For engineering students, it’s one thing to learn engineering concepts in class or from a textbook, but another thing to actually apply this knowledge to real-life situations. Biology majors have the benefits of being able to dissect organisms to see their inner workings; engineering students can’t exactly do the same to buildings, equipment, or an oil rig. But there are several ways engineering majors can get true, hands-on experience.
1. Science/Engineering Fairs. An engineering fair is a great and low-risk way for high school students to get some experience. USA holds the Mobile Regional Science and Engineering Fair every March. If you’re a top finisher, you can even be invited to compete in AESF, the statewide contest.
2. Research Assistant. As a student, your professors are your most valuable resource. If you’re particularly interested in one of their research areas, it never hurts to ask if they need a little assistance. You never know-- you could end up making an important contact, working on a fascinating project and gaining experience!
3. Cooperative Education. A co-op at USA is a formal program for students that alternated semesters of professional assignments directly related to their major with semesters of full-time coursework on campus. Career Services or the College of Engineering will match you with an engineering company, and you will work there on a full-time basis for an entire semester.
4. Internships. Slightly different from a co-op, an internship is integrated in a semester of coursework. You’ll juggle going to class as well as learning about working in your field, so it’s important to stay organized.
5. Summer Employment. If you gain enough hands-on experience, the next step is to get hired--even if it’s just for the summer. Many organizations in the region prefer to hire college students or recent graduates who are familiar with the area and its unique environment.
It may seem tough to gain real, tactile engineering experience while still in school, but these steps are a great start to a fantastic career.