Hands-on Experience at Companies Throughout the State
If system engineering majors at the University of New Haven spent the summer at the beach, they would figure out the most efficient way to build a sand castle there.
But summer at the beach is not an option for them. All of them are spending their break not working on their tans but learning about computer languages, project management and engineering design.
They not only are thrilled about working over their break but they are also gaining valuable hands-on experience and getting paid as well as part of an intensive internship program which places the students with some of the top manufacturing companies in Connecticut.
“I’ve learned a lot at UNH and it has helped me to prepare for this internship,” he says. “Some classes I didn’t think would be relevant have helped me out a lot and some classes that I thought would be very helpful have only come into play a few times.”
The core of the UNH system engineering program emphasizes hands-on experience, notes Amy Thompson, assistant professor and coordinator of the program. “Every junior and senior system engineering student has a paid internship this summer earning between $17 and $24 an hour,” she says.
“Many of these students are on their second internship. Their experience will make them very attractive as permanent hires and it has certainly given them a taste for what it really means to be a system engineer.”
The internships will help position the students for high-paying jobs in a field CNN Money Magazine reported in 2009 is "the number one job in America." The report said the 10-year job growth for system engineers would be an astounding 45 percent.
The UNH system engineering program, begun in 2008, has been designed with input from companies in the aerospace, defense and manufacturing industries to help students learn to design, build, and manage systems for what is called product lifecycle considerations. That means they have to consider how the system develops over time, and how its environment can change over time, and then design accordingly.
System engineers must consider manufacturing, assembly, supply chain, logistics, transportation, usability, reliability, maintainability and environmental impacts in their designs, and balance these considerations early in the design process so that the systems are customer friendly.
“If you’re using a product that fits into a complex system (think of your phone and how you, and it, interact with the provider, its supply chain, service providers, and telecommunications networks) then you hope engineering design teams include system engineers who understand these complex and dynamic systems, so that you get better engineered products.” says Thompson.
Having students intern is a commitment for the company they are working at, says Theodora Saunders, manager, system engineering at Sikorsky, who is also an adjunct professor of industrial and system engineering at UNH.
“U.S economic stability and competiveness depends on the availability of a capable engineering workforce, providing us with a competitive advantage as a nation, she says. “Having a pipeline of qualified engineers is critical to support Sikorsky’s vision of being the best Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft developer and integrator to satisfy its global military and commercial customers.”
He is also working on a project to analyze capacity and cost to determine whether one or more machines are needed in the model department. Formerly an intern at Colt Defense, Nunez says the internships will help him land a good job after graduation.
“I wanted this internship because I don't like to sit at a desk all day. Manufacturing allows you to be out on the floor working with parts and people. I also have a big interest in aviation,” she says.
Durgan, who is the president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers UNH Student Chapter, is thrilled to be working at GE, a global company with five different businesses and a multitude of opportunities, she says.
“One of the most important things you learn when you start working, especially in manufacturing, is how to communicate with a lot of different people. Another really important thing you learn is how to figure problems out on your own, using the tools you learned in your classes, knowing who to contact to get help, and teaching yourself how to do things the best way. You also learn how to be professional,” she says.
She says the work place is a lot friendlier than she expected. “I have become good friends with a lot of different people here and they are all very helpful. I have found that you have to be self- driven; no one is going to baby you and walk you through every step of your job. If you get bored or stuck, you have to make things happen. When I started I guess I expected to get my hand held a lot more than it did,” she says.
As an example, Durgan says she now works extensively with Excel Visual Basic writing code.
“I had learned the very basics in a UNH class and when I got to GE they asked if I knew how to use Excel. I said yes, so I got a project with Excel. The project went way beyond what I knew about Excel, but I used the basic knowledge that I had and some help from a co-worker to teach myself how to write code in Excel VBA. Now I am an expert and everyone comes to me for help.”
Learning the program wasn’t exactly like spending the summer at the beach but it was fun, she adds.