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UGA alumni guide engineering students into careers

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

A college degree doesn't guarantee a job. It may take months for graduating students to find employment, unless they're willing to take a harder course load, invest time in internships and talk themselves up at career fairs.

This is true even of fields such as engineering. Companies look for graduates who can slide easily into the work force.

The University of Georgia Faculty of Engineering recently hosted companies represented mostly by UGA engineering alumni. Several had tips on how students can stand out from other job applicants.

"Obviously, they're technically capable," Jim Tiller said of UGA engineering students. "We're looking for people who can fit in well in a professional environment, who dress nice for work, who have professional etiquette, who are creative people."

Several of the companies at the Nov. 8 career fair offer internships. Tiller was an intern for CertainTeed Insulation before they hired him as an electrical-mechanical project engineer after graduation from UGA in 2004. He pointed out why internships are so important.

"You get a good idea if engineering is right for you. You find out what aspects of engineering you want to pursue," he said.

"Obviously, you earn money while you're in school," he said. "The pay is much better than delivering pizza. And you gain experience. If you don't get any experience, you haven't learned a lot of the little things you need to develop into a professional."

Internships enable companies to screen future employees. "It gives us the opportunity to check people out," said Bobbi Carter, who works under the ecology branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Athens. She graduated from UGA several years ago with a degree in forestry.

The EPA has a specific federal career intern program specifically for students within nine months of graduation. "It gives students loads of experience," Carter said. "We have a lot of hiring successes because of the program."

"Our company, when they hire, looks for engineers," said Brandon Marlow, a manufacturing engineer for Rockwell Automation. "It doesn't matter what career -- everybody knows how to do everybody else's job."

Companies are hiring more engineers because the U.S. industry has seen an economic upturn, said Marlow, who graduated from UGA in 2000.

"There's an increased demand for engineers, period," said Cary Nagler of B.P. Barber & Associates Inc.

But getting hired isn't a cake-walk.

"The business environment is so different" than it was a few years ago, said Casey Adams, an engineer with Eaton who graduated from UGA in 2002. "You have to have stuff outside of that degree, a higher level of degree, maybe an MBA, to take yourself to the next level. It's so competitive out there."

Companies are looking increasingly at the UGA engineering program, said Tim Foutz, a professor and undergraduate engineering program coordinator in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Our degrees (in biological and agricultural engineering) are designed to provide a basic engineering education, to instill engineering as a way of thinking," Foutz said. "That's why we have so many students employed, because they have such a broad perspective."

A few years ago, he said, a Macon company discovered UGA's engineering program. "Now they hire nothing but our students, because they've got enough of a background, a fundamental education," he said. "Our guys can maneuver from project to project."

At UGA, engineering students get balanced experience across several engineering fields. That gives them a versatility that's increasingly rare in engineering.

"According to national data, engineering and technical jobs are increasing at five times the rate of any other work force," Foutz said. "A lot of current engineers are reaching retirement age. Plus, the United States imports 12-15 percent of its engineers, and Georgia is at the lead of that trend. The demand for engineers is there."

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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