How important was the process of interning to Hubert Abiera (‘12 Mechanical Engineering)? It turned out to be critical. “Having a lot of exposure to industry made me successful,” he said. “Getting three internships helped me to figure out that not every engineer becomes a designer right out of college.”
As Abiera interned with TouchMark (biomedical devices), Gel-Pac and Plantronics, he not only honed his work skills, but also his strategy for choosing classes at SJSU. Although his initial career trajectory was not a straight line, he quickly became a designer with Intuitive Surgical, starting on the career path of his dreams.
The Charles Davidson College of Engineering trains students to be the right engineers at the right time, in the right place: Silicon Valley. Part of that training includes opportunities to intern with local companies, occasionally even for school credit.
Recent SJSU Career Center reports show that seniors participate heavily in career education and on-campus recruiting, but there’s far less engagement from sophomores and juniors. Yet, preparing for the college-to-work transition takes more than a semester. Students might be interested to learn that getting a paid internship or co-op nearly doubles your chances of having a job offer within six months after graduation, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Ideally, every Spartan would graduate with at least two internships or similar work-related experiences.
Catherine Voss Plaxton, director of the SJSU Career Center, wants students to understand the rich opportunities they have at the Career Center. “Our charter is to have every Spartan emerge career-ready and equipped for lifelong success,” she said. “We benefit from a local economy that is among the top 20% of rapidly growing, prosperous, and inclusive regional economies in the U.S. In SJSU Handshake, the campus’ career management system, thousands of internships are posted each month. Our Career Center team is ready to inspire, empower, and connect students, educators, and employers to make the most of those opportunities.”
Kelly Masegian is the Career Center’s counselor for students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. “Being proactive in your career development early on is key,” she said. “We know that engineering students in particular are hungry for those ‘soft skills’ that can help them win over interviewers and work with diverse teams, and we’re here to help with that. When the soft skills are in place, our engineers can let their technical abilities really shine.”
Masegian added, “We can coach our students on how to search for and create opportunities for internships. Internships are a great way to learn about a working environment and a career field, and they are traditionally time limited. So if you try something out and it isn’t a good fit, you aren’t stuck, and you have learned valuable information for your future career path. Plus, applying skills that you are learning in the classroom in a work situation can be a positive feedback loop that helps you perform better in your classes due to a deeper understanding of the concepts.”
Some students may find it challenging to prioritize the internship experience. Balancing school work, family obligations, and often other part-time work is a difficult task. Internships are designed with students in mind, and the majority of employers are willing to work around a student schedule. Plus, internships often pay as much or more than other part-time jobs, so if a student needs to work, why not work in an internship that will help them achieve their career goals? Starting early in one’s college career will also help by making an internship part of the normal routine.
Whether interning or not, engineering students at any grade level can participate in one or both of two brand new Passport programs. The Dean of Engineering’s Passport program lets students take advantage of career-prep opportunities within the College of Engineering, earn points, and cash them in for prizes.
The SJSU Career Center’s Career Readiness Passport program is similar, but it is open to all undergraduates. It’s acceptable to use a career-preparedness event to get points in both programs -- in fact, “double-dipping” is encouraged. Both programs will launch in Fall 2018.
For more information on internships and other career development topics, check out the Career Center website, SJSU Handshake (the Spartan career management system), and the Build Experience page for other ways to build your skills.
Resources for Students
*Number based on 284 actual engineering related internship postings (full and part-time) in Handshake for which the employers shared salary information on the job postings in 2017-18. The median wage for the same data set is $18.34/hour.