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.