toward her PE license.

Toyota's Melissa Brown: a love of automotive engineering
Melissa Brown

Melissa Brown

When Melissa Brown graduates from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH) in June 2006, she'll start work as an ME with Toyota (New York, NY). She'll be in a manufacturing plant, either in Erlanger, KY or Evansville, IN, in Toyota's production engineering group, where she worked as a co-op student.

Brown fell in love with automotive engineering in her junior year of high school. "In an advanced math class we had to build a model out of clay and subject it to a mock wind tunnel," she says. "Then we toured a Toyota plant. Before that I had no idea what I wanted to do. After that, I knew for sure."

Brown did her first co-op at Toyota's Erlanger plant in January 2003, spending a term in the company's body weld department where she learned how to evaluate part accuracy after welding. Two terms later she worked in the under frame department doing weld maps for robotic implementation. "I really enjoyed the weekend work, when assembly lines aren't in use and modifications can be done, because I could learn so much about the machinery," she says. "An academic background is so heavy on theory, but in the plant I gained an understanding of how everything works."

Brown returned to the plant in March 2004 and worked with a specialist on doors for the 2006 Avalon, then in pre-production. "I liked going from design to new machinery for a model," says Brown.

Her next co-op assignments put her back in the under body area. She spent fall of 2004 doing large machine installations for new model trials. In the spring and summer of 2005 she was involved in machine modification and process charts, working with vendors, checking for quality performance and providing updated reports. She did the kind of work a degreed new-grad engineer would do, she says.

"I like the fact that working for Toyota is different from week to week," she says. "And when I see a car come out of production and know I've had even a small part in it, that's huge."

Being one of few women in the production process doesn't concern her. "I grew up always surrounded by boys, so this hasn't been much of a change.

"I have so much to learn," Brown says. "I hope to be a specialist for a few years, and then I'll try to be a project leader where you can put together a lot of different specialists' expertise. Ultimately I'll pursue an MBA to give myself more options."

Michelin co-op Carl Lamar gets hands-on experience
Carl Lamar

Carl Lamar

Carl Lamar works at tire manufacturer Michelin's research center (Greenville, SC). Lamar, on track to complete his ME at Clemson University (Clemson, SC) in 2007, has worked in the company's prototype shop to help improve the efficiency of Michelin tires.

The most important skill he's acquired there? Multi-tasking, he says. "I didn't have that in school and it's critical in the working world."

The other big lesson Lamar says he's learned on the job is that an advanced degree will come in handy. "A bachelors gives you a little bit of information about a lot of things," he says. "I want to be able to concentrate on one subject and maybe become a consultant for Michelin." His chances have been enhanced by the work he's already done for the company.

In the meantime Lamar will complete school and spend more time at Michelin. His co-op there has given him more than hands-on engineering experience. It's taught him the value of being able to convey information and ideas both verbally and on paper.

"You can have great ideas in your head," he says, "but if you can't communicate them, they don't do you or your company much good."

He's been "tickled," he says, that Michelin involves co-op students in in-house career day presentations, demonstrating that important employment can begin even before graduation.


Lisa Furlong is a freelance writer and editor in Center Harbor, NH.

Check company websites for current openings.

Company and location Business area
(Pittsburgh, PA)
DaimlerChrysler Corp
(Auburn Hills, MI; Stuttgart, Germany)
Automotive products including Chrysler, Mercedes, smart, Freightliner, Maybach
Flanders, NJ)
Immunodiagnostic systems and reagents
Ford Motor Co
(Dearborn, MI)
Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar and Land-Rover automobiles
(Lake Forest, IL)
Pharmaceuticals and medication delivery solutions
(Greenville, SC)
(Farmington Hills, MI)
Cars and trucks
Progress Energy
(Raleigh, NC)
Rockwell Collins
(Cedar Rapids, IA)
Design, production, and support of communication and aviation electronics
Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America
(Erlanger, KY)
Toyota automotive operations in the U.S.

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