They say college is the best four (or more) years of your life. There is no denying that living with friends, going out as you please and student discounts make for an unforgettable experience. At the same time, it can be a wakeup call for many young adults when confronted with making their own decisions and choices about career paths. The transition out of college and into the real world is one of the biggest challenges for an upcoming graduate, especially in a struggling economy.
In this column, we'll get to know recent college graduates now in the controls and automation industry who took advantage of career preparation workshops, online employment sites and networking events to make connections with automation professionals that eventually gave them the stepping stones to securing their first jobs.
In future columns, this group and others will tell us how they're doing and we'll learn about the challenges that confront them in their jobs.
Tom Pasterik, manager of applications engineering for 3D printer builder ExOne in North Huntingdon, Pa., considers himself to be one of the luckier young professionals to graduate college, having a job already lined up. Prior to graduating in 2010 from the Art Institute of Pittsburg (AIP) with a B.S. in industrial design, he secured his first position at ExOne as an industrial designer through a reference from one of his college professors. He was first introduced to ExOne during a tour organized by AIP his freshman year.
Pasterik teaches a class every other quarter at AIP that focuses on subjects such as additive manufacturing to help better prepare students choosing career paths in industrial design. He believes he was promoted to his current position because of his growing experience and involvement in the education program.
Sam Strickling, academic broad-based research marketing manager for National Instruments (NI), chose a different approach for his career path. He graduated in December 2010 from Baylor University (BU) with a B.S. in mechanical engineering, and minors in mathematics and business entrepreneurship. 2010 was a difficult job market, which made it critical for him to get his name out there in order to get a call back from a potential employer, he says.
BU created a separate career fair for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students in 2008 in response to a lack of company representatives looking to hire engineering students at the all-majors career fairs. There, Strickling met a BU alum who was working for NI, and that led him to getting hired as an applications engineer.
Strickling says having a mix of education in engineering and business was an advantage in getting his current position. After starting at NI, he discovered different opportunities that were available with his degree, and chose to work in a different area after completing his sales training.
"At NI, applications engineers usually change and develop their roles after the first few years — it's a training ground where you can explore other roles within the company based on your interests, skill sets and career goals," Strickling says. "I knew I wanted this role and actually waited for it to open because I really enjoyed multiple-disciplinary engineering. I found myself gravitating toward how I can use my mechanical knowledge to learn LabView or computer science, electrical engineering concepts, vision and a bunch of other things. I knew I didn't want to specialize in one specific product or one specific product application, so this gave me the ability to do a little bit of everything."
He also used AfterCollege, a networking site similar to LinkedIn that helps students find their first jobs and/or internships after college. Since BU is a partner of AfterCollege, Stickling was able to use the site to stay connected to peers in his field and see what steps they were taking to find jobs. He received additional help in career preparation by attending resume and interview workshops.
Networking played a significant role in Bill Purcell's job hunt as well. A mechanical engineering supervisor for display and scoring products provider Nevco in Greenville, Ill., Purcell graduated in May 2008 from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) with a B.S. in mechanical engineering.
Prior to graduating, he secured a position as a mechanical engineer with engineer and land surveyor consulting firm McDonough-Whitlow (MW) in Taylor Springs, Ill., through help from a friend who knew the owner of the company. He worked at MW while attending SIUE for the master's degree he received in 2011.