Co-Op Experience by Mark Rackish

Two experiential options diverged for a mechanical engineer, and

I took the co-op less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

A multitude of worthwhile, useful, and beneficial experiential options exist for engineers, and Purdue does a great job of making them accessible, especially for mechanical engineers, such as myself. Whether one takes an interest in the academic side of engineering research, the short-term, versatile approach of summer internships, or the more prolonged and developed (or versatile) route of co-ops, one can be sure that these experiences will supplement and foster the Purdue engineering education. What’s more; they are all easy to obtain through professors and networking events at Purdue or through career fairs. In addition to considering these predetermined paths, I also researched opportunities on my own. As I started to lean toward the co-op option, I gaffed at the 4-5 term rotational commitment. Moreover, as I hail from eastern Pennsylvania, I longed for a job experience closer to my family.

For those reasons, I looked into East Coast engineering options and found that Pittsburgh, conveniently located between Purdue and my home, had numerous great organizations. The rest is rock and roll history. After finding MSA, The Safety Company, I applied, interviewed, and was accepted for a three-term co-op in the Respiratory Protection research and development department. Now, during the fall of 2015, I am on my second rotation.

A major subset of respiratory protection involves supplied air respirators or self-contained breathing apparatus (think of SCUBA gear without the underwater element). Most of our contraptions have uses in industrial or emergency situations. My favorite of our product lines, and, as luck would have it, our most involved project, is our G1 SCBA line for firefighters. My involvement with these devices has involved testing prior to agency submittals, preparation of samples for marketing, analysis of manufacturing practices and yields, component verification, instruction manual writing, and, my personal favorite, donning firefighter gear to simulate routine work and extreme climate conditions. In fact, these experiences have led me to join a volunteer firefighter department to further expand my skills and to put my knowledge to use.

My experience has been a novel one. While many longer co-op schedules (4-5 rotations) involve working in different divisions and at different locations of a company (business, manufacturing, design, marketing, management), I have returned to my same research and development position and seen how projects have been improved, concluded, and born in my absence.

“Designing tests that test designs,” would be my way of describing the main function of my co-op position. I work hand-in-hand with engineers, technicians, machinists, and drafters to design, prototype, and test new products. A major component of this role involves designing test parameters, altering existing test setups, or creating new test fixtures and mechanisms to analyze prototype parts, components, devices, and apparatus and to check if they meet in-house requirements and agency approval requirements.

This co-op has put many typical engineering skills to the test as well as required me to complete tasks that I never anticipated undertaking. For example, most fixturing involves the use of Solidworks to model parts and create drawings for use by the shop machinists for CNC machining or the 3D printing technician to use our fused deposition modeling apparatus. I have also had to learn to make use of software such as Excel, Minitab, Pro Engineer, and Google Sketch Up. That said, some unanticipated tasks involved working with manufacturing technicians and putting myself in their shoes, writing a manual and conducting product photo-shoots while keeping the legalistic and business components of the process in mind, and many more exciting stories that my blog length limit prevents me from including.

I enjoy the adage: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I certainly did not plan to end up working in the safety industry, but I am glad that I considered other company options than those available at Purdue career fairs and ultimately found a work experience that fit my interests perfectly. 

Director Doodads

Hello future collegians (fancy word for college students)

I hope you all are all getting re-acclimated to school days as the fall is upon us.  We are super busy here in the Office of Future Engineers (see picture) and look forward to seeing you on campus. I thought I would give you some quick tips on getting your applications complete.  

  •  Have a system like a spreadsheet that lists all deadlines for all colleges.  These deadlines will sneak up on you and they are all different. For Purdue Scholarships, the deadline is November 1st. Since we are rolling admissions, the earlier you apply the more space is available.

  •  Confirm universities have received all of your materials. At Purdue you can do this online.

  • Include a letter of recommendation. This is not required, but it will never hurt if you ask someone to write the letter who knows you and likes you.

  • Do not rely only on spell check for your applications and essay. Have a live person look it over.

  • Be persistent yet pleasant while requesting transcripts and letters of rec from teachers and counselors. Give them as much notice ahead of time as possible.

  • Fewer, quality applications (4-7) is better than doing a ton of applications knowing you can only choose one.  This will cost less, take less time, and open up spots at schools for kids who really want to go there.

  • Try not to take the decisions personal (this is hard). If you want to go to college, you will find a great  place.  Highly selective universities make decisions on multiple criteria and can’t accept everyone who is qualified.  You are smart, creative, and the only you on the planet. You can be successful at multiple universities and what you do on campus is more important than which campus  you’re on (there is data!)

  •   Stay positive and be excited!! Going to college will be awesome. Enjoy your senior year and try not to get too wrapped up in the process.

  • If I can ever be of any help, ping me!!

Quick nap between appointments…just kidding
Quick nap between appointments…just kidding

Best of Luck!!

David Bowker

Director of Future Engineers

International Graduates Q&A: Question 5

What are some skills you wish you developed, as a student of engineering, which would have benefited you for your future?

Niharika Chaubey -Chem. E Graduate: I would love to develop more of my computer language skills, for some reason none of the departments I studied in forced us to take programming classes. I would also have liked to have language skills, but that I could not do due to time constraints.

Sajit Chitty – IE Graduate: I have always put in extra effort to build up on my communication skills. I feel that this is an immensely important ability to have and further develop, especially if you would like to get your ideas heard, and eventually move into a managerial position. Purdue places strong emphasis on team projects and team building and this has aided me significantly with developing my ability to present my ideas across a large group. I also chose to obtain the Certificate for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, along with my engineering degree, as I felt this program would teach me how to effectively present technical ideas to a broad audience in a coherent manner.

As an engineering student it is easy to get immersed in your workload, and not participate as much in the abundance of activities around campus. I have always been very social and would find time to socialize with students from outside my usual classes or program; however I wish I got more involved by actually joining a club or organization. I have realized that being part of an activity or club, that has set goals and a mission, is a great way to improve your time management skills because of added responsibilities, and the need to coordinate with schedules. All of these skills would pave the way for even further success in the future.

Brandon Puccio -AAE Graduate: Purdue prepared me for industry to a great extent. One of the things that I do in my current position that I did not do before was collaborate with employees or customers on the other side of the world. Time zones and language barriers come into play to an extent that I have never dealt with. I would advise anyone with the chance to study abroad to take the opportunity. International collaboration is an invaluable experience. Since my one year of employment, I have already travelled to different parts of the world to assist in the engineering of our product.

Siddharth Chhabra – IE Graduate: I wish I had learnt more about a few of the other disciplines of engineering which touch upon my current professional career.

Xianzhe Zhou – ECE Graduate: There are two skills that I need to refine on in the near future. The first one is writing skills. There is a perceived negative stereotype in regards to writing skills among the engineering world. However, having good writing gives you an edge even in an engineering position. Engineers generate reports, journals and user menus all the time. A concise and clear report can avoid much confusion during the communication process. Building on top of that, being able to translate between a business requirement and a technical requirement is the key in product development. That means learning to communicate on different levels and understand the needs and concerns of the people you are working with.

Summer On Campus

Hello, my name is Leo Kullman. I am a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering and a student in the honors college.  I have recently finished a summer semester here at Purdue and began my first co-op rotation at Cook Pharmica. Overall, I had a very productive summer semester. I took three classes required for my graduation: microeconomics, mechanical engineering statics, and calculus 3. While the classes were more intense and faster paced than regular semester classes, the small class load gave me plenty of time to focus on my studies and learn all the material. The out of class homework hours per week remained relatively similar to a fall or spring semester, however, finals week was drastically different in the summer. In the summer, classes will teach new material on Monday and there can be a cumulative exam on Wednesday (which can make a Calc 3 test very hard). Also, there is no “dead week” like the regular semester, there’s just Tuesday. Even though the last week of the summer semester was difficult, my term went well and I was even able to raise my GPA.

Beyond classes, I also spent this summer working as a student researcher and camp counselor. The two jobs were actually related. I spent a majority of the summer doing research for Dr. Eric Nauman preparing a robot project for a camp he is in charge of, the Seminar for Top Engineering Prospects, or STEP. STEP itself began in mid-July. The camp, led by honors engineering students,  is two one week long sessions where incoming high school seniors come to campus to spend the week learning about engineering and Purdue. The camps went very well and  I had an opportunity to talk to many students  while gaining leadership experience. The robot project that my fellow researchers and I developed had some technical difficulties; however, the students still learned the main objectives and the pitfalls from this week have been addressed so next year’s STEP will run smoother. I had a fun time as a counselor and will participate again the next time I take classes over the summer.

While classes and work kept me busy, I also had some fun this summer. I lived in the dorms with a close friend as a roommate. Purdue also had free concerts, meals, and movies for students to enjoy. I was able to make close friends both through classes and work. The group of strangers that formed the STEP staff all became very close by the end of the summer. Overall, I had a very good time this summer and would recommend taking summer classes as needed.

Semester Study Abroad: Part 4 of 4

My final activity in Colombia was perhaps the most surreal and exciting of all.  During my last weekend in Colombia I had the privilege of working with the Purdue All-American Marching Band as a translator and organizer during their visit to the Feria de las Flores, a large flower festival in Medellín.  Through the hard work of many Purdue staff members and students, the city government of Medellín, RutaN, and the organizers of the festival, over 200 members of the marching band performed in city plazas, at a local flower farm, and at the start of a bike race.  A small part of the band and I were even able to attend a luncheon with some of the most powerful industry and academic leaders of Colombia and Purdue.  However, the most impactful performance for me was in the amazing flower parade that marks the end of the festival.  The band selected to perform two of the theme songs of the festival, and they could not have made a better selection.  The spectators of the parade were so excited they were shouting the words to the songs and applauding louder than I have heard at any other parade in my life.  Some even began to dance and throw flowers in admiration for the band.  I had goosebumps the entire time. 

Through this experience I was able to share a small taste of the culture I have fallen madly in love with during the last 7 months with a group of people from my favorite university.  I also am extremely happy because I feel that Purdue University has left a significant impression on the people of Medellín and Colombia.  I could not imagine a more exciting or meaningful end to my experience.

However, I know this isn’t the end.  With the experiences I have had and the connections I have made, I am working to create a successful career in Colombia.  And all of this is thanks to our old Purdue.  Boiler up!

International Graduates Q&A: Question 4

As an international student, how hard was it for you to transition culturally to an American university? How did you ease your transition?

Xianzhe Zhou – ECE Graduate: The cultural transition really requires you putting yourself out and experiencing life in an American way. These experiences sometimes can be uncomfortable and create value conflicts inside. However, it is important not only knowing the culture, but actually experiencing the culture.  Going to sports events, watching television shows, and trying all kinds of food are all part of the experience. In fact, breaking a cultural barrier means going through an American childhood in a short period of time. This process can be confusing so sometimes it is necessary to take it slow and do it step by step.

Niharika Chaubey -Chem. E Graduate: The peas in the pod theory really plays well for this question. I was lucky to find a good group of friends as soon as I started college. The transition itself was not too bad for me specifically, but I definitely had a few difficulties. Having friends really eased the entire process. It would be sometimes hard to understand the colloquial term, to be able to relate to jokes in a big setting especially when there were lots of natives. Eventually I just learned to ask and clarify what I did not understand without shame and that is what got me to actually ease into the culture.

Sajit Chitty – IE graduate: I feel that every student’s transition will vary because each individual is, after all, ‘individual’. From what I recall, Purdue’s student body represents more than 120 different countries.  Therefore, the transition can be easy or hard depending on the culture and personality of the student. I am from Sri Lanka, which is a beautiful and culturally diverse country. I also attended an international school in Sri Lanka, so I was fortunate to have already been exposed to numerous cultures from some of my foreign school friends. Irrespective of all the variables, my advice to every international student is to step out of your comfort zone once in a while. Go out of your way to try something new, whether it is a sport, cuisine, festival or even genre of music. Put in effort to learn about the American culture by actually making and spending time with your American friends. To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed learning about different cultures and felt that I was blessed with the opportunity to make some lifelong friends: at one point I had three roommates from three different countries: USA, Brazil, and India. We are all still in touch, in fact one of them is visiting me this July in Atlanta.

Brandon Puccio -AAE Graduate: I am from Canada. I usually say that it was a walk across the street coming to Purdue. In many ways it was. The culture is very similar. There was some transition because I come from a larger city. Some of the ways I eased my transition was to talk to other international students and get to know them. I also tried to talk to American and local students. Having this contrast in friends helped me keep a bit of my home feeling while learning about the new location that I was living. UR Global helped me get to know many people. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a mentor. I think a healthy balance of friends created a successful environment for me.

Siddharth Chhabra – IE Graduate: Initially, it was a very different culture from home (India). However, as I got to meet my fellow peers, it helped me settle down. The diversity across the campus was a big plus as I met many students going through the same transition.

SWE For You and Me

By PSWE President Meredith Shannon:

As another syllabus week comes and goes, I reflect back on my time at Purdue. I’m going into my super senior year in Industrial Engineering. Long story short, I did not come to Purdue for engineering. In fact, I spent my entire freshman year undeclared and looking into other majors. Engineering was my #3 spot on the potential major list. Before I officially joined the College of Engineering, I joined a student organization called the Society of Women Engineers to see if engineering could be a good fit for me. At the time, I was attracted to the free food more than anything. I attended a few meetings here and there and did my best to keep up with all the events going on. It was nice to be around at like-minded girls my age and hear their stories and passion for engineering.

It wasn’t until the first few days of First Year Engineering that I knew I had truly found the right path. That excitement reflected in my desire to be involved with SWE. I did my best to attend more events, ran for a chair position, got said chair position, and it was all up from there. SWE kept me from going crazy on weeks where I had more homework than hours in a day with social and outreach events to get me away from my desk. It helped prepare me for finding an internship with the many professional networking and development events as well as grow me as a young professional. I have made great friends and met inspiring women while in SWE. For me, SWE is a support system, a challenge to make me a better engineer, and a facilitator to make me a global citizen.

Every year, the Society of Women Engineers continues to grow in membership and event size. So for all those future engineers, I highly encourage you to check us out; join and learn what SWE is about! Thinking of your future can be scary, but remember you have 400 other women engineers who have your back.

Semester Study Abroad: Part 3 of 4

As a member of the Office of Professional Practice’s Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education or GEARE program, I must complete an international research or internship experience prior to graduation.  I can chose to fulfill this requirement in any country that I would like to, but I chose to look for opportunities to extend my time in Colombia.  Thanks to a very proud Purdue industrial engineering alum originally from Medellín, I was connected with Grupo Nutresa.  Grupo Nutresa is a food processing conglomerate and the fourth largest food company in all of Latin America in terms of market capitalization.  It also is consistently named one of the best companies to work for in Colombia.  I successfully completed an interview in Spanish with one of Grupo Nutresa’s divisions, Compañía Nacional de Chocolates, and was hired as an operations intern for the summer of 2015.

Marissa (on right) with her supervisor

For my internship, I worked in a smaller town outside of Medellín named Rionegro in Compañía Nacional de Chocolates’ largest production facility.  I lived many students’ dream, and for ten weeks I worked in a chocolate factory.  The factory produces a wide array of products focused on chocolate, nuts, and cereal bars.  I was concentrated in the nuts zone.

My internship was so valuable, for both my professional and personal development.  I received the normal benefits of putting my engineering education into practice and gaining work experience, but I also learned much more than that.  I developed enough of a technical vocabulary in Spanish that I am now able to comfortably write technical reports or give presentations in Spanish.  I learned how to relate to and work with coworkers who not only spoke a different language than me, but who also were accustomed to an entirely different work and professional culture than mine.  In fact, it was an invaluable lesson for me in being flexible and adaptable to the professional situation I am placed in.  I also had the opportunity to work on a joint project between research and development and operations and was able to put my English fluency to good use as I served as the sole point of contact with a United States based provider for a new raw material. 

As an intern, I was given a large amount of responsibility and allowed to work on activities that branched outside of my field of study.  I also have made great international contacts for a potential career in South America.  And all of this was made possible through the Purdue network.

International Student Graduates Q&A: Question 3

How has your Purdue experience in engineering prepared you for your professional life?

Siddharth Chhabra – IE Graduate: The Purdue engineering experience laid a strong foundation to build on and prepared me to excel in a fast-moving, innovative and challenging work environment. It provided a very hands-on and practical educational experience and helped me develop key skills allowing me to be an asset to my employer.

Xianzhe Zhou – ECE Graduate: The academic rigor of Purdue Engineering has really prepared me technically for a real world job. I was able to apply what I learned at school to various internships and also learned new skills quickly benefited from my Purdue engineering experience. The amount and the variation of team projects at Purdue equipped me with a basic understanding of the do’s and don’ts in a team situation. I am so thankful for these experiences because they really make a difference between the best engineer and an average one.

Niharika Chaubey -Chem. E Graduate: Purdue Engineering I can safely say is one of the most grueling experiences. With all the weed out classes, and immense competition, it was not easy to graduate with a good GPA, but smart and hard work pays. I feel like having gone through that, I am prepared to face the world. I would not be arrogant and say, I am absolutely ready, but I will say I am definitely ready for any challenges that might be thrown my way.

Sajit Chitty – IE graduate: The value behind an engineering degree from Purdue is appreciated once you understand that the rigorous curriculum goes beyond teaching g students theory and the respective practical applications, it teaches students how to think critically. I have started to approach decisions, whether personal or professional, with a more analytical approach. I have learned to be more systematic with observations and developed practice in logically structuring my thoughts and ideas. It may be amusing to note that my sole intention of studying engineering was not to just become an engineer. I wanted to learn how to think like an engineer, and further develop my analytical mindset since this is useful in any technical field. In addition, our professors and advisors at Purdue have always emphasized the need to keep constantly learning, in order to stay up-to-date in the field or in any focus area. I have found myself taking this advice to heart, and made it a point to spend some of my free time reading and subscribing to certain fields of interest, and have been pleased with the overall competitive edge that such efforts bring.

Brandon Puccio -AAE Graduate: I think Purdue did a good job preparing me for professional life. While I do not use a lot of my technical knowledge in my current job, I do use a lot of the skills that I learned at Purdue. Purdue taught me to work hard and to learn quickly. I am able to pick up on new material immediately and work at it until I am knowledgeable and useful to my employer. Some of the other skills Purdue helped me learn  are good communication and presentation skills, group work, collaboration, and organization skills. All of these skills were touched upon in many different engineering classes. Each skill was well practiced and perfected by graduation. Purdue helped me grow from a high school student to a professional.

Mayank Makkar: Getting the hang of interning

Co-op! Internship! Work! Money! These are all the words that come to mind when most people hear about any career fair, but one thing that most of us forget about is what will we be doing at work and how the people are over there. Nobody knows the answer to these questions, because until you are at the plant, office etc., you don’t really know what you will be doing. You do have an idea, but you still don’t really know. It was the same for me, and fortunately, it was exactly the kind of work that I like. My internship taught me many things. One of the many important things I learned from my internship was how to deal with people.

At my internship, I had various kinds of projects. I was planning events, creating the strategies for plant wide audits, creating guidebooks for team managers, etc. Because of the wide variety of projects I was able to work on, I got to work with lots of different people. I worked with people from the corporate leadership, administrative assistants, technicians, interns, operators etc. Working with each one of them was completely different; each person had a different background, style of doing things etc. Some people did things like I like to do them, while some were completely opposite. Some did things without me asking twice, some had to be asked a lot more times. Overall, I think the key to working with so many different kinds of people is to understand who they are and how they work. You have to know if they will need to be reminded about what you asked them to do or if it will be done before you even think about asking them about their progress. For me, it was a little hard at the beginning, but eventually I got the hang of it.

In a nutshell, I think taking that internship taught me a lot. It did teach me about things related to engineering, but it also taught me a lot about one thing that most of us engineers don’t really think about until the very end: people.

Office of Future Engineers Blog