Real World Engineering: Experiencing Life as an Engineer
Three times a year, students in the College of Engineering are presented with the opportunity to discover what it is really like to be an engineer: what is an engineer's average day like? How does working for a start-up differ from working for a large corporation? And how does engineering have an impact on the general public?
The two-day Real World Engineering (RWE) program allows undergraduates to answer these questions for themselves. Each semester, RWE occurs during student breaks in one of three locations: Pittsburgh (mid-semester break), Washington, D.C. (spring break) and Silicon Valley (summer break). The fully-funded event leverages the College of Engineering's network of industry professionals and alumni, and uses it to give students an edge: practical experience.
"The RWE program provides a unique experience for engineering students to learn about the diverse professional opportunities for engineers in industry and government and to connect them with alumni working in a variety of engineering fields," says Annette Jacobson, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the College of Engineering.
For the Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. events, students are paired with a mentor based on their career interests. The first evening kicks off with a networking reception where the undergraduates meet their mentor and mingle with alumni, corporate representatives and other respected engineers and individuals from the community. Students discover how informal experiences can be important networking opportunities.
"I greatly benefited from the nighttime networking event, which was a great chance to meet real engineers and discuss their roles and day-to-day responsibilities," said recent mechanical engineering alumnus Steven Pepin. "The RWE program is a valuable resource for young students who are looking for connections."
On the second day of the Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. events, students shadow their mentor, and participate in a site visit.
"I got to sit in on meetings between Commissioner Magwood and leaders in nuclear policy from different nations and NGOs across the globe," said Alex Frankel, a chemical engineering junior whose mentor continues to provide her support and advice. "I also attended a discussion of U.S. nuclear waste storage with an assortment of major U.S. nuclear policymakers from the Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other governmental organizations. Finally, after an already full day, I actually visited the NRC offices, and I got to speak with all of Commissioner Magwood's staff, from his chief of staff to his various legal and technical assistants. It was an amazing experience."
RWE concludes with a departure lunch, including a distinguished speaker who discusses everyday life as an engineer and shares the story of his or her own career, both professionally and personally.
Unlike the Pittsburgh and D.C. programs, RWE: Silicon Valley is designed for first-years. Instead of being paired with a mentor, students engage in an industry tour and check out a variety of companies in the two-day period. Not only does this help first-years jump-start planning their careers, but it allows them to consider where they may like to intern so they can achieve their goals.
Holding the events in different cities exposes participants to what each area has to offer, with D.C. holding a particular significance.
"Engineering students should understand policymaking and funding. It helps them understand the whole ecosystem of the field they plan to spend their entire life in, and how their work will contribute to sound public policy," says Sharon Grant, Senior Director of External Relations, who stresses how important engineering is to decisions made on Capitol Hill.
Alumni also benefit from RWE. They find mentoring rewarding because it allows them to contribute to the student experience while also meeting potential employees or interns.
Applications for RWE: Washington, D.C. are due Monday, January 20, 2014 by 9 a.m. Learn more about the program and apply.
"Some things in life you can only understand through experience," said Erik Pintar, a junior in Electrical and Computer Engineering. "Real World Engineering gave me an opportunity to experience walking in the shoes of someone in the workforce, and with just enough time to figure out whether I liked wearing these shoes or not. It is far more than a brochure or interview can give you and, as such, was immensely valuable."
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