The future is bright for EE grads
Those most likely to be hired have held a leadership position and have relevant work experience
“One of our core values is to create a workplace where people of diverse talents, backgrounds and perspectives feel like they belong.” – Anne Carter, Alliant Energy
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
'Electrical engineering degrees remain high on the list of the top ten degrees,” says Andrea Koncz, employment information manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE, www.nace.org).
NACE data for 2013 show that the overall average salary for engineering grads rose 4 percent this year to $62,535, making it the highest paid group of majors. Electrical engineers do slightly better, with an average salary of $63,400, a 6.2 percent increase over 2012. Average starting salaries for BSEE grads range from $51,400 to $75,400, and are highest at $72,400 for grads hired by federal, state and local governments.
Hiring prospects for the coming year remain good, with 47.5 percent of employers expecting to increase hiring of new grads in all disciplines. Only one percent of employers feel the current job market is poor.
Hiring managers pay attention to candidates’ majors and look for a GPA of 3.0 or better, but leadership experience during college is critical. Seventy-one percent of employers prefer relevant work experience, and 57 percent look for an internship or co-op.
New grads build lasting careers at Southern Company
“We focus on hiring engineers early in their careers,” says Andrew Bouldin, workforce development team leader at Southern Company (Atlanta, GA). “We have a very good retention rate. Our engineers typically come in at the co-op and intern level and stay for their full careers.”
Southern Company is an electric utilities holding company that hires mostly electrical engineers, along with some in other disciplines. The company works with the co-op and internship offices at college campuses to identify potential recruits. Co-ops qualify for benefits while they’re working.
The company works with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and has employee resource groups that support the internal development of employees and help with recruitment.
Ali Bibonge maintains turbines at Georgia Power
Ali Bibonge is a turbine engineer at Georgia Power (Atlanta, GA), one of Southern Company’s four operating units. He’s responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the company’s turbines, some of which are as large as 933 megawatts, and for outage planning and special projects.
“Each special project is different,” he explains. “Recently we had to retrofit an indication light for a turbine. It needed to be simple, but smart enough not to give false readings. We get different requests every day.”
Bibonge is vice chairman of Georgia Power’s planning review board, which creates new procedures. “I love board meetings,” he says. “I learn a lot and bring a new perspective as a recent college graduate.” He also enjoys mentoring current co-ops.
Bibonge graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA) with a BSEE in 2011. The school’s co-op program influenced his decision to go there and he spent three semesters as a co-op at Mississippi Power, another Southern Company operating unit.
“At the end of the co-op I got an invitation from Southern Company and so far it’s been great,” he says.
During his first week on the job as a co-op, Bibonge did “plant watching” because his manager was on vacation. “It taught me that forty hours is a very long time, so I knew I had to do something I enjoyed,” he says with a smile.
As an undergrad, Bibonge was a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, www.ieee.org) and NSBE. “Belonging to those organizations was very valuable because it allowed me to share my experiences with others and learn from theirs,” he notes. “I also enjoyed being part of the Golden Key Honor Society at Georgia Tech. It was great being around such smart people.”
With experience behind him, Bibonge says that if he were in school today, he would treat the search for internships, co-ops or a fulltime position just like an engineering project. “I would research companies and find something I thought I would enjoy. I would strive to keep my grades up. At one internship I spent a lot of time writing code. I quickly discovered that was not for me. I like to be active on my job.”
He stresses the importance of networking. “I work really well by myself, but out in the real world you have to work in teams,” he observes. “It took me a while to get used to that, but it’s gratifying to learn that you can depend on others.”
He finds his job challenging but rewarding. “Everything has to be done in real time,” he says. “When you flip a switch, a generator somewhere sen-ses the differential. We have to keep the power going. Deadlines have to be met. But on the flip side, when you fix something you can see the benefit. It’s almost instantaneous.”
Bibonge enjoys giving back to the community. He helps out with a robotics program at an Atlanta high school and helps prepare students for a regional competition. He also contributes to community projects at Georgia Power. “Georgia Power is always doing something in the community,” he says proudly.
Honda R&D Americas is committed to diversity
“We’re always hiring,” says Tamara Jenkins, senior coordinator of talent acquisition at the Ohio Center, the Raymond, OH site of Honda R&D Americas (HRA, Torrance, CA). Although EEs are not the majority of the engineering workforce, they’re one of the specialties the company looks for and recruits at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), historically Hispanic universities and at events sponsored by NSBE, SHPE and SWE.
The company has an active student employment program. “This past summer we had about sixty students, and we average thirty throughout the year. Most are engineers,” says Jenkins.
Onsite training and development programs are available as well as tuition assistance for those who want to pursue job-related degrees. The HRA Academy is a three-month engineering program; candidates are chosen by their managers.
Bill Konstantacos, VP and general manager at the Ohio Center, emphasizes HRAs commitment to diversity. “A core belief at Honda is respect for the individual,” he says. “We recognize the value and importance of each associate’s unique perspective. To better understand our increasingly diverse customer base here in the U.S. and around the world, we rely on these different viewpoints.”
Gregory Jackson: electrical test engineer at HRA
Gregory Jackson is an electrical test engineer for the motorcycle division of HRA, which designs and tests power sports equipment, including side-by-sides and ATVs.
“The motorcycle name is a legacy here,” says Jackson. “Motorcycle R&D is done in Japan, and I focus on testing the equipment. If we change something, we have to come up with a new test. I also do graphs, charts and data analysis and then present that to the design groups at HRA. If anything fails we have to come up with countermeasures to remedy the problem.”
Jackson concentrated on EE at an engineering-focused high school in New York City that shares some facilities with City College of New York. “But during high school I became a vegan and developed an interest in food and holistic healing,” he relates. He got a 2001 BS in food science from Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), and worked for a variety of companies in the NY metro area.
“But my interest was always in engineering,” he says, “and I decided to go back in that direction.” He returned to school at Southern Polytechnic University (Marietta, GA) in August 2008.
Jackson got his BSEE in 2011. As graduation approached, he made a list of all the companies where he’d consider working. Honda was at the top. “All my family members had Hondas and they never broke down,” he explains. “I went to the website and submitted my resume there and got an interview.”
Jackson’s senior class project helped him stand out, he believes. “We were responsible for the project from the ground up. It prepared us for the real world. We had to budget our time. We had to pay for some things out of pocket, so we became aware of budget issues.”
In addition to class projects, project management courses are extremely important in the real world, says Jackson. He urges students to “focus on application classes and labs, basically anything that involves hands-on activities. Repetition using equipment is important. It helps you get comfortable with it.
“You must believe in yourself in order to succeed as a minority,” he notes. “You can’t give into media hype or allow their negative spins to get to you. You have to tune it out.”
Jackson is excited about his new role as project lead for an up and coming model. Budgeting time well and working extra hours come with the position, he says. “My biggest reward is the look on my parents’ faces every time I visit them.”
Nissan has openings for engineers in various U.S. locations
“We’ve added quite a few new engineers over the last two years and have roughly twenty-five openings for engineers right now,” says David Venegas, senior manager and human resources business partner at the Farmington Hills, MI location of Nissan (Franklin, TN).
The automotive manufacturer has a rotation program for engineers and offers a series of training courses for new engineers in the first two years of their careers. Tuition reimbursement is also available for individuals taking courses or pursuing degrees relevant to their careers.
“Anyone can apply to the program online at nissan.jobs,” says Venegas. There are several different areas of the company, including R&D in Farmington Hills, MI, a test track in Arizona, and the Nissan Research Center Silicon Valley in California. “That’s where they are working on developing the autonomous car,” Venegas says. He notes that in the Detroit area there is near zero unemployment for engineers.
Internships are important for engineering candidates, and involvement in Formula One or racing teams in college can help an applicant stand out.
“We look for students who can work in teams and have been involved in SAE or IEEE. Student projects are important as well,” notes Venegas. “For new fulltime hires, we look for experience in safety, power train and chassis.”
Lucy Zhang: intern in audio and IT design at Nissan
“It’s a lot of fun here,” says Lucy Zhang, an intern in audio and IT design in the human-machine interface (HMI) area at Nissan’s Farmington Hills, MI facility. “I’m doing benchmarking, testing and validation of a new infotainment system. I’ve had to do a lot of research to find out what the market is like and see what innovative things are out there.”
She’s in her junior year at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) and on track for a BSEE in the spring of 2015. Zhang is currently serving as design team director and a core member of MPowered Entrepreneurship, a club at the school. She also belongs to Michigan Hackers and is co-founder and creative director at Cyaal Design, a visual design startup.
As an undergrad, Zhang has participated in a number of student projects, including a smart elevator project, which has corporate sponsorship from Harris Corporation, and Cannon in C, an automated Nerf gun project. She is also involved in Perimeter, a home automation student startup.
Both of Zhang’s parents are engineers, which drew her to engineering. The versatility and good technical foundation of a BSEE helped her choose EE as her major.
Her engineering background and experience in graphic design and entrepreneurship helped secure her internship. “I was in charge of branding and visual content for the entrepreneurial club,” she says. “Art is my hobby, and that allows me to understand the customer’s point of view.”
Zhang urges students looking for internships or jobs to join a variety of clubs, expand their backgrounds, go to career fairs and look online. “Don’t limit yourself. Keep an open mind,” she adds. “Both my parents work in the auto industry and initially I didn’t want to do that, but I decided to give it a try. It’s been great, very exciting.”
She’s found everyone at Nissan very supportive, and loves being part of large projects at the company. She’s already won a Kudos award there. “They gave me a nice parking spot for a month,” she says.
In her spare time Zhang volunteers at All Hands Active, Ann Arbor’s makerspace, which provides space and resources for people working on a variety of projects, ranging from modified toy cars to projects incorporating artificial intelligence. “People can come in to socialize with others interested in technology or collaborate on projects,” she says.
Diversity is part of Alliant Energy’s mission
“We link diversity to our mission. One of our core values is creating a workplace where people of diverse talents, backgrounds and perspectives feel like they belong,” says Anne Carter, director of corporate diversity and inclusion at utility company Alliant Energy (Madison, WI).
She designed a leadership workshop to enhance inclusion in the organization. “If we appreciate how we ourselves are unique, we can appreciate that in others,” she says.
Diversity is one of the operational metrics at Alliant Energy and includes both women and minorities. The company has five employee affinity groups, including one for emerging professionals, a multicultural group, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group, a veterans’ group and a women’s group. “Each one has a unique mission, but all include professional development, networking and community development,” says Carter. The company has relationships with NSBE, SHPE and SWE.
Sarah Vosberg designs substations at Alliant Energy
As a distribution substation design engineer at Alliant Energy, Sarah K. Vosberg is part of a team of twelve engineers responsible for drawings on projects that vary from small upgrades to complete substation rebuilds or new substations. The team also orders and assembles materials lists and sends them to construction crews. One of the team’s goals is to standardize the drawings and materials for all of Wisconsin and Iowa.
Vosberg graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2012 with a BSEE. In her senior year she passed the fundamentals of engineering exam and is now on her way to earning her professional engineer certification.
She recently joined IEEE. “I read the articles in their magazines,” she says. “They’re very good and help keep me current. And it’s important to get your name out and be a part of professional organizations.”
As an undergrad, Vosberg had two engineering internships with Alliant Energy, the first in Cedar Rapids working in delivery system planning and the second in power generation in Cassville, WI. The internships taught her about the business and helped her decide to continue in the field. During school she also worked on her family farm, helping with daily operations and maintenance.
Vosberg enjoyed power generation and distribution, but shifted gears when a position opened in Madison. “I wanted to settle in this area. I still help out on the family farm on weekends,” she explains.
Vosberg’s internships with Alliant Energy helped secure her current position. “The company likes to hire its interns,” she says. “I worked really hard while I was here and tried to get my name around.” She urges students to attend career fairs even when they are not looking for an internship or job, just to see what’s out there.
She finds her current project really interesting. “We’re working on a retrofit for a biodigester, a power generating plant run on biomaterials,” she says. “My job is to retrofit the substation and upgrade the system protection. The plant will be fueled by manure from a large dairy farm. It’s the most challenging and unusual project I’ve worked on so far.”
Charles F. Russell, Jr works in diffusion at Samsung Semiconductor
“There are eight different processes involved in manufacturing a semiconductor wafer. My process is diffusion,” says Charles F. Russell, Jr, equipment engineer II at Samsung Austin Semiconductor (Austin, TX). “We’re like the ovens. We harden every new layer to make it more secure. I monitor and improve the process itself and ensure the sustainability of the process and the chip or wafer.”
Russell works with a team of twelve technicians and is responsible for the preventive maintenance cycles. “These are very large machines,” he explains, “ten to fifteen feet high. I have ownership of twenty-one tools. I write the action plans and the technicians report to me for direction.”
Russell received his associates in electrical engineering technology in 2006 from Richland College of the Dallas County Community College (TX) and his BSEE in 2010 from the University of Texas at Dallas. He interned as a traffic engineer with the city of Richardson for two years and worked at Texas Instruments (Richardson, TX) as a lead quality control technician from 2009 to 2011. He joined Samsung in September 2011.
An active member of NSBE, Russell gives talks on being a Samsung engineer during organizational functions at the University of Texas at Austin. “NSBE is very useful for networking,” he says. “It plays a key role in giving you a step up.”
His internships were key to progressing and advancing quickly. “It’s experience without the level of responsibility you have later,” he explains. “I learned a lot about maintaining tools and I still use those skills here. It also helps you get used to the work demands.”
Russell’s father had a job in the semiconductor industry, and that early exposure piqued Russell’s interest in electrical engineering and semiconductors. But his path was not always easy. He worked full time during his sophomore, junior and senior years, sometimes at two jobs. “It was stressful at times, but I had really good support from my family and my advisors,” he says.
When a friend told Russell about Samsung’s entry-level program for engineers, the College Orientation Recruitment Program (CORP), he came for an interview and got the job. “Once you start training, you’re a CORP member of that year’s class for life,” he says. “I’m CORP 2011.”
The program has shown Russell what it takes to be a successful engineer. “I’ve been in diffusion two years, and I’ve been the owner of thirty-two tools and part of several big projects,” he says. “The company sends twenty-five CORP engineers to Korea each year. I went to Korea for two weeks and learned a lot more about Samsung and Korean culture. It was a really cool experience.”
In his spare time, Russell participates in a mentoring program that works with elementary, middle and high school students in Austin. “We visit the students weekly. We have lunch together and help our mentees with projects and homework,” he says. “We also participate in STEM events at local high schools.”
Adam J. Dixon works in traffic engineering at VDOT
Adam J. Dixon is an electrical systems engineer in the traffic engineering division of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT, Richmond, VA). VDOT is responsible for building, maintaining and operating the state’s roads, bridges and tunnels.
His responsibilities include updating road and bridge specifications and standards for all electrical items, assisting with the research and creation of specifications for items on the pre-approved products list, and assisting in the management of various studies and pilot projects of products for statewide use.
Dixon is a 2010 graduate of the Virginia State University (Petersburg, VA) and holds a BS in electrical and electronics engineering technology. He’s on track to get an MBA in information security management from Saint Leo University (FL) in 2015.
A desire to enter a profession where demand is high and growth is likely drew Dixon to electrical engineering. “I have family in the profession and learning what they do every day was interesting,” he notes.
He started in VDOT’s pipeline or core development program, which hires recent grads and develops them in essential areas based on business need. “I was lucky enough to find the posting on the state job website,” he says.
When looking for a job in electrical engineering, apply constantly and network, urges Dixon. “I frequently searched online and attended several career fairs in my area. I also connected with anyone I believed could help with my career search. Joining an organization that relates to your major or even getting an internship could give you the upper hand over the next interviewee. Be sure to start applying for jobs at the beginning of your senior year.”
Dixon finds the research associated with his job challenging yet interesting. “With technology changing every day and manufacturers wanting us to use their products, as well as contractors wanting to use these new products, it is our job to research and understand the application of a particular item,” he explains. “We want to use the latest and greatest products but we must also ensure they are safe for the public, which is why we must look at all the details before approving and writing a specification for these technologies.”
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