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Industry engagement efforts pay dividends for student career opportunities and the curriculum

Career Exploration night

Students early in their college experience speak with professionals to explore career paths. At the 2014 Career Exploration event, one industry guest attended for every five students. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU.


It’s the dreaded question that weighs on every college senior: “What next?” Graduation initiates a new phase in a person’s life, complete with a new set of responsibilities and concerns.

Fortunately for students at the Fulton Schools of Engineering, the transition might be a lot smoother thanks to the expanse of opportunities available to work, learn and grow their skill sets through industry interaction. By working with industry in the Valley and around the world, the Fulton Schools provide students with a variety of ways to make connections within businesses and ultimately aid them in finding a career path.

Exploring careers

Avenues to connect are laid early, just a few weeks into a student’s first semester in the Fulton Schools. As part of the first-year student success course and transfer student success course, Career Exploration Night brings engineering and technical professionals to campus to meet with students.

More than 300 professionals from every facet of industry — from aerospace and manufacturing to construction and aviation, industrial and civil engineering as well as biomedical and environmental and resource management — are brought together for students to talk to and learn about their professions.

“Freshmen are given the opportunity to meet with industry members and find what inspires them as an engineer, and hopefully in turn, be inspired as well,” said Robin Hammond, director of the Fulton Schools Career Center.

Career Fairs

The Career Center hosts multiple career fairs throughout the year and holds the record for the single largest career event attendance at ASU. A significant accomplishment, considering there are university- wide events, notes Hammond. The careers fairs have grown so much they will become three-day events starting in fall 2015.

Beyond simply facilitating career fairs, the Fulton Schools Career Center partners with industry to provide both preparation and follow-up.

“For four weeks leading up to a career fair, every Friday we sponsor a prep day,” said Hammond. “We bring in industry members to help students with rapid résumé critiques.”

Students are coached to treat every interaction as a potential face-to- face interview and not simply an exchange of information.

Behind the scenes, the Career Center facilitates interview days the week following a career fair. Previously, more than 55 rooms across campus were dedicated to interviews, totaling up to around 600 interviews in October alone.

“It’s important to us that when companies make the decision to come to a career fair, we want to give them the opportunity to immediately interview students,” said Hammond.

Partnering on research

Another way students are able to interact with industry is by letting their work speak for itself at events like the Innovation Showcase, hosted by the Polytechnic School at the end of each semester. More than 160 projects were exhibited in 2014. These projects tackled issues in biomedicine, crop storage and aeronautics.

“It’s important to facilitate industry-student interactions. Employers see that our students are capable of taking on these projects and that often translates to job opportunities,” said Ann McKenna, director of the Polytechnic School. “Industry partners often get to experience the work of our best students.”

According to Brandon Bowsworth, a manufacturing engineering technology major who worked on a Mayo Clinic Telemedicine eProject, being involved with industry projects helps students see their work come to life and hopefully get implemented.

“Our goal was to create a proof-of-concept device that allows technical professionals to capture exterior images of a patient’s eye and transfer them to a specialist for diagnosis,” said Bowsworth. “We saw this technology being used in situations like cruise ships, places where there are large numbers of people and where accessing an eye doctor could be challenging.”

According to Lindsay Clark, senior analyst and program manager for Mayo Clinic, what the students developed was “beyond words,” in that it was developed “in time, on scope and in budget,” with consideration for both patient and care team.

“It was good to have the extra energy and creativity the students brought from the outside,” said Clark.

Connecting employers to talent is perhaps the most obvious form of industry interaction with an academic institution, but it’s only one way that the Fulton Schools interface with industry. In addition, industry is engaged on both philanthropic and research fronts.

At Global Outreach and Extended Education in the Fulton Schools, director Jeff Goss is focused on ensuring that the partnership with industry is a two-way conversation, with set goals and outcomes that both Fulton Schools and corporate partners have stakes in.

“We will do quarterly reporting with both the ASU and industry leadership. All stakeholders can track progress on the goals and outcomes,” said Goss. “We maintain an ongoing dialogue to understand partner needs and work toward continuous improvement.”

Regarding research partnerships, Goss stresses that GOEE takes a strategic, measured approach so both sides of consortia understand the big picture and are more directed in how they collaborate.

“Everything we do is linked to a higher level goal within the school,” said Goss. “We are approaching 17,000 engineering students, so it’s our job to make sure we’re providing them the best, most relevant and highest quality program experience possible.”

Collaborating on curriculum

Close, collaborative partnering with industry ensures that curricula within Fulton Schools are up-to-date and prepare students for the constantly shifting workforce.

For instance, the rapidly changing, kinetic environment that is the medical industry means Marco Santello, director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, has a responsibility to maintain industry relationships and build new ones to best prepare students entering the field.

In addition to their partnerships with companies such as National Instruments, Bard Medical, Medtronic and Gore Medical, Santello’s school has close relationships with physicians.

“It’s really important for our students to not only be engineers but to understand medical needs,” said Santello. “There’s nothing better than actually shadowing a physician. The technical details are important, but understanding what the patient needs is even more important.”

Serving a patient’s needs is not easily taught in the classroom, which is why students have the opportunity to intern at a variety of locations across the Valley, including the Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute, Banner Health and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

At the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, director Edd Gibson finds a similar benefit to working with the nearly 100 companies that are involved with construction and environmental engineering programs in his school.

“What it does is ground us in what’s happening in the industry,” said Gibson. “It leads us to take action and improve programs based on the observations from our interns and from interaction with the companies. You can tweak your curriculum based on the feedback you get from our students and what happens in our programs.”

Bechtel Corporation has been a longtime supporter of the Del E. Webb School of Construction (DEWSC), providing scholarships and support for interns within the program for more than 20 years. Two years ago, Bechtel sponsored DEWSC’s first Vesting Ceremony.

“As a graduate of the program, it is great to come to campus and see the enthusiasm and potential in the students. It is amazing to see how the program has evolved and also to see the increase in the number of women in the program since I was a student,” said Susan McCullough, global manager of compensation and benefits at Bechtel who graduated from the school in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in construction.

Co-ops and experiential learning

Beyond improving research and curricula within the Fulton Schools, ties with industry also reaps rewarding experience for students outside the classroom.

The Career Center recently established a co-op program. Students work six to seven consecutive months of full-time degree-related employment gaining valuable industry experience. Co-op students maintain their ASU status by enrolling in a single credit co-op course, staying on track to graduate in four to five years.

Different in scope and responsibility than an internship, Hammond described them as an “additional mechanism in experiential learning,” and something she was committed to bringing to the Fulton Schools.

The School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy has taken advantage of this new opportunity and established a co-op program with Orbital Sciences that began this fall semester. While small, it’s another dimension that Kyle Squires, vice dean, believes adds to the robust programs that make the Fulton Schools attractive.

“These industry engagements are vital if we’re going to have a top-shelf engineering program,” said Squires. “We’re really lucky to be in the Valley, where we have a lot of really diverse industry and connections all the way from small sized companies to big ones.”

Fulton Schools students on the cusp of graduation might still find themselves wondering “what’s next,” but thanks to the wide range of opportunities to interact and work with industry, they won’t be short of options.

About The Author

Erik Wirtanen

Erik Wirtanen graduated from Arizona State in 2001 with a BS in Recreation Management and Tourism. He got his start in the communications field as an undergrad with the ASU Athletics Media Relations office. He worked at UC Irvine from 2002 until 2014 in the Department of Athletics and then The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. In August of 2014, Wirtanen joined the communications office at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Media Contact: [email protected] | 480-727-1957 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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