STEM – Majors for Everyone

By: Kirsi (STEM student majoring in Computer Science & Electrical Engineering)

stem-majors-for-everyone

Photo source: Unsplash | Johan Mouchet

Do you….
a) enjoy teleworking in your pajamas?
b) like to work after hours, letting a project eat your life?
c) strive for a work-life balance lifestyle?
d) just want a vanilla 40-hour work week?

If you answered any yes to any of the above, the world of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) careers are for you! STEM is uniquely comprised of careers for every person with every desired lifestyle. If you are still pondering degree options or have been destined to go STEM since your toddler days of LEGO construction I will expand on the often overlooked advantages of getting a STEM major. Working environments, networking communities and possible projects of STEM majors will be explored.

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Google Garage workspace, picture by Business Insider

Working Environments
Stereotypes of interns coding in bean bag chair, taking breaks in sleep pods and grabbing a complementary snack at a company cafe are real incentives that industry offers STEM interns and professionals. Mainstreamed by “The Internship” movie, Google has a famously appealing workplace. One of the Google locations has a “Google Garage” where all the equipment is on wheels making collaboration, hacking, and brainstorming easier.  “I’ve always described Google as a kind of mix between kindergarten and a classy law firm,” describes Alex Cuthbert of Google while reflecting on workspace design. Another company with a surprisingly innovate workspace is Capital OneIntern alum from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur shared, “The work culture in Bangalore office is very open. People decide their own work hours in accordance with their teams. There is also the option of working ­from­ home.” If an open floor plan hinders productivity and frightens your inner introvert, traditional cubical workspaces do exist and often exist as alternatives in the Googles of the world. NASA has adopted start up like collaboration spaces with walls of whiteboards, media stations to share presentations and various comfy chairs. When you choose a career in STEM there are working environments for those who like to work in a team, solo, in a start-up studio setting or telework in a hermit’s shed in the forest. You can discover your ideal work environment by taking our career assessments.

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IEEE students from Penn State teach students about robotic function,
picture by Penn State University

STEM Communities
The hashtags are everywhere: #CSforAll, #WomenIn(insert STEM discipline here), #(insert ethnicity/ identity here)InSTEM, #ProfessionalEngineers, #IEEE, and #ILookLikeAnEngineer. The growing diversity in STEM has created support groups for everyone to network. Often these communities are online groups or host weekly/ monthly in-person meetings featuring presentations from group members about their work in STEM, talks from tenured professionals in industry, tours of various parts of the workplace or other STEM companies. A Professional Engineers group at NASA Johnson hosted a suite of presentations by employees about their favorite project. A fellow NASA Co-Op talked about her work with Curiosity Rover’s martian surface sampling drill arm. Having a community, a network or mentor can assist in navigating the workplace, be a source of new ideas and connect with those necessary to complete multidisciplinary projects. There are a number of STEM communities at UMD too such as; Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Biology Club, Institute for Electric and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), Tau Beta Pi (an engineering honor society), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and dozens more found on UMD’s Bulldog Link. Some of these communities continue past college as company, city, state-wide and national chapters!

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Interns build Mars terrain navigating robots, picture by NASA Ames

Meaningful Projects
What you work on in STEM has impact on society and often humanity’s advancement, leaving a sense of fulfillment every day after work. In private industry, you compete against other companies to create what society wants or needs most efficiently. Similarly, in government and non-profit sectors, you do you best to research and innovate for all mankind with the future of humanity in mind. Even as an early career STEM professional, including intern or Co-Op, you will likely be contributing to meaningful work. Microsoft Intern Arush Shankar described his contribution, “Work quickly became challenging yet rewarding. I was making a lot of design decisions on my own as my team began to trust me with more work… I was treated more as just another full-time employee on the team. Squashing bugs, checking in new code, and iterating.” Maria Carrasquilla, NASA Johnson Space Center Intern and engineering undergraduate was tasked with modeling effects of Micrometeoroids on space habitats and crafts. Her mentor, Dr. Eric Christiansen, expanded on the importance of the task, “We really appreciate how Maria quickly learned to run hydro-code simulations and provide meaningful results on the effects of non-spherical hyper-velocity impacts on spacecraft shields.” Dr. Eric Christiansen is the NASA lead of the Hyper-velocity Impact Technology group. The higher demand for STEM professionals, the higher the likelihood an early career professional will be trusted with game-changing tasks.

Maybe you are filled with doubt which is keeping you from pursuing a STEM career; “I’m not a math person,” “I don’t want to burn out” and “Those guys aren’t going to hire me.” Again, STEM is uniquely comprised of careers for every person with every desired lifestyle. There are flexible working environments, caring STEM communities and a future of meaningful projects that will propel you through the challenges. Give STEM a chance, regret often comes from a chance you didn’t take.

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Kirsi’s other posts

What’s a Co-Op & How Do I Get One?

By: Kirsi

Co-Op: Short for Cooperative Opportunity. An internship is a one semester arrangement to work with an organization. A Co-Op is a multi-semester arrangement to work at an organization often leading to full-time employment upon successful completion. Both opportunities allow students to complete meaningful work, learn more skills related to their major and help push the organization forward.

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Diagram of the similarities and differences of an internship and Co-Op.

What Is A Co-Op?

No matter if you get an internship or a Co-Op you will know that you are doing meaningful work that pushes the organizations efforts forward while expanding your knowledge in your major. The biggest way a Co-Op, differs from an internship is the agreement you make with the organization to work several semesters and the huge commitment the organization is making for you. Co-Ops are available for a number of majors.

I Co-Op with NASA’s Johnson Space Center so I am a little biased when it comes to this Co-Op topic. At NASA Johnson, they expect students to complete three work tours which, at minimum, include one long semester and two summers before your last year at college. You can stack on as many work tours as you and your organization are comfortable with – causing your four year graduation plan to be extended. A Co-Op is typically an organization’s pipeline for hiring early career candidates. Your Co-Op experience is like a multi-semester interview where the organization gets to know you and you get to know the organization. Since you are expected to have more than one work tour your projects may be related, leading to a long-term project. Often, Co-Ops are treated like full-timers with health, life, travel, sick leave, annual leave and retirement benefits… well, your hourly pay will be lower than full-timers because you haven’t graduated yet.

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Screen shot of a Co-Op experience on a UMD transcript.

I’m going to expand more on the “extending graduation” aspect because that sounds kinda spooky to us folks who are avoiding debt and eager to get out of school. Your engineering department (or whatever department) likely offers a credit for Co-Ops if you work during a fall or spring semester. This holds your place here at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), you can maintain full-time student status (12 credits) thus maintaining financial aid and letting you check that box on the FAFSA. It shows up on your transcript as one credit, like the image above, but shows up at 12 credits for all the Financial Aid Staff. Other colleges may handle your absence due to the Co-Op differently than UMD. Personally, I make money at NASA and spend it on UMD the next semester which prevents me from gaining debt. I flip flop between semesters at UMD and NASA. For example I was in Texas Fall 2015, at UMD in Spring 2016, in Texas this Summer 2016, and now at UMD.

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Working on a fluid system for a Co-Op project at NASA Johnson.

How Do I Get One?

So a Co-Op gig sounds pretty sweet huh? Well, excellent ways to score a Co-Op include attending UMD-hosted job and internship fairs and other career fairs hosted by the University of Minnesota. Before the fair do your research on GoldPASS so you know who is going to be there and who to ask about Co-Op opportunities. Some companies only hire upperclassmen Co-Ops but I have seen exceptions in the past for folks with outstanding experience in high school or early college, so I think it is still worth asking and sharing your resume. When you talk with an employer offering Co-Ops at a job fair it would be wise to ask:

  • How does your Co-Op program differ from your internship program?
  • What is the typical journey of a Co-Op?
  • What projects to Co-Ops work on?
  • How can I apply for your Co-Op program, any tips?”

If you want to pursue a company not attending a U of MN system fair do research on LinkedIn, GoldPASS or that perspective company’s website. On the LinkedIn networking site if you simply search “Co-Op,” up will pop pages and pages of Co-Ops! Government Co-Ops have a very specific method of applying on USA Jobs and if you need help with that I have written previous blog posts specifically on that topic. If you want to pursue a company not attending a U of MN system fair and you want to connect with them in person tech conferences and hackathons. Your department may even fund you if you ask nicely.

Get out and get yourself a Co-Op!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo & graphic by Kirsi.

Book Review – Career Opportunities in Engineering

By: Cameron

In this post I will be reviewing the book Career Opportunities in Engineering: A Guide to Careers in Engineering, by Richard A. McDavid and Susan Echaore-McDavid. This book is an extremely helpful resource for anybody thinking about engineering or already going to school for engineering. The book is very comprehensive and outlines a wide variety of information on many engineering disciplines. The first half of the book focuses on the major disciplines, which are aerospace, agricultural and biological, biomedical, civil, chemical, electrical and electronics, environmental, industrial, materials, and mechanical. The second half of the book talks about more uncommon engineering disciplines, engineering specialties, and alternative non-engineering careers that most engineers are qualified for. Each engineering discipline summarizes everything from duties and positions to salary and job prospects.

For the remainder of this post I will be summarizing the section in the book about Mechanical Engineering, since that is my current area of study. Hopefully this will give you a better picture of how the book is structured.

Mechanical Engineer

Duties: Mechanical Engineers research, develop, design and produce machines, engines, and other mechanical devices. There is a very broad spectrum of duties a Mechanical Engineer may be tasked with.

Alternate Title(s): Different titles within mechanical engineering usually reflect specialty (such as Robotics Engineer) or a function (such as Project Engineer or Consultant).

Salary: Mechanical Engineers are making between $44,000 to $100,000 according to the November 2004 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Here’s data about recent grads from our own Mechanical Engineering major at UMD.

Employment Prospects: Good

Advancement Prospects: Good

Prerequisites:

  • Education-Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with training on the job.
  • Experience-Typically previous work experience is required.
  • Special Skills and Personality Traits-Writing, communication, presentation, leadership, teamwork, interpersonal, analytical, and problem-solving skills; creative, detail-oriented, quick-witted, self-motivated, flexible, cooperative, reliable, and persistent.
  • Special Requirements-Professional engineer (PE) license is sometimes required (for consulting usually).

Career Ladder:

  1. Junior Mechanical Engineer
  2. Mechanical Engineer
  3. Senior Mechanical Engineer

The section continues to describe each of these categories, among others, in more detailed paragraphs. Mechanical engineering specifically is just a broad profession that the book covers. Within this same section the book provides the same information for more specific jobs within mechanical engineering such as automotive engineer, HVAC/R engineer, and robotics engineer.

In conclusion, I would describe this book as very useful and informative. For both students trying to declare a major and students graduating soon, this book is invaluable. The book clearly outlines a broad spectrum of professions within the engineering field. One of the nice things about the book is that it’s easy to skim, provides enough information that you can read in more detail if you would like. Overall I would definitely recommend looking into the book Career Opportunities in Engineering: A Guide to Careers in Engineering, by Richard A. McDavid and Susan Echaore-McDavid.

Read Cameron’s other posts

How to Break Down a Job/Internship Posting

By: Cameron

You have a great resume, great experience, and a great cover letter, so why aren’t you getting any interviews? You may be missing one key factor in the application process, which is customizing your resume to fit the specific job postings. Many people use generic resumes that list their main skills and ask to obtain vague positions such as “Internship in Marketing.” While using this generic resume is very convenient, it could be detrimental to your application.

Why should I adjust my resume to fit the job posting?

Most employers today use applicant tracking systems (ATS). An ATS scans resumes electronically in order find the most likely candidates. When your resume is being scanned the computer is looking for predetermined keywords and phrases. If you don’t have at least some of these keywords then your resume may be virtually invisible to the system, regardless of how good it is. For this reason alone it is essential that you adjust your resume to showcase your skills that match the job posting.

How do I adjust my resume to fit the job posting?

First off, it’s important to make a clear distinction between the job description and the job requirements/qualifications. The job description gives a brief overview of what you’re responsibilities will be if you receive the position. The job qualifications are a list of the skills and experiences they want from you. You’ll want to make sure and adjust your resume according to the qualifications listed and not the job description.

Break down posting

How do I use the qualifications section to my advantage?

Once you have found the qualifications section, you can start searching for any potential “keywords” or phrases. These keywords are either transferable skills such as teamwork, leadership, and communication or they are skills specific to the profession such as software, coursework, and certifications. Below I have provided an example list of qualifications from a real job posting:

Qualifications:

  • College level engineering coursework; high school graduate
  • Technical capacity
  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem solving/analysis
  • Communication proficiency
  • Teamwork
  • Computer skills, including Microsoft Office and Access

This list is pretty straightforward as far as job postings go. Qualifications such as the college level engineering coursework and computer skills are low hanging fruit. You can easily add these skills to your resume by listing the courses and software if you haven’t already done so. The coursework is typically included in one line underneath the school in the Education section or in its own section. The computer skills and software are typically formatted the same as the coursework and often in a separate section.

As for the other skills, these are typically shown best through descriptive bullet points in your experience sections. Below I have come up with a few example bullet points that someone might use to incorporate these skills into his or her resume:

  • Provided maintenance for multiple assembly lines on shop floor. (Technical capacity)
  • Developed individual exercise programs for five clients. (Strategic thinking)
  • Developed strategy and test plan for designing and testing HVAC system. (Strategic thinking)
  • Resolved any customer complaints on a daily basis. (Problem solving)
  • Analyzed tensile test data for five material specimens to be used in a prototype. (Analysis)
  • Communicated design requirements and data between three team members, the project manager, and the manufacturing team on the shop floor. (Communication proficiency)
  • Collaborated with a team of three engineers to meet project requirements. (Teamwork)

Theses are, of course, just examples. On your actual resume you will want to be as specific as possible, and still be concise. The bold words in the bullet points are words that the ATS might pick up for this job posting so they would be good to include. This kind of strategy can also be used in cover letters.

So there you have it! Hopefully this post has sparked some good ideas for how you will tailor your resume to your next job application. It’s a general rule that if you meet at least 75% of the qualifications on a job posting, you should apply. So what are you waiting for?! You can stop by SCC 22 anytime we’re open (M-F 8-4:30) to have your resume reviewed by a Peer Educator. We also host Resume Drop-ins every Tuesday and Wednesday, 2-4pm, when classes are in session. Keep working hard on that application and good luck!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Cameron’s other posts

Top 5 Resume Topics for Mechanical Engineering Students

By: Cameron

Whether you have a lot of experience and can’t decide what to keep on your resume or you have no experience and can’t think of anything to put on your resume, the following blog post will outline five good categories to consider for mechanical engineering. These categories are chosen based off of my personal experience and opinion as a graduating mechanical engineering major.

SOFTWARE

Every mechanical engineering major should be familiar with some sort of design software before graduation. Some examples of this kind of software are SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Pro/ENGINEER, and Rhinoceros 3D. There are other common non-design software that engineering students use such as MathCAD, MatLab/Simulink, Mathematica, PSpice, and even Microsoft Excel. This software is typically found on the resume under the education section or in its own section as “Software” or “Computer Skills”.

PROJECTS

Projects are a good way to effectively show the employer that you have many skills such as teamwork, communication, time management, leadership, and hands on experience related to the field. A lot of schools have you participate in a senior design project before graduation. Next to internships and other engineering employment, having this senior design project is one of your most essential tools for building your resume. Smaller projects from your coursework can be useful, too. Even if it’s a project that you work on by yourself outside of school, it may be worth including it on your resume. These projects are typically found towards the top of the resume in their own section.

Resume Tips for ME Students

ORGANIZATIONS/CLUBS

Clubs are very similar to projects in the sense that they give you skills such as teamwork, communication, leadership, and hands-on experience. Some of the projects you list may even come from a club or organization. Some common engineering clubs that you could consider joining and listing would be American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Formula SAE (Building a go-kart/racecar), Rocketry Club, and the Clean Snowmobile Club. If you have only been a member of a club for a short time, then I would suggest listing it at the bottom of your resume in a section titled “Activities.” If you have been very involved in the club, then you might want to consider describing it more in your “Related Experience” section.

CERTIFICATIONS

Certifications are a quick and easy way to prove that you are adept at a certain area of study. A common certification would be the CSWA (Certified SolidWorks Associate) or CSWP (Certified SolidWorks Professional). Certifications may also be important exams you have passed, such as the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The FE exam is something that most graduating mechanical engineering students take their senior year. Other certifications may include any practical work you’ve done, such as being a certified welder. The certification section is typically seen directly below the education section on your resume.

METHODS/PROCESSES

There are many methods or processes out there that can make a huge contribution to your resume if you are familiar with them. For example, knowing Lean Six Sigma is very important for improving manufacturing processes and quality assurance. Other methods and processes include finite element analysis, non-destructive examination (NDE), and cost benefit analysis. All of these methods involve saving money. Saving and making money is the name of the game in engineering. The examples I’ve given are usually offered as upper division electives at schools with a four-year engineering program. Some good ways to show that you are familiar with some of these methods is by listing some of your coursework or listing them as bullet points within your experiences.

Hopefully these tips and suggestions have given you some good ideas about what to highlight on your resume. Always continue to get involved and improve your resume. Good luck!

Read Cameron’s other posts

Mechanical Engineering as a Major

By: Cameron (an ME major!)

Is your major undecided? If so, you may want to look into mechanical engineering. Generally, engineering is a path that requires your full attention for the entire four years of college. It is a major that is much easier to switch out of than into. It is also one of the broader majors available. For these reasons and more, mechanical engineering may be a good place to start when deciding on a major.  Within this blog post I will do my best to give you an overview of what mechanical engineering really is. I hope it helps you find a major by either solidifying or eliminating mechanical engineering as an option.

ME as a major

What is Mechanical Engineering?

The dictionary definition of engineering is, “The application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends.” This is just a fancy way of saying that engineering is improving or creating processes and products using math and science. Mechanical engineering is engineering of moving components, such as vehicles. Civil engineering deals with stationary components such as bridges and roads. Industrial engineering is the improvement in efficiency of processes. Other engineering majors include chemical, electrical, nuclear, and aerospace, which are all pretty self-explanatory.

What skills make a good mechanical engineer?

First and foremost, you should have an aptitude for math. Mechanical engineering is highly math based and also requires a basic knowledge of chemistry. I have heard people describe professional engineers as analytical, logical, creative, mathematical, and problem solvers. Another characteristic that is valuable in engineering is common sense. In order to be successful in this career path it is important to always be thinking about the problem and choose the solution that makes the most sense.

A misconception that I had freshman year was that you needed to know stuff about cars and motors in order to like mechanical engineering. This statement is false, although if you like cars then mechanical engineering would be a great fit for you. Several of my classmates and I know very little about these things and we still enjoy the major coursework.

What does the mechanical engineering major entail?

I am only half way through my junior year so I can’t talk about certain courses from personal experience, but I can tell you that mechanical engineering majors are required to participate in a senior design project during their last semester at UMD. This project brings the students together to build a real world product for a real world company. The senior students are supervised during this project by a professor who has a doctorate. Right now, I believe there are seniors working on a computer-operated machine that evaluates the quality of a product. They are building this machine for Graco, a successful engineering company in the Twin Cities. If this kind of experience excites you, then great! If this project sounds intimidating, don’t worry. Your previous required courses will prepare you with all the necessary skills to complete this project.

Related courses you would be required to take:

  • General Chemistry I; Introduction to Visual Basic (Basic Computer Programing); Calculus I, II, and III; Advanced Writing; Physics I and II; Introduction to Solid Modeling (Computer 3D Modeling); Engineering Mechanics; Differential Equations; Introduction to Material Science; Electrical Circuit Analysis; Material Processing; Statistics; CAD/CAM (Computer 3D Modeling); Machine Design; Controls and Kinematics; Dynamics; Thermodynamics; Fluid Mechanics

Among these major courses you are required to take additional electives. You are able to select these electives yourself, even if they are not related to the major. This will give you a chance to explore opportunities unrelated to engineering if you are still unsure about your major.

What are mechanical engineering majors doing with their degree?

Most undergraduates with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering eventually become certified as a Professional Mechanical Engineer. Graduates from UMD are specifically hired as design engineers, applications engineers, product development engineers, technicians, supervisors, process engineers, and sales engineers at companies such as 3M, Barr Engineering, Cargill, Cirrus Aircraft, and Graco. For more information related to post graduate activity visit the Career & Internship Services website and click on the graduate follow-up report to search by major.

Hopefully you were able to find something useful in this post, whether that be progress in you’re a major selection or just a better understanding of mechanical engineer majors. Keep exploring new opportunities and good luck on your chosen path!

Career Planning for Science Majors

Are you one of the many students on the UMD campus with a science major? Odds are, you are. Our campus offers a vast array of science majors ranging from Biology to Computer Science to Statistics to multiple Engineering majors. We’ve put together a few resources to help you through the career planning process. Included are: what you can do with your major, upcoming career fairs, and general job/intern/grad school search information.  Have fun working on your career plan!

Science Majors

Staffing Agencies – a great resource for finding a job. These agencies specialize in helping recent graduates in the sciences find jobs in their fields.

Career Fairs

Other helpful career planning articles

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