How to Build Experience as an Undergrad - My Yearly Breakdown

 
 
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A combination of networking, actively evolving professionally, and taking initiative...may just be the 3 key components in landing your next job opportunity.
— Mary Nguyen

Starting your college journey in Engineering can definitely be super exciting…and…overwhelming. You’ll hear from those who are experienced that building your professional skill-sets as an undergrad is imperative in landing a job upon graduation.

And they are completely correct. Look around in your classrooms and you’ll get a rough idea of how many people your resume will be compared to, and much more. So the question is - how do you gain valuable experiences in order to stand out?

My journey is unique in a sense that I initially obtained a 2 year business degree prior to switching to Mechanical Engineering. Thus, some of my basics were already completed and my years (and the number of) will look different from yours.

Nevertheless, I experienced first-hand how hard it was to get a basic, desk job within my first degree alone. So I made it a point to get active in making myself more marketable with my second degree. Listed below are out-of-classroom highlights I used in building my resume!

Note: I also worked part-time throughout the school year, so it was harder to do as much as I wanted to. But the point is to start somewhere and do something.

Year 1

American Society of Civil Engineers - I wanted to join an organization that allowed me to be hands on without excessive commitment (hello work + school). ASCE was great at the time, because they were flexible and I was able to take part in building a concrete canoe. It gave me insights on material properties, concrete formulation, and the overall design process in building a vessel.

Year 2

NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) - I voluntarily enrolled in a 6 week online course to learn about NASA’s previous and future missions to Mars. A part of the program was designing a Mars Rover Model using CAD (Computer Aided Design) along with a mission statement as the final project.

I researched prior models and designed mine based off of new requirements to include material sampling, environmental data recording, etc. My design was voted top of the nation and I was offered a workshop opportunity at NASA Stennis Space Center.

Northrop Grumman, Remotec - I moved out of state for my very first Summer Internship (I wasn’t able to obtain one locally, yet) and I would say that a key component in landing the interview was via networking and emailing my resume to people who were in the industry.

My project consisted of designing a new camera mast for EOD robot technology, where I also got to see the manufacturing processes right beneath my office floor.

If I could give a tip for anyone who’s struggling to gain experience, it would be to consider opportunities away from home. It does require a level of planning and stepping out of your comfort zone, but it’s worth getting your foot in the door.

Society of Women Engineers - National Member

Year 3

Boeing - I found a program through my Uni that helped students gain part-time experience during the school year while working at a renowned company. My project consisted of supporting the design process for 777x.

Year 4

JSEG at NASA MSFC - I was super excited when I came across this opportunity, so naturally, I went above and beyond to get it.

Internships, in general, can be quite competitive. After my interview, it was mentioned to me that I had all of the qualities that was sought after, but I was lacking one particular skill - thermal analysis. Not to mention, they were only offering ONE available position.

So what made me stand out from everyone else? Despite my previous accomplishments, personable characteristics, and nailing the interview (I thought) - I actually almost didn’t get the internship.

But I, apparently and intentionally, showed initiative. I followed up the interview with my completed, yet totally non-required, tutorials using a free trial version the branch used for thermal analysis. To my surprise, I was the only one who did this.

I mean, I really wanted the experience and I was more than willing to learn. I think that spoke volumes to the hiring manager.

And I am not at all, saying these things to “boast”. I am simply saying - sometimes the only difference standing between you and another applicant, is your drive. So drive on!!

I completed my summer project conducting thermal analysis for material samples to be tested on the International Space System (ISS) *insert praise emoji*. It was an amazing experience and I wanted to stay for the fall.

I knew that if I could gain a part-time position within the company, it would more easily help me get hired on full-time, as I was graduating that same semester.

So I contacted every Team Lead on my contract after the summer ended and asked if they needed extra help for the next few months (and it worked). I went on and supported the design and testing process of solid rocket motors, as well as propellant formulation.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers - National Member

Lessons learned

A combination of networking, actively evolving professionally, and taking initiative…may just be the 3 key components in landing your next job opportunity.

Note

Although I’ve only highlighted extracurricular activities and internships, my resume was also filled with applicable program skills/courses, classroom projects, awards, etc.

Additional

I’d like to mention that one of the best tips I’ve received recently for undergrads to network and seek opportunities is by attending conferences! You can find these through your Uni newsletters or searching the internet.

Also don’t skimp out on career fairs and other networking opportunities, as they have largely been how I’ve received information on opportunities + interviews.