Networking gives materials science and engineering students the advantage
Above: Materials science and engineering students networked with faculty and industry representatives on the first, student-led Industry Night, organized by student organization Material Advantage. Pictured: GKN Aerospace Commercial/Supply Chain Director David Holtom talks to students about his experience as a materials science graduate from the University of Cambridge. Photographer: Monique Clement/ASU
Everything in engineering is made up of materials at some level, and finding the right material for the job can be a challenge. Materials science and engineering students at Arizona State University learned that cellulose pulp fibers — paper, in the form of a résumé — are not the most effective tool for starting their careers, it’s actually something intangible: human connections.
Making those connections was the main goal for Industry Night, an entirely student-organized networking event for materials science and engineering students, faculty and industry professionals. The event was the brainchild of Hassan Almousa, a materials science and engineering senior who is passionate about materials and how they can change the world.
As president of the ASU chapter of the Material Advantage national society, Almousa makes connections with future engineers of all ages at outreach events to get them interested in the subject and helps his fellow ASU students take advantage of competitions, research and conferences to build their skills for future materials careers.
Material Advantage is an important group for materials science and engineering majors, who represent only 1 percent of the more than 21,000 students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Representing an uncommon major, students find that recruiters at career fairs don’t always know the skill set material engineers offer, which makes it difficult to place them in the wide world of engineering careers and companies.
Almousa feels very fortunate to have a job lined up back home at Saudi Aramco upon graduation this spring, and he wants to help his fellow students secure jobs as well. So Almousa set out to bridge the gap between ASU materials science and engineering students, their studies and industry jobs was by bringing students, faculty and industry together in one place.
At Industry Night on April 10, juniors and seniors traded tips and tricks for what was next in their major and final projects. Faculty listened to student feedback and learned what industry looks for in materials engineers. And industry representatives shared knowledge to better prepare students to begin their careers.
Some industry representatives were materials science and engineering majors themselves and sought to give students hope for their futures.
Teresa Clement, an ASU materials science and engineering alumna and a senior principal systems engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems, encouraged students to keep their options open when looking to start their careers. She almost declined a position at Raytheon because it was offered as a mechanical engineering position. It turned out that Raytheon calls their materials engineers mechanical engineers. Now she helps solve myriad materials challenges at a company she considers part of her life, not just a place where she works or a job she does.
David Holtom, commercial/supply chain director at GKN Aerospace, was in the same position as many of the students in attendance about 20 years ago as a material science and metallurgy major at the University of Cambridge. He shared the perspective he’s gained in the time since.
“You have that background in materials science that may put you in the best place to solve many industry problems,” Holtom said. “A lot of it is about problem solving … about fixing what’s going wrong in the company at this time.”
How do students get these jobs solving material challenges? After developing their technical skills, they must work on their soft skills and put themselves out there to make human connections.
Double ASU alumna Sarah McPherson, who earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in materials science and engineering, said in order to stand out among all the applicants that cross a manager’s desk, you must make a connection that sets you apart from everyone else.
“Make that personal connection with someone where they recognize you and say ‘I remember this person’ because of an interest or another thing that they can pick out from a crowd,” said McPherson, a senior materials engineer at Intel Corporation.
Making personal connections can be part of students’ daily lives, as it happened with John Baik, a software developer at CueSquared. At a coffee shop one day, Baik saw a man coding on a laptop and offered to buy him a cup of coffee. They chatted only about their interests and nothing about work during that first visit. As they continued to meet up for coffee and lunch and became friends, it turned out his new friend was the chief technology officer of CueSquared who ended up hiring him for a job.
“That bond really helps us get a foot into industry more than spending a lot of time sending résumés,” Baik said.
Junior Pranvera Gorenca welcomed Industry Night as an opportunity to network and learn about the different opportunities she has available to her.
“I got to ask a lot of questions that I need to know to prepare me for my future,” Gorenca said. “I talked to senior students about their experience, how they got internships and especially about their capstone projects, and I was able to get an opinion from people in industry on graduate school.”
Clement, who traveled from Tucson to be part of Industry Night, said she likes to come back to ASU to meet the students and give advice about the professional world of materials science.
“I wish I had known someone like me already in industry so I could have gotten that inside information,” Clement said.
President’s Professor James Adams, the materials science and engineering undergraduate program chair, was impressed to see Fulton Schools graduates, like Clement, at the event.
“It’s great to see some of our alumni come back and be very supportive of our programs. They’re a great example of what students can do with their careers,” Adams said.
Even Faculty Associate James Hartman, a former Honeywell employee, found the event useful and hoped to use feedback from the industry representatives in his classes.
“It’s interesting to hear the student perspective,” Hartman said. “You hear the perspective in the classroom, but when you get into more of a network situation, things open up and you have some better communications and learn more about where they’re headed.”
Almousa was pleased with how the event turned out.
“I received a lot of positive feedback and the club advisors want to promote this type of event in the years to come and help it grow,” Almousa said. “We even had a new judge at the Materials Bowl [on April 23] that was one of our guest speakers.”
Who knows, maybe one of those personal connections made at Industry Night will lead to even more rewarding opportunities down the road for additional students, faculty and industry members.