Career Fair Is All About Prospects
by John Gagnon, promotional writer
The multipurpose room at the SDC was choked with people Tuesday for the fall Career Fair, as students tackled the job of finding a job. Enlivened and expectant, they milled about and stood in line, sometimes long ones, to try to stand out in a crowd and catch the attention of the companies with the opportunities.
Those companies were looking for more than good GPAs and degrees: as well, communication skills, eagerness, hands-on education, research experience, even passion. "Passion is a big part of our culture," said Anthony Komarek, an alumnus in mechanical engineering who works for Polaris in Medina, Minn. "We want people to be passionate about our product."
Amid the buzz of activity Tuesday, there was evidence of a fair amount of confidence in the economy.
Carol Hogsett, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, is a regular at the fall fair. The laboratory had a hiring freeze for a time, but now is hiring again, albeit in a way that she calls "strategic." She was looking to fill 10 student internships. She especially likes students in the computer network and system administration program.
Angela Corbine, of Bucyrus, in South Milwaukee, was looking to fill five full-time engineering positions and nine co-ops at her firm, which makes mining equipment. Its hiring had ebbed but not stalled. "It was down a little bit," she said, "because our customers were nervous. That’s is changing already. Business is really good."
And so are Tech students. Uniformly, the people we talked to said Tech’s reputation in industry is first-rate.
Anthony Corrie was one such champion. He works in the tax and accounting division of Thomson Reuters in Dexter, Mich., and said his division of the firm was looking for five full-time computer programmers and six students for internships. This is the first time since 1996 that the company has participated in a Tech career fair. Corrie, an alumnus, convinced the firm's leadership to return. Several Tech alumni work for the firm in Dexter and are accorded "great respect," Corrie said. One Tech alumnus, he pointed out, is singlehandedly responsible for $30 to $40 million in new annual revenue. "That's how well Tech prepares you," Corrie said. "That’s why I said we had to come back here and get more people like that."
Gordon Erdelean, a 1997 graduate in chemical engineering who works for BASF in Southfield, was recruiting for two or three full-time engineering positions and two or three internships. He said his firm relies heavily on Career Services to find employees--and not just at career fairs. BASF particularly likes Tech's online program for student applications and routinely reviews them and flags the best fits for interviews. He said Tech's career fair is one of only seven that the company visits.
"We’ve been coming a long time," said another regular, Richard Cottrell of Consumers Energy in Jackson. "We come to get the best power engineers that we can. Tech has one of the premier power programs in the region, and we’ve had great success with Michigan Tech engineers. That's why we’re still here." Business has not been good, however, because the cold summer complicated matters for Consumers Energy. No sun, no air-conditioning, no revenue. Nevertheless, the firm is hiring, thanks to the aging baby boomers. "Retirement is coming for them," he said. "We need to hire people, and get them in the system and trained. We can’t make them instant engineers." Consumers Energy is hiring but not as much as in the past. "It'll recover," Cottrell said. "We’ll be back hiring twenty engineers a year."
Meanwhile, students were showing their best side to all of these professionals.
Andrew Heikkinen, a junior in materials science and engineering, was looking for a co-op or an internship. "I’d really like to get something," he said. "I have to learn some more skills." He was buoyed by the Career Services website that said 38 companies were looking for materials engineers. He considers himself a savvy young man who will make a good impression. "I'm a smart kid," he said. "I can talk."
Matthew Alward, a senior in civil engineering from Fenton, Mich., will be gradating in May and is looking for anything in his field. Eventually, he wants to work in alternative energy, but says, "It's not the time to be picky." His approach to this endeavor: "Be myself and rely on Tech's reputation." He's hoping an internship and undergraduate research will give him an edge.
Times are tough for alumna Megan Miller, class of '09, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and hasn't found a job yet. She has been searching to no avail. Her fiancé, a Tech civil engineering graduate, has done more than that--he has sent out 300 applications, with nary an opportunity presenting itself. The twosome traveled all the way from Bozeman, Montana, to attend the fair. They're thinking of coming back to Tech for graduate school. In the meantime, they're doing landscaping work. "We try to pull through," Miller said.
Dawn Hossa, who works in human resources at Waukesha Inc., in Wisconsin, has been coming to the fair for four years. She enjoys the duty. "You get to see the future," she says of the young people poised to make their mark on the working world.
Anna Pearson is part of that future. A junior in biomedical engineering from St Joseph, Mich., she was looking for an internship for next summer. "Anything I can get," she said. "I need a job. I need to get my foot in somewhere." This was her fifth fair. She attends all of them to learn the ropes. She had eight companies on her list to visit yesterday.
"Hopeful?" she is asked.
"You have to be," she said.
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Jim Turnquist, under whose watch the career fairs have been the biggest ever, was content with the 155 companies that showed up. There was a point this summer when he worried the number of companies participating wouldn’t break 100. So, the turnout, although markedly down from 295 last year, was better than he anticipated. He senses the beginnings of an economic upturn and more opportunity for students. "It’s going to get better," he said. Traditionally, the fall career fair is bigger than the February event. He suspects the winter fair will be the bigger of the two this academic year.