Juniors and seniors in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have a 100% internship and job placement rate. That means all May 2019 graduates are employed in the industry, and all incoming seniors have either concluded or are still working an internship.
A competitive edge
How important is an internship when setting off on the right foot after college? It’s everything, said Kaveh Ashenayi, Hans S. Norberg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ashenayi, who also serves as department chair, believes that young graduates with engineering experience have a competitive edge over others who do not. “It’s easier to get a job after graduation and experiencing what it’s like to work as an engineer makes a student more desirable to employ,” said Douglas Jussaume, applied associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.
That’s why Ashenayi and his faculty sat around a table two years ago and set the lofty goal to find an internship for each junior and senior in the department. “We wanted to find honest-to-goodness engineering internships where students worked on actual projects at local companies,” he said.
Faculty tapped into their industry networks, made dozens of calls at Tulsa-area companies and connected students with electrical engineering mentors. Some students received three-month summer internships while others arranged for year-round positions, allowing them to work part time during the semester and full time in the summer. “We are trying to distinguish ourselves by obtaining internships for seniors, juniors, sophomores and even the freshmen,” Ashenayi said. “Many of the students are eventually hired full time where they interned.”
For all faculty and staff in the department that includes a senior class of less than 30 students, helping young engineers complete their degrees and start their careers is the ultimate reward after hundreds of hours spent teaching, advising and mentoring. “When they get internships, their self-confidence goes up,” said department administrative assistant Marla Zumwalt. “They begin to see how what they’ve learned in class can be used in the real world.”
Mason Holley, John Zink Hamworthy Combustion
Internships also provide exposure to different work environments, interaction with coworkers and customer service, said senior Mason Holley who interned this summer at John Zink Hamworthy Combustion in Tulsa. “I picked up a lot of soft skills and learned how the business aspect of engineering is a lot bigger than I realized,” Holley said. “You can build something, but if no one buys the product, what’s the point?”
Holley’s technical work involved embedded systems and hardware, but he also gave presentations to business leaders, took a speech class offered through the company and soaked in the advice he received from two company mentors who are TU alumni. “Everyone I bumped into was helpful and knowledgeable and that impressed me,” he said.
As Holley returns to campus for his senior year, he begins the semester knowing he has a job locked down at John Zink if he chooses to stay in Oklahoma. “They extended a job offer to me,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet if I want to go to grad school, but it’s pretty exciting and a relief to know that I already have something lined up. It’s a weight off my shoulders.”
Caitlyn Daxon, Cymstar
Holley is not the only TU intern to receive a job offer. Senior Caitlyn Daxon has interned at Cymstar since March 2019 and has the option to work there full time in the future. Although there aren’t many engineers in her family, she excelled in math and participated in Project Lead the Way as a student at Union High School in Tulsa. This summer, she has helped Cymstar employees overhaul the website that manages and communicates all company projects. She has shadowed engineers, learned about the accounting skills they often use in projects and explored the inner workings of Cymstar’s flight systems. “Engineering is very hands-on, so you don’t know what you want to do without experiencing it first,” Daxon said.
Taylor Deru, Enovation Controls
“All of the professors have been very adamant and persistent with us on internship applications and helping us make connections,” said senior Taylor Deru who just finished a summer position with Tulsa’s Enovation Controls. The Houston native joined an office of longtime employees with decades of engineering experience. His tasks included troubleshooting faulty systems reported by customers and various testing with circuit boards, displays and electronic components.
“Once you move into a professional setting, you realize the point of a degree is to learn the fundamentals such as math, physics, circuits and electrical components,” Deru said. “A degree teaches you to think critically and how to solve problems, but there’s a lot you aren’t able to learn in academics. An internship is a very valuable sneak peek at what’s to come after college.”
Patrick Maley, Aaon
Patrick Maley’s internship at Aaon began in July, and, as a junior, he plans to continue working part time throughout the semester. Right away, he was handed a program used in the company’s HVAC systems and instructed to test inputs/outputs and communications on the product’s circuit board. “It’s about ironed out,” Maley said, “I’ve learned how much responsibility is needed in product and design.”
His assigned Aaon mentor, Senior Electrical Controls Engineer Thomas Burrow, said Maley’s product design was so good that it was sent to manufacturing, exceeding the skillset and quality of an entry-level engineer. “I would trust Patrick to go into any meeting and represent any department,” Burrow said. “When there are employees with 40 years of experience in the room picking apart a design, that can be intimidating, but TU interns are well-spoken and can handle the criticism.”
Burrow explained Aaon often uses the internship as a job interview and, considering Maley’s outstanding performance review, the odds are in his favor. If he chooses to join the industry after his undergraduate degree, a position awaits him. However, Maley still has two years of coursework remaining at TU, and although he’s keeping his options open right now, he knows he’s in the right field. “Electricity is badass, and I wanted a career that allowed me to help people,” he said. “Choosing electrical engineering was the best decision of my life.”
Around 20 local companies hosted TU electrical engineering interns in 2019. Ashenayi said the department is working on a new goal for next summer: to find internships for all freshmen and sophomores, too.