Today's human resource professionals suggest that companies with a demonstrated interest in diversity are the most likely place to look for co-op and internship opportunities. Companies that rely on a diverse workforce, they say, will make efforts to ensure your career success after graduation.
General Electric (GE, Fairfield, CT) has invested "a lot of time and effort to improve diversity at the entry level," says Steve Canale, manager of recruiting and staffing services. "So many of the students we hire go into leadership positions in the company. A good number are running engineering departments within GE. Since we grow internally, we take care to make sure that the pipeline of students is diverse."
El Paso Corp (Houston, TX) had an ethnically diverse group of students interning in the summer of 2005, says intern Angela Bedoya, a chemical engineering junior at the University of Houston (Houston, TX). She enjoyed learning about the group's different cultures and sensed a healthy work environment at the company. "I could see that there was a lot of diversity, with people from Asia, Europe and other places," she says.
Jane Qu, an EE junior at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA, Los Angeles, CA), heard about her internship at UCLA's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing through SWE. She says it's a good sign if a company publicizes internship offerings through organizations like SWE, which support diverse student groups.
Ultimately internships provide a "win-win situation," both for students and the company, says Susan Harris, senior staffing representative at Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN), a company that recruits heavily at minority engineering schools. "We feel the student employment programs are feeder programs for full-time professional hiring," she says. "They provide the student and the company with ways to evaluate each other, to find out whether it's a good long-term placement."
General Electric: many students become full-timers
General Electric (GE, Fairfield, CT) hires about 2,400 student interns and co-ops annually in the U.S., more than 50 percent from diverse populations. It's worth noting that of the 1,000 new college-graduate employees that GE hires each year, 50 percent are former interns or co-ops.
An internship is "a ninety-day interview. Both parties have options," says recruiting manager Canale. "If you get picked as one of the 2,400, you stand a good chance of getting a full-time job at the end. Our screening for internships is just as tough, if not tougher, than it is for full-time positions."
Canale adds that students come from competitive universities and go through a rigorous selection process. The company works closely with groups like NSBE, SHPE and Inroads.
"A lot of the top students take advantage of these organizations. It's a missed opportunity if they don't," Canale says. GE, he notes, was one of the companies that helped found NSBE.
Interns work at GE's major locations across the U.S., usually at places with more than 1,000 employees. Most recruiting for interns is done in the spring, but the company also recruits at many campuses in the fall. Applications are also accepted on line via the company website.
Ryan Scott: full time at GE AviationAfter two summer internships with GE Aviation (Cincinnati, OH), Ryan Scott is on his way to full-time employment. This July he's scheduled to start in GE's Edison Engineering Development Program, a two-year rotational program. Scott, an EE student, will graduate from Florida A&M; University (Tallahassee, FL) this May.
GE Aviation, a business unit of GE Infrastructure, designs, develops, manufactures and supports turbojet, turbofan and turboshaft engines for civil and military fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, as well as aeroderivative engines for marine applications.
Scott, a native of Cincinnati, came to GE through Inroads, which placed more than 140 interns at GE's various business units in 2005. During his 2004 summer internship Scott worked in the controls area. His job was to approve design change requests from GE vendors for such things as sensors and engine parts.
"I'd investigate the different CAD drawings and determine what the changes were, contact the vendor to find out what was needed, and then discuss it with my supervisor," he says.
He also researched harness designs for electrical cables. He would put cables made from different materials in a test engine, run the engine for about fifty hours, and then analyze how much damage the cable sustained from heat, friction, chemicals and vibration.
Scott especially enjoyed his second internship in 2005 when he worked in product development delivery. He helped assemble and test a "clearanceometer." This instrument measures the distance from fan blades to outer casings of airplane engines to ensure that the blades don't cut into the casings.
"We look at the vibration in the engine and the power of the engine, basically how fast it's rotating and if it goes off line. This computer determines whether that will happen," Scott says.
Scott notes that his supervisor, Fred Stevens, gave him so much help that "I learned more about electronics from him than from my classes at school."
Scott also benefited from GE's African American forum, an affinity group with more than 1,000 members. Through the group he was paired with a mentor who helped him develop his interviewing skills.
Canale says Scott's experience "speaks highly of what we're trying to do with our internship program. We want to make sure that students are getting quality assignments that give them opportunities to continue to learn. We work hard to match the student with appropriate managers so that they get a lot of feedback and a broad experience."
Eastman Chemical assigns "real work" to co-ops and interns
Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN) has a robust internship and co-op program that's several decades old. The program exposes students to the company's inner workings through one-on-one interaction with managers and real-life tasks every day, says Susan Harris, senior staffing representative. Harris is also the student programs coordinator for the corporate office in Kingsport.
"They're doing projects professionals might be doing, and it's by no means busy work," Harris says. "We have very strong upper management support for our programs. This is very important to our company."
Eastman manufactures and markets more than 1,200 chemicals, fibers and plastics products used in thousands of consumer items, although the company name is hardly a household word. The independent, publicly traded company has more than 12,000 employees and 2004 sales revenues of $6.6 billion.
Eastman recruits at minority schools like the University of Puerto Rico's campus in Mayag�ez, and offers a scholarship in conjunction with a dozen minority-serving engineering schools. This past year there were about twenty-five graduating interns and co-ops, and about a third of them accepted full-time jobs, Harris says. Managers consider interns and co-ops before looking outside for new college graduates, she adds.
Some interns and co-ops move among the company's locations in Kingsport, TN; Columbia, SC; and Longview, TX, but most work at the Tennessee corporate headquarters. Co-op students who finish the program and maintain a 3.25 GPA may receive a senior-year scholarship of $1,500. The school's co-op office also receives a $500 donation.
Most co-ops are undergraduates; interns are both undergraduates and graduates. Interns are usually the recipients of one of the company's engineering scholarships. Most come to Eastman in the summer, but there may be other opportunities throughout the year. The intern program is not as structured as the co-op program, Harris says.
Eastman offers some perks to its interns and co-op students. In Kingsport, for example, it has an ongoing lease with an apartment complex where students pay $75 per week for a furnished apartment and the company covers the rest of the rent and utilities. Co-ops get paid vacations, health insurance and life insurance, and both co-ops and interns get paid holidays. "Our co-op program is more rich than the intern program, because it's more of a commitment," Harris says.
Hillary Holback: an R&D; co-op at Eastman ChemicalHillary Holback has already had two terms of intensive co-op experience at Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN). This coming summer Eastman will send her to the United Kingdom. Harris notes that this kind of international placement is rare.
Holback is a junior from Florence, SC, majoring in chemical engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT, Knoxville, TN). She participates in UT's diversity engineering scholarship program. In exchange for their scholarships, students co-op with a sponsoring corporation. Holback's agreement has her working at Eastman for forty hours a week for several months of each year.
She receives a $2,000 scholarship for each semester she spends on campus. Because she's an out-of-state student, the program helps tremendously with tuition costs, she says. "Most co-op students go to school for five years, so it'll take me a little longer to get my degree. But there are lots of benefits," she says. She's scheduled to graduate in May 2008.
Holback says her mentors at Eastman have encouraged her to ask questions and have closely monitored her progress. During her first co-op term she analyzed data on the changes to pieces of equipment. She was particularly concerned with fiber esters made from cellulose acetate. The esters can be spun into different color fibers or be placed in plastics, and are widely used throughout the plant.
"My job was to go into certain files where they kept information and see whether the concentration for a particular undesirable particle was too high or too low," she says. Her mentor, April Schubert, was a manufacturing engineer.
For her second co-op she requested research and development, so the company placed her in the polymers technology R&D; area. She had two major projects: one was to study the thermal expansion of a piece of equipment, examining how materials with unique physical and chemical properties react differently at certain temperatures. The other was to test films used in light, flexible circuits for items like cell phones. "The film needs to be durable and have a sufficient coefficient of thermal expansion. We tested its physical properties to have an idea of how it would react under different conditions," she says.
Holback doesn't know yet what her duties will be for her third co-op this summer, although she knows she will be at a manufacturing site in Workington, England. She is thinking about getting masters and PhD degrees in chemical engineering, in preparation for a career in R&D.;
"A lot of people put limitations on themselves, but sometimes you have to take a chance and see what happens. It's really important that you explore opportunities that come your way," she says.
Applied Materials has opportunities in Austin and Santa Clara
Applied Materials (Santa Clara, CA) supplies integrated circuit manufacturing systems and related services to the semiconductor industry. The company innovates and commercializes the processing and manufacturing technology that helps semiconductor manufacturers produce the world's most advanced chips.
Last year 80 percent of eligible graduating interns and co-op students at Applied Materials were hired into full-time positions, says Dana Pulliam, manager, global college programs.
"Through the intern/co-op program, we are able to bring top students on board, and they make contributions while learning more about the company and the industry," Pulliam says.
Joyce Eva: environmental safety at Applied Materials
Someone has to make sure that the equipment and tools at Applied Materials have been properly decontaminated. For six months that was Joyce Eva's job. She's a graduate student in ChE at San Jose State University (San Jose, CA) who interned at the company from October 2005 to March 2006. She'll receive her masters in chemical engineering, with a concentration in environmental health and safety, this spring.
During her internship Eva worked in the environmental health and safety department, which has about forty employees. She had a dual role: to educate new employees about hazards and accident prevention, and to ensure the company's processes and labs were compliant with environmental laws. She was based in Santa Clara, but traveled to other company locations for her inspections.
Eva shadowed her manager and another co-worker. "When I reached a certain degree of comfort, I did the task and they watched over me. Then I started going through the tests on my own, and if I had questions, I could call them. It was a good learning process, because I wasn't thrown into it."
Eva's parents came to the United States from the Philippines, so she is fluent in Tagalog as well as English. She got her 1996 BS in biological sciences from University of California-Davis (Davis, CA). She worked for three different pharmaceutical companies as a lab assistant, but decided that she wanted to switch careers.
"I think what I'm doing now is completely different from my undergraduate degree," Eva says. "The thought process of being a scientist versus a chemical engineer is very different. With engineering you're looking at the bigger picture and seeing how a bunch of steps go together. It's like learning how the whole kitchen works as opposed to just studying a recipe."
El Paso Corp looks for well-rounded candidates
El Paso Corp (Houston, TX) owns North America's largest natural gas pipeline system, with about 60,000 miles of pipeline, and is one of North America's largest independent natural gas producers. Spokesman Joe Hollier notes that El Paso moves one-third of the gas in the United States every day.
El Paso Corp's goal is to hire interns during the summers of their sophomore or junior years and have them return each summer until they graduate, says George Silva, principal recruiter. The students move through different departments to get a broad view of the company and the ways in which their school course work is used in the real world.
"This prepares the intern for the future, gives them additional exposure to the company and helps us evaluate them and place them after graduation," Silva says. "We look first at the individual: what courses and leadership roles they've taken, what community initiatives they've been involved in, and what school groups or other groups they've belonged to. We're looking for the well-rounded individual." In the past two years 55 percent of El Paso's graduating seniors have accepted employment offers.
Silva says that the company constantly changes the package offered to interns. This year it is adding a housing allowance, fitness center enrollment, transportation subsidy, credit union membership and more. Interns work in almost every location within the company, and all spend some time traveling.
Angela Bedoya worked on emissions tracking software at El Paso CorpAlthough natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, El Paso Corp is working to reduce environmental impacts associated with transporting it. Intern Angela Bedoya, a junior at the University of Houston (Houston, TX), had the opportunity last summer to work with El Paso's clean air team. The team focuses on developing technological and regulatory strategies to address emissions from engines and turbines located in pipeline compressor stations.
"That experience gave me an inside view of how a major utility works to keep the air clean. I would still like to intern in other areas, like exploration or production. I liked what I did, but I also want to see what other options I have," says Bedoya, who expects to graduate in May 2008 with a double degree in environmental science and chemical engineering. She says she might consider oil and gas production as a career.
During her internship Bedoya helped with a software project to track emission inventories nationwide. The current software "is very detailed and is complicated for the user," she says. "We were trying to make it simpler."
Bedoya also handled calculations and formulas for the emission inventories and operation permits of construction sites in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. She worked closely with principal engineer Trinh Tram, a group manager in charge of coordinating work loads. Tram helped her download and manage the information she needed from the Environmental Protection Agency. "She went through many processes with me," Bedoya says.
Bedoya advises other students to start their internships as soon as possible. "For chemical engineers, experience is a major thing, and the more experience you have, the better off you'll be when you graduate."
UCLA CENS: extensive research program for interns
There are plenty of undergraduate research opportunities for interns at UCLA's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS, Los Angeles, CA), according to education director Karen Kim. CENS was established in 2002, and is one of thirteen National Science Foundation Science and Technology Centers. It's a multi-school, interdisciplinary venture that supports more than twenty-five UCLA faculty, fifty graduate students and twenty-five undergraduate students from disciplines across campus. CENS also supports faculty and students from UC Merced, UC Riverside, the University of Southern California, California State University-Los Angeles and Caltech.
Kim says that the majority of local undergraduates who work with CENS during its summer internship program continue with research positions during the academic year. "We also encourage interns to return to the program for multiple summers or pursue graduate school opportunities," she says. "In fact, we have made a concerted effort to establish a pipeline that provides long-term support to students."
The internship program is open to students on all college levels. The center uses "mixed group mentoring" where senior students help more junior students, but Kim notes that because of the scope of its research projects, the program is best for college juniors. A pre-internship summer school course is geared towards sophomores and community college students who are preparing to transfer to a four-year school.
One of the most effective components of the program is the tech camp, Kim says. As part of the first-week orientation, all interns travel to the James Reserve in California's San Jacinto mountains. The Reserve (www.jamesreserve.edu) is part of the UC system, and its networked system of environmental sensors is CENS' primary test bed. Students participate in a two-day field test introduction with faculty and graduate school mentors. They learn about the technology and engage in community-building activities.
Undergraduates who will be summer interns are offered a stipend, on-campus housing and a travel subsidy to and from the site. They participate in professional development seminars, a GRE preparation course, a research poster symposium, and networking and social activities.
Jane Qu: EE internship with an emphasis on computer scienceThe variety of research projects piqued Jane Qu's interest in interning at CENS. Qu, an EE major scheduled to graduate in spring 2007, has continued to volunteer at CENS during the school year and is leaning towards graduate school because of her experience.
"With this internship you get to take your time to learn the technology, and there is a lot of encouragement to get into academia and research. It educates undergraduates about what graduate school is like," Qu says.
Like the Internet, the revolutionary ENS technologies are large-scale, distributed systems composed of smart sensors and actuators, except they are embedded in the physical world. ENS systems monitor and collect information on such diverse subjects as plankton colonies, endangered species, soil and air contaminants, medical patients and buildings, bridges and other man-made structures.
During the summer of 2005 Qu worked with software that communicates with a sensor network used by field biologists to track environmental changes like temperature variation. Because the biologists needed software that was more user-friendly, Qu's job was to develop a website that would interface with the communications software and provide easier access to data.
When the summer ended she continued to volunteer with Dr William Kaiser, an EE professor at UCLA. Their project focused on networked information mechanical systems, technology that moves a sensor through a desired area. "The idea there was that field biologists could set up the tool and attach a sensor onto it, calibrate it, and then direct it to measure data in the way that they want," Qu says. "It's currently being tested across a couple of rivers, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
Qu enjoyed the programming project. "It was a different type of electrical engineering, with a heavy emphasis on computer science. I'm interested in computer science as it relates to hardware. I can probably continue in a field that combines computer science with what I've studied."
Ashley Burns: Air Force cyber security boot campFor her internship project, Ashley Burns, an electrical and biomed engineering senior at Duke University (Durham, NC), figured out how to defeat a fingerprint scanner using gummy candy. Burns participated in the 2005 advanced course in engineering (ACE) cyber security boot camp operated by the Air Force Research Lab (Rome, NY) in collaboration with Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY). She was one of fifty-five students to immerse themselves in intense classroom instruction on security issues, as well as projects for their particular field of study.
The boot camp's goal is to develop cyber security leaders through education, problem solving and activities in a work environment. Students receive a $4,500 stipend, plus free housing in Air Force barracks. They also earn four course credits, potentially transferable as a technical elective.
Burns' internship experience helped her decide what type of job she wanted. It also made her realize that she wanted to be in a job environment with more than a handful of women. "The internship experience was very valuable. It helped me function better in groups where each member had a different area of expertise. We learned how to rely on ourselves and other people to complete an entire project. We learned to relate technical information to a non-technical audience," Burns says.
Course work, taught by Syracuse University and West Point professors, focused on ethics, network attacks, firewalls and other security issues. Interns also worked on three-person teams to solve fictitious dilemmas, such as decoding a piece of digital technology containing evidence to implicate a drug trafficker. Each team included an electrical engineer, a computer engineer and a computer scientist; Burns was the EE on her team.
"There were only four women participants, and at first my teammates weren't too comfortable having a girl in their group. But then a project came up where we needed the math course work I'd just taken, and they warmed up to me pretty quickly," Burns says. "I learned that you have to be strong and confident in yourself. You have the same skills and knowledge that the men do."
Burns also spent twenty days on her personal project: testing three different fingerprint scanners. "I found that with a thin layer of gummy candy on your fingers, you could easily defeat it," she says.
Following graduation this spring Burns will take a job with St. Jude Medical, a medical device company, where she'll train to become a field clinical engineer. She will be based in either Atlanta or Houston.