Co-ops and internships help students refine career goals
“It’s a great opportunity to learn about the company and yourself.” – Terence Johnson, Bechtel
“Close to forty percent of our interns are in engineering or IT.” – Nikki Soares, Life Technologies
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
Co-op and internship programs benefit students and employers alike. Students can practice what they’ve learned at school while checking out prospective employers and refining career goals. Employers can build a pipeline of future talent, evaluate potential hires and get an infusion of fresh ideas at the same time.
Some internships last only a summer or a semester, but others offer six-month and year-long stints. Many students get job offers from the host companies after graduation.
Joshua Bell gains valuable experience as an intern at Dominion Resources Services
“I must have heard my grandpa tell me, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ more times than I can count,” says Josh Bell. “Then I graduated from college during an economic downturn and couldn’t find a job.”
Today, Bell is an engineer at Dominion Resources Services (Richmond, VA), one of the largest producers and transporters of energy in the United States, operating the nation’s largest natural gas storage system and serving retail energy customers in fifteen states.
In 2008, after he graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA) with an economics degree, Bell sent his resume to a dozen companies. “That Monday, I saw on the news that all twelve of these companies were enacting massive job cuts,” he says. “Eight months later, I was still searching for a job.”
Then he heard that nearly a third of the nuclear engineering workforce would be retiring in the next few years. The next day he applied to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU, Richmond, VA) and by 2012 he’d earned his BSME with a concentration in nuclear engineering. “I chose VCU for its ties with the nuclear industry,” he says. “It has faculty coming straight from the engineering offices at Dominion right into the classroom. I interned with Dominion for just over two years.” He was offered a fulltime job more than a month before graduation.
Bell works in the twelve-member mechanical engineering projects group for nuclear design engineering services, a mix of designers, drafting experts, professional engineers and technical experts. “We implement mechanical upgrades to the nuclear power plants in Dominion’s fleet,” he explains. “This can range from changing out old pump seals for a new model, to implementing upgrades to the plants that address new NRC safety concerns in response to the Fukushima accident.”
He’s currently qualifying to perform these tasks on his own. “I have a mentor within the team, although I’m finding that there are some processes where I now have enough experience so that people come to me for advice,” he notes. “Each member of my group has, on average, twenty-five years of experience, so I’m trying to absorb as much of their knowledge as possible.”
He’ll complete his training by the end of 2013 and plans to take advantage of Dominion’s continuing education program. “I’d like to earn a masters in mechanical and nuclear engineering in the next few years and get my professional engineer license as well,” he says.
Roy Grier, VP of human resources, says, “Because Dominion provides essential services such as electricity and natural gas, we look for people who are disciplined, safety-conscious and committed to their communities. We value diversity and want to attract, hire and retain the best employees.”
Dominion recruits engineers through its summer internships and co-op programs. “Student employment programs are a pipeline of our company’s future talent and leadership,” he notes.
Bell is a member of the national American Nuclear Society (ANS, www.ans.org), the Richmond Joint Engineering Council (www.rjec.org) where he is the representative for the Virginia ANS chapter, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (www.asme.org).
“There is a saying in engineering, ‘Fast, good, or cheap; pick two,’” says Bell with a smile, “meaning that there are tradeoffs for everything, so choose your priorities. For engineering students, it’s more like ‘Work, social life, or sleep; pick two.’ An internship is going to eat into other parts of your life, but it was the best thing I could have done.
“By the time I graduated, I was sure about what I was doing, what areas I wanted to work in, and who I wanted to work with. I was able to use industry words and phrases correctly in my interviews, and the experiences I gained during my internships were invaluable.”
Elyse O’Callaghan: co-op student at CH2M Hill
“If I were graduating without having worked in an engineering firm, I wouldn’t feel confident in the real world of engineering,” asserts Elyse O’Callaghan. She’s in the CH2M Hill co-op program, working at its Milwaukee, WI location.
CH2M Hill (Englewood, CO) is a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients. The firm’s work is concentrated in water, transportation, environment, energy, facilities and resources.
O’Callaghan is a native Wisconsinite whose father has a BS in metallurgical engineering and an MSME. Her grandfather is a mechanical engineer. Her early aspiration was to be a zoologist, but she took an intro to engineering course in high school and was hooked.
O’Callaghan is enrolled in a five-year co-op program at Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) and will graduate in 2014 with a BS in civil engineering. “I wanted to go to a Jesuit university because of their commitment to service work,” she says. “Also, the engineering co-op program is outstanding.”
She had visited her aunt when she was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and worked with local and national service organizations in high school. In her freshman year, she joined the Marquette chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA, Boulder, CO), which supports community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects. In 2011 and 2012, O’Callaghan was involved in the design, presentation and construction of a 255-foot span, suspended-cable pedestrian bridge in a rural village in Guatemala. The project won a statewide award from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin.
EWB-USA is an organization that CH2M Hill actively sponsors and supports. The CH2M Hill EWB-USA scholarship program provides $5,000 scholarships to students who are actively involved with EWB chapters and projects at their universities.
EWB-USA introduced O’Callaghan to the company, and she applied for the scholarship, which included a summer internship with CH2M Hill. “My sights were set on CH2M Hill and I was really keeping my fingers crossed hoping to get it,” she says.
“A few weeks before I was supposed to hear back from the scholarship committee, I was offered a co-op with another company. I knew some CH2M Hill engineers through EWB-USA, and I sent one of them a pleasant e-mail explaining the situation and wondering about the scholarship,” she recalls. “He came to school to meet with me and told me that I didn’t get the scholarship, but they had heard good things about me from my EWB-USA mentors. I explained why I wanted to work there and, even though they weren’t looking for a co-op at the time, they had enough work going on to support one. I made a three-year co-op commitment and started in the summer of 2011.”
Julian Bice: from internship to employee at HNTB
During his junior year at Howard University (Washington, DC), Julian Bice switched to engineering. “I knew that I was in deep water and that I’d better be able to swim,” he remembers.
He entered college as undecided with an interest in sports management. “After a couple of years, I realized that sports management wasn’t keeping me interested,” he says. “I wanted something more for all of the money I was paying and it was then that I decided on engineering.”
In high school, Bice had worked with excavators and bulldozers for an excavation company and he had installed basketball gymnasiums for another. “When I got to Howard, I had no idea what civil engineering was, but when I looked back on the excavation company, and laying wood floors, it dawned on me that that was engineering,” he recalls.
“Once I changed majors, there was no turning back. It was a big step for me, but I’m a hard worker and I’m very determined,” Bice says. He graduated in 2012 with a BS in civil engineering.
In 2011, Bice was ready for an internship. He got that opportunity at HNTB (Kansas City, MO) and worked as a construction auditor that summer and part time in his senior year. It paid off. “I graduated on May 12th and started here full time on the 14th,” he states proudly.
He’s still working as a construction auditor, currently on the 11th Street Bridge project in Washington, DC. Funded by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the project is replacing two bridges built in the 1960s with three new bridges that separate local and freeway traffic. This will also provide direct connections between the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and both directions of Interstate/DC-295.
Bice explains his role as a construction auditor: “Skanska USA (Parsippany, NJ) is the contractor for the project and they have inspectors who oversee the work. HNTB oversees their inspectors to make sure that everything is going according to DDOT plans and specifications. For example, when a structure is built, we make sure the location, the materials and the dimensions are what the plans are showing; when a roadway is constructed, we check that the material below the roadway is a suitable roadway material and is tested for densities.”
Bice is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (www.asce.org). He’s currently working toward his professional engineering license and other certifications, and he may pursue an MBA. Eventually, he wants to move into a managerial role at HNTB.
Terence Johnson refines career goals as an intern at Bechtel Corporation
“I knew I would be an engineer as soon as I got my first Lego set,” says Terence Johnson. He’s now a construction coordinator at Bechtel Corporation (San Francisco, CA), working at the Houston, TX location.
Bechtel is a global engineering, construction and project management company with a portfolio encompassing energy, transportation, communications, mining, oil and gas, and government services.
Johnson earned his BS in civil engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) in 2011. “I chose Georgia Tech because I wanted a great engineering school and a setting different from the San Francisco Bay area where I’d been living,” he says.
As an undergrad, Johnson served three internships with Bechtel. “I liked what Bechtel stood for,” he says. “I liked the global aspects of the company.”
His first summer internship in 2008 was in corporate communications in San Francisco. “It was an interesting experience,” he says, “being in school for engineering but at the same time learning how an engineering company operates. I got a lot of appreciation for things that other people don’t see, like research and document control, and how to better communicate across projects.”
Johnson took the next summer off. His second internship the following summer was in Vienna, VA, working on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project. He was in civil design, working on the drawings that went out to the field. “I sat in on design meetings, working on everything ground level and below. I got to go out to the field sometimes but it was mainly an indoor job,” he notes.
He completed his final internship as part of the aerial engineering team, entirely in the field, doing concrete bores and working on the spans of the structure. “It was a nice change of pace and I’m glad that I had these two internships back-to-back,” he says. “I enjoyed design but when I was in the field, I felt a thrill seeing things being built. I knew this was where I wanted to go.”
Through his student participation in professional organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE, www.nsbe.org), Johnson knew a lot of Bechtel’s college recruiters and was getting good feedback for the work he did. “I just kept my head down and did good work,” he says. “When you do that, it’s easier to get a good placement.”
Today, he’s working in oil, gas and chemicals. “It’s not that different from what I was doing before,” he says. “I’m tracking training metrics, making sure that all of our field people have taken the correct courses and have the correct competency to do their jobs. If there is a deficiency, we have to help them get what they need. I also assist project field engineers in design review of drawings and construction schedules.”
Johnson has been a member of NSBE since his freshman year. He is also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Society of Professional Engineers (www.nspe.org). At Bechtel, he is a member of NextGen, an employee group for people hired within the previous five years.
He’d like to get back out in the field, executing projects and becoming a lead engineer. “You’ll never understand what it’s really like to work unless you do an intern or a co-op program,” he notes. “Every internship I had at Bechtel came with real responsibilities and you need that practical experience. It’s a great opportunity to learn not only about the company but about yourself.”
Archana Ranganathan pursued her interests as an intern at Intelsat
Archana Ranganathan is an associate payload engineer at Intelsat (Washington, DC), a global provider of satellite services that deliver information and entertainment worldwide, using a combination of satellite and terrestrial connectivity technology.
“Our main goal is to ensure that our communications platforms are working properly by developing software applications that command and receive telemetry from the satellite,” Ranganathan explains. She’s part of an eight-member team of mostly computer and electrical engineers.
Ranganathan was born in Bangalore, India. When she was six, her father was offered a job in the U.S. She lived in many places, including Pennsylvania and Maryland, before graduating from high school.
Her affinity for engineering was evident by the time she was in middle school. “I volunteered at the Carnegie Science Center (Pittsburgh, PA), where the volunteers rotated shifts working at different stations. The goal was to educate patrons on the science behind each station,” she says. “I was placed at the robotics station, and the technology piqued my interest. That’s what drew me to engineering.”
Ranganathan earned her BS in computer engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA) in 2012. “Virginia Tech has a great computer engineering program,” she says. “I majored in computer engineering because it has elements of both hardware and software. It’s a mix of computer science and electrical engineering.”
As part of her coursework, Ranganathan worked on embedded systems and design for a Smarthome system that allows users to control devices in their home using capacitive touch sensors. She also became increasingly interested in telecommunications. She interned at a news company in Washington, DC as a broadcast engineer and IT intern after her sophomore year. But she wanted to continue exploring new areas.
As a kid, Ranganathan had been interested in spacecraft and aeronautical engineering, although she didn’t pursue that in college. She got an opportunity to explore that field when she was accepted into Intelsat’s twelve-week paid summer internship program. She worked as a web applications developer in the flight dynamics department. “I developed applications,” she recalls. “I researched different types of software and helped decide which ones fit the needs of the department. I was doing a lot of programming. I realized that I really enjoyed the mix of programming, EE and telecommunications.”
When Ranganathan finished her internship, there were no openings for associates like her. After graduation, she took a job at an engineering consulting firm. When she heard of an opportunity at Intelsat from a former co-worker, she submitted her application and joined the company full time in 2012.
“Interning helps you understand what the workplace is really like,” she says. “It exposed me to information that isn’t taught in school, all the tiny details that really matter.”
Three internships helped Isaac Clark choose Ball Aerospace
Isaac Clark chose Jackson State University (Jackson, MS) because it met his athletic and academic needs. “I wanted to go to class every day and hunker down with my books, as opposed to just focusing on football,” he says. “I wanted something to fall back on once football came to an end.”
He transferred to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Pine Bluff, AR) before his junior year and received a BS in industrial technology in 2011. “I discovered I had a heart ailment early in my freshman year, so I wasn’t playing football anymore, and there were things going on at home that made me want to be closer,” he says. “I was attracted to industrial technology because it has a broad focus. My degree is a hybrid between engineering principles and management.”
Three internships helped Clark choose the work environment that matched his needs. During his first internship at Iowa State University (Ames, IA), he researched the effects of ultrasound in the microforming process. “We were looking for ways to increase the lifespan of machinery by using ultrasonic vibrations to reduce the stress used to form metals,” he explains.
Next came Tyson Foods (Springdale, AR) where he worked on a design team as an information system analyst. “I interned in plant automation reformatting programmable logic controller panels to ‘think’ a certain way so we could do what we wanted to.”
Clark interned at Ball Aerospace in a ten-week program during the summer of 2011. “When I interned, I was all over the place,” he says. “I learned that manufacturing engineers aren’t expected to know everything that is going on, but they are expected to have enough general knowledge so that they can bring teams together to get products built.”
Engineers want to take out the variability in processes to get consistent product quality, he says. “We don’t want different people having their own style to get to the same place. A lot of my work was creating a standard process plan.”
Clark was offered a fulltime job at Ball the month after his internship ended. “What really attracted me to Ball were the people and the freedom,” he says. “People interacted both inside and outside of work. You could talk with anyone, regardless of title, in a very direct way.”
He’s now an engineering associate building and executing products. “My role has expanded quite a bit,” he notes. “Rather than just focusing on standardization and manufacturing, an engineering associate has to look at manpower, internal capabilities and budgets. We have to answer for that product once it’s complete, so we do our best to ensure success.”
Ball Aerospace & Technologies (Boulder, CO) develops and manufactures spacecraft, advanced instruments and sensors, components, data exploitation systems and RF solutions that support critical missions for national agencies like the Department of Defense, NASA, NOAA and other U.S. government and commercial entities.
Clark is currently working on WorldView-3. Scheduled for launch in 2014, it’s a remote sensing satellite, the fourth in a constellation of satellites that bring down photographs to Google and perform other functions. Ball Aerospace has designed and built the entire WorldView series of earth observation satellites for DigitalGlobe (Longmont, CO), a global provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery products and services.
He’s also working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a large, infrared-optimized space telescope that will eventually replace the Hubble Space Telescope. The project is working to a 2018 launch date.
Clark is a member of NSBE and the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Robert Strain, Ball Aerospace president, says, “At Ball Aerospace, diversity of experience and thought is as essential as our technical accomplishments. Respect for the individual and their experience is the cornerstone by which we build shared accomplishments and rewards.”
Clark urges students to intern before they start their careers. “My advisor at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff strongly recommends that students do at least one summer internship before they graduate,” he notes. “If you’re going to be in a group of hundreds of other candidates applying for a job, it’s always better if there is a face associated with the work that you’ve done for that company.”
Co-ops at Harris Corporation helped prepare Danielle Walters for the work world
“Since I was three, I’ve loved taking things apart to figure out how they worked,” recalls Danielle Walters. “I decided to go into the electrical engineering field because of an electricity and electronics class I took in high school. It went into the basics of both analog and digital electrical circuits and application. I found the information fascinating and couldn’t wait to learn more.”
Today, Walters is an electrical engineer at Harris Corporation (Melbourne, FL), an international communications and information technology company serving government and commercial markets. She’s working on a vehicular amplifier adapter (VAA) for one of the military radios the company produces.
“The VAA amplifies the signal from the radio, allowing for an increased range,” she explains. “I’m currently doing unit-level testing to verify design requirements, functionality, and possible hardware or software flaws. I am responsible for figuring out how to test the specification, writing the code to automate the test, and analyzing the results.” Walters is part of the five-person radio frequency (RF) hardware team responsible for the design of each of the RF circuit boards that make up the unit.
She earned her BSEE in 2012 at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, Rochester, NY). She’s now working on her MSEE at RIT. “RIT is close to where I grew up,” she says, “and I knew I wanted to stay local. In my sophomore year of high school, I went to my first open house there and was very impressed.”
While still in high school, Walters received the Computing Medal Award, a merit scholarship, from RIT. What clinched her decision to attend RIT was its weekend program for female students accepted into the engineering college. The program is run by Women in Engineering at RIT (WE@RIT). The program brought her to campus for a weekend to see what college was all about. “Being familiar with the campus and people made the transition into college that much easier,” she notes.
Walters did all her co-ops at Harris in the RF division. “I chose to go into a communications field after my first co-op experience there,” she says. “I really enjoyed working with the radios, and when I got back to school, I took a class on electromagnetic fields and loved it. I took as many RF electives as I could and even completed my senior design project in that field.” She joined the company right out of college.
“My co-op experiences definitely prepared me for my fulltime job,” she notes. “Being out in the field gives you a new understanding of why you are learning the theory in class.”
Walters is a member of the Society of Women Engineers (www.swe.org). She volunteers through Harris for university programs like resume reviews and mock interviews with WE@RIT. “This is a great way to stay involved with outreach and mentoring,” she says. “It allows me to represent my company and be a role model to college students, while developing company/student relations.
“The next step in my career is getting more involved in the design process and becoming an RF design engineer,” she notes. “I’m pursuing my masters degree to further my education and become more knowledgeable in my field.”
RF Communications group president Dana Mehnert says, “Diversity is an essential element of a successful team, and it’s a critical component of our Harris RF Communications vision. It can be achieved by including people from different backgrounds, different parts of the business, different geographic locations, different heritages, different career experiences, etc. That generates an array of ideas and fuels the innovative thinking that drives our success.”
Colón Zamora interns at Intel, his “dream” company
“You have to keep challenging yourself or else you get lazy,” says Colón Zamora. He’s an enterprise power delivery (EPD) graduate technical intern in the Chandler, AZ data center and servers group at Intel Corporation (Santa Clara, CA). The company designs and builds basic technology that’s used in computing devices worldwide.
Zamora is from Ecuador and came to the United States when he was eight. “My father saw that the economy in Ecuador wasn’t going to do well. My parents made a great sacrifice to give me and my three brothers a better opportunity,” he says.
The first Christmas gift he remembers getting was a computer. “Back then, it was the most advanced thing out there, but I was disappointed because I wanted a bicycle,” he recalls with a smile.
Zamora did well in math and science and was encouraged by his parents and his high school teachers, particularly his physics teacher. “He made the subject seem approachable,” he says. “In engineering, there is a lot of logic and problem solving. You learn formulas and you apply them. The closest thing to that is physics.”
He is the first person in his family to go to college in the United States. He earned his 2011 BSEE with a minor in business management at the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL), and is on track to get his MSEE there this year. Intel is sponsoring Zamora through a GEM fellowship program. GEM provides graduate fellowships at the MS and PhD levels coupled with paid summer internships.
Zamora’s current role at Intel represents his fifth, and final, internship there. “One was a summer internship but the others were for six months. I was already in my junior year when I got my first one for six months during my spring semester,” he says. “It was hard to take that time off but Intel was my dream company so it seemed like the way to go. If I hadn’t done the internships, I would have graduated in 2010.”
Zamora’s early internships were in fabrication and the post-silicon area. “I learned a lot about the design process,” he says, “but more importantly, I learned a lot about debugging. That helped me not only in my internship but also back in school.”
In 2012, Zamora came back to Intel as an EPD grad technical intern, working in the company’s Chandler, AZ location where he is today. “Our group works on server and data center platforms,” he explains. “We make sure that the power going to each of the components is clean and that everything is working well. Now that systems are more complicated, there may be a lot more interference among power circuits. We want to make sure they’re all safe because they are very sensitive components.”
He also runs validations. “Once a board is complete, I run tests, checking the electrical parameters to make sure we did what we said we would,” he says. “We work with designers in the design phase, and we work with models to simulate how the boards will work. Validation shows us whether any changes have to be made to the design.”
Last year, Zamora worked on a weekly video log called “Stay With It,” an Intel program aimed at improving the retention rate among engineering underclassmen. “The retention rate of STEM underclassmen, especially after the first two years, is really low,” notes Zamora. “‘Stay With It’ is a social network program on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I would record the program, talking about my experiences, and Intel would put it up.”
Allen Stephens, marketing program manager, reports that Intel typically hires between 1,000 and 1,300 interns every year in the United States, and plans to increase the number. “The volume of our intern hiring has been trending up over the last seven years, and we are also seeing a larger demand for students with computer science and software engineering backgrounds. In addition to technical capabilities, we look for soft skills like innovation, leadership, collaboration and risk taking.”
To draw from a large pool of diverse candidates, Intel utilizes a network of employees and diverse employee groups. Availability of quality diverse talent is a significant part of its university selection process, and Intel targets and invests in diverse student groups. It also partners with local and national diverse affinity groups.
He was offered a fulltime position last December. “Intel doesn’t hire interns unless they have a good chance of moving to full time,” says Zamora. Stephens adds that, “A large percentage of our interns are hired into fulltime positions, but more importantly the internship provides real-world experience, the opportunity to acquire technical job skills, and visibility to different career alternatives.”
Zamora’s heart is on the tech side and he plans to stay in this area for the next five, ten, maybe fifteen years. “Long term, though, I want to move over to the business side, maybe marketing or technical sales,” he says. “This will help me be a part of opportunities coming up in emerging markets. I want to help close the technology gap between countries.”
John Goljenboom gets defense industry experience as an intern at DRS Technologies
In November 2011, John Goljenboom became a mechanical engineering intern I at DRS Power & Control Technologies (PCT, Milwaukee, WI). The company is a supplier of power conversion, instrumentation and control systems to the U.S. Navy and industrial customers. It operates as a subsidiary of DRS Technologies (Arlington, VA).
“I’ve been working on cleaning up our Oracle E-business suite database,” says Goljenboom, “adding parts and deleting duplicate parts. I also do engineering change orders and fix weld drawings for the USS Tripoli, the Navy’s next large-deck amphibious assault ship. The design drawings are for cabinets that house components for shipboard electrical power generation.”
When a college friend sent Goljenboom a link to the DRS web page, he submitted an application. “My friend knew I wanted to work in the defense industry,” he notes. “Two weeks later they called me for an interview and two weeks after that I got the job.”
On his mother’s side, Goljenboom is 46 percent Native American Indian. His tribe, the Cheyenne and Arapaho, is out of Oklahoma. Thanks in part to a Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal scholarship, he will graduate this year from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE, Milwaukee, WI) with a BSME.
“I chose MSOE because it’s a small school with only about 2,500 students,” he says. “Many of the professors worked in industry and then decided that they wanted to teach, so they bring that experience to the classroom. You learn what really goes on rather than just reading it in a textbook. Also, MSOE has twice the lab hours of other schools. I’m a hands-on learner so that really appealed to me.”
DRS Power & Control Technologies hires many of its interns, but Goljenboom has set his sights on the U.S. Navy nuclear program. “DRS has opened my eyes to this program and I’ll have an engineering degree from a very tough school,” he says. “I want to be an officer on a submarine.”
Co-op at EMC gives Renee Walker an advantage over other new hires
“I was intrigued by computers at an early age,” says Renee Walker. “I grew up in Jamaica, and my dad had a computer business where they purchased and serviced computers and their peripherals for companies and individuals. I was intrigued to know how they worked, so I asked my dad lots of questions. He encouraged me to explore.”
There were limited opportunities for Walker to pursue her interests in Jamaica, so she finished high school at a prep school in Connecticut. “It was a tough decision for my family but we knew it was the right one,” she says. “I was intimidated, I was scared and I was sad to leave my family. I didn’t know what to expect but, at the same time, I was excited.”
She earned her BS in electrical and computer engineering with a minor in computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA) in 2010. “The area that interested me the most was seeing the software interface with the hardware. It wasn’t just the stand-alone code that you work with in computer science. That’s what helped me choose my major,” she explains. “Electrical and computer engineering involves the physical hardware as well as some software development.”
During the fall of her senior year, Walker worked as a co-op student in the hardware engineering department of EMC Corporation (Hopkinton, MA). EMC makes equipment used by businesses and service providers for data storage and cloud computing. She landed the co-op after submitting her resume at a career fair.
“I was new to the team, but they threw me in there and gave me a design for a manufacturing test card during my first week,” she recalls. “Of course, I said yes because I don’t shy away from challenges. I was afraid I didn’t know enough, but I finished the project, and developed a passion for hardware design. They gave me a mentor and by the end of my co-op, I was responsible for some part of the re-spin by myself, and for correcting errors in the design. At the end of January 2010, they offered me a job.
“With my co-op experience on my resume, I was a lot more competitive in a demanding job market,” at EMC and at other companies, she notes. But she chose EMC. When she returned in the spring, she had a head start on other new hires. “I knew what I was coming back to,” she says.
Today, Walker is a hardware design engineer at EMC. “I do design and development engineering assignments that are related to our hardware products and services,” she notes. “We call these our storage processors, the core elements of the storage platforms that EMC sells.”
She’s part of a U.S. hardware engineering team of fifty people that works on storage platform development. “Tasks are assigned based on each engineer’s expertise,” she explains. “Years of experience contribute to expertise, of course, but so do your hands-on experience and how much time you’ve devoted to understanding a certain technology or protocol.
“I am now leading designs and working more independently than I was before, but we support each other when necessary because one person never has all the answers,” she says. “Bouncing theories and questions off each other brings better brainstorming and faster debug.”
At EMC, Walker is a member of the Black Employees Affinity group and the Women’s Engineering Leadership forum. She mentors EMC co-op engineering students and she’s a professional member of the National Society of Black Engineers.
She’s on track to complete a masters in engineering management at Tufts University (Medford, MA) in 2014. “I’ve always valued the importance of strong educational support for my goals,” she says. “I want to stay technical for several more years, but after I have a good foundation, I’d like to move up to management.”
Life Technologies has internships for engineering and IT students
Life Technologies Corporation (Carlsbad, CA) is a biotechnology company that brings in over 150 interns each year globally. “They work in a variety of areas,” says Nikki Soares, senior manager of university relations and diversity and inclusion, “including our research and development group; global operations, which is the manufacturing, distribution and logistics arm of the company; information technology; and our business support functions like finance, human resources and marketing.”
The internships take place during the summer and are twelve weeks in length. “We tend to focus on computer science, software design, supply chain and engineering,” notes Soares.
Close to 40 percent of the interns are pursuing degrees in engineering or IT. Although most interns are rising juniors and seniors, about 15 percent of engineering and IT interns are students in masters and PhD programs.
Life Technologies works with career centers, student organizations and faculty at targeted schools to publicize the internships. It also partners with a host of professional organizations including the Black Data Processing Associates, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and Women in Technology International (www.witi.com).
Soares notes, “There aren’t many biotech companies that are as large as we are. We use our large intern program as a feeder for our fulltime opportunities.”
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