Steps for Success: Engineering Employment Opportunities

April 16, 2016

Graduation can be an exciting, but scary time for college seniors. As the time grows closer for students to enter the professional world and leave their university days behind, many questions and concerns arise. Did I make the most of my college experience? Will I attend grad school? Accept a full-time job? How will I find employment opportunities? I spent all this time in school…now, what? While these questions come along with difficult decisions, Western Kentucky University does the most that they can do to help students answer these questions. In the WKU Engineering Department, engineering faculty try their best to help students make the most of their college experience and prepare for life after graduation.

While many employment opportunities are available to engineering students, they must also keep in mind that they are entering a competitive field. One of the best ways to secure a job after graduation is to gain some industry experience while still in school. WKU’s Engineering Industrial Partnership Coordinator, Debbie Berry makes sure that students can take advantage of such opportunities.

showcaseOn any given day, Debbie Berry may receive word of three or more job opportunities. She then makes these opportunities known to students—during the 2015-16 academic year alone, she has sent out over 100 emails with employment opportunities for students. These include internships, co-op positions, and part-time or full-time jobs. Since gaining hands-on industry experience is so important for engineering students to make themselves marketable, such job openings are valuable. Past students have interned for companies including General Motors, Logan Aluminum, Pure Power Technologies, Berry Plastics, among many others. And they aren’t just limited to local companies. While regional partnerships are incredibly helpful, WKU students can and have extended their scope to work for national companies. Several Western students have completed one or more internships with NASA.

Over 100 students report their work experiences to the engineering department each year. While not all of the data is available, Ms. Berry would estimate that about 90% of engineering students graduate with an industry work experience under their belt. Much of this is thanks to Western’s Industrial Partnership Program. Connecting the university and currently 14 regional companies, this partnership benefits both the community and students. Companies pay $5000 a year to become an industrial partner and, in return, they get the chance to meet face-to-face with potential interns and employees. The fee helps pay for the industrial partnership program itself, student ambassador scholarships, and many of the networking events the engineering department offers.

expoSome of these events include industry showcases, career fairs, project expositions, resume workshops, and special industry partner-only events. WKU Engineering hosts more than ten showcase events each year, where students can come to learn about different industries and internships they may offer. The department also hosts one Dinnerview event per semester, where industry partners can attend to meet some of WKU’s top engineering students. After getting the chance to network, attendees will eat dinner together, engage in professional development table talks, and have the chance to share resumes. These events are special in that they allow employers to meet face-to-face with potential employees and give students the chance to see what opportunities are out there for them. Not only do students and companies benefit from such events through the Industrial Partnership, but the whole community of Bowling Green is allowed to flourish through increased community interaction and involvement.dinnerview 2

For engineering students looking for internships and jobs, the best thing to do is get involved. Hands-on experiences are some of the most impressive bullet points on a resume. Even if you have not yet completed an internship or co-op, class projects can serve as prime examples of real engineering experience. Skills and qualifications that employers are looking for, such as teamwork, leadership, presentation skills, and knowledge of engineering topics, can also help seal the deal. For engineering students, there are numerous jobs out there, and the Engineering Department is available to help throughout the whole process—from resume editing to providing the skills and connections to land the dream job.

Chandler Clark: Student Worker in the Engineering Prototype Facility

April 5, 2016

Threchandler clarke years ago, Chandler Clark saw advertising within the engineering building for a position in WKU’s Engineering Prototype Facility (EPF). Ever since then, she has been a student worker in this facility. She was excited to take the job because of the flexible hours, wide range of experiences she could gain, and the opportunity to learn about machines. Currently, she organizes the facility in order to complete all jobs for students and faculty. She also works to design projects for a variety of disciplines, support student projects, and is involved with Western’s biodiesel project. Chandler says that “working in the EPF has given [her] many hands-on experiences to better connect the theory and math to the actual product being completed” (Clark). She has also learned a great deal about time management and problem solving, all while gaining experience that will prepare her for her future career.

Her favorite part of the job is helping other students complete their projects, and she loves seeing the process through to the end. In fact, one of her most enjoyable experiences as a student worker has been working the Engineering Exposition each semester. At this event, WKU engineering students present their research and projects. Chandler says that it is “neat to see all of the hard work within the department being shown at once” (Clark.)

By having the opportunity to work with other students, Chandler has been able to learn about more than just engineering through her job. She has gained valuable interpersonal skills and made lifelong friends. She has met many people through the engineering department and feels that she can connect well with other engineering students, even if they aren’t specifically in the mechanical discipline like her. Some of her best friends have come from spending countless hours in the engineering building for classes and work. She has also had memorable experiences with the engineering department as a whole, such as frequent bowling trips with both students and professors, and their yearly paintball event.

Chandler is from Edgewood, Kentucky and will be graduating in May 2016 with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in systems engineering. She chose engineering because of encouragement from a high school teacher, who also happened to be a nun. As Chandler says, “if you can’t trust nuns, you can’t trust anyone!” (Clark). Glad that she followed her teacher’s advice, Chandler loves engineering and hopes to continue her education in the fall, where she will pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. As one of only a handful of females in engineering, Chandler admits that it can sometimes be a challenge to “keep up with the guys,” but she values every chance she gets to learn from teachers and other students (Clark). Clearly, nothing has held her back thus far—in addition to her job in the EPF, Chandler plays soccer for WKU, is president of the WKU branch of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a member of Tau Beta Pi, and a student researcher. She is excited to use the knowledge and skills learned through her job and other experiences at WKU to prepare her for her future education and career.



Works Cited:

Clark, Chandler. Personal Interview. 4 April 2016.

Concrete Canoe Competition: Going to Regionals

March 30, 2016


Bark, wood, canvas, aluminum, plastic, and fiberglass. All of these materials are commonly used to make canoes. Concrete doesn’t quite seem to fit in the same category, but it is exactly what WKU engineering students have used year after year to build their canoes and enter the National Concrete Canoe Competition. Hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), this competition challenges engineers to work together as a team and, amazingly, make concrete float above water. On Wednesday, March 30 WKU’s Concrete Canoe team headed off to Cincinnati to compete in the regional competition.

A great deal of work went into preparing for this highly competitive event. One of the team captains, Tyler Baker, estimates that the team put nearly 500 hours into the design and production of their canoe. This year, the team decided to try several new things that had not been done in any previous years of competition for WKU. One innovation was the use of fly ash in their canoe design. Fly ash comes from burning coal, and from this product concrete can be made. By using fly ash for most of the canoe, the team was able to reduce CO2 emissions by about 70%. In fact, the canoe is one of the most environmentally friendly canoes that Western has produced, and the team is very excited to present this information at regionals.

This year’s canoe is also one of the lighter canoes that the team has made. By using a special aggregate, they were able to make their canoe out of concrete about three times lighter than the average concrete. The whole boat weighs a total of 180 pounds, and it has additional flotation material at either end to ensure that the canoe stays afloat. Designing and building the canoe has taken the team all year, and they are excited to finally put their hard work to the test. From the ten-hour process of pouring the canoe to finishing touches put on during the week before the competition, all team members have been through a great deal and are ready to show off their finished product.

At regionals, the concrete canoe will be judged on 100_3931several components. One of these is aesthetics—how the canoe looks. Each year the team picks a theme for their canoe, and this year it is BBQ. Cleverly naming the canoe “Bar-B-Qrete,” the words on the side of the canoe are not merely paint. Students had to actually carve the letters into the body of the canoe and pour in colored concrete to achieve the desired effect. The letters were covered to dry and, when the sticker was peeled off, some areas of the canoe were left a bit rougher than intended. This is one aspect of the canoe that has left the team a bit nervous for regionals, but overall they are confident in the boat’s theme and design.

The team will also be judged on the academic portion of the project. The paper they have written on the project will be judged, as well as a five minute oral presentation. During the presentation, the team will push sustainability and cost—two aspects of the canoe of which they are most proud. Not only is their canoe environmentally friendly, but they were able to greatly decrease the budget needed for this year’s project. Last year the budget cost approximately $6,000, but this year they only used $2000 to build the canoe.

Finally, the canoe will truly be put to the test. It will be judged on how it holds up in water. In the flo tation test, the canoe will be entirely submerged in water and, in order to pass, it must float back up to the top. The team will also use the canoe in five races, four of which are sprints and one an endurance race.

Nervous but eager to test out their concrete canoe, the team is excited to compete at regionals! Last year, Western won first place at the regional competition and advanced to nationals, so the team is hoping to do a repeat of last year’s success. All team members are happy with their finished product and can’t wait to compete. Tyler Baker shared that his favorite part of the process has been getting the opportunity to work on a real, hands-on engineering project. He, along with the rest of the team, has learned a great deal about meeting deadlines, scheduling, working with others, and dealing with problems as they come. After all, they have managed to build a floatable, usable canoe from concrete, achieving what may seem impossible to most.

WKU Steel Bridge Team Leaves for Regionals!

March 30, 2016


Students in hard hats running back and forth, passing off pipes as quickly as they can, rushing to tighten screws and bolts, and dodging the “river” that is drawn on the ground with chalk. This is a practice run for the WKU Steel Bridge Team. The team left for regionals on Wednesday, March 30 to compete in Cincinnati for a place at the national competition. On Tuesday, they were busy at work preparing for all aspects of the competition.

100_3871As made clear by one of their practice runs, the steel bridge competition is not just about putting a bridge together—it’s also about building that bridge with speed and efficiency. One of the competition categories is Construction Speed, where the team must put their bridge together as fast as they can, while also making sure to use safe construction practices and minimize mistakes. Outside of the engineering building, the team completed practice runs for this component of the competition, where they worked quickly and then examined their own product for loose bolts and other mistakes that would deduct from their final score. One of the team captains, Daniel Hammer was eager to share about preparation for this year’s competition.

The 2016 WKU Steel Bridge team consists of eleven people, who have been working on it all year in their senior project class. During the fall semester, they worked on designing the bridge, and this semester they have fabricated it and brought their ideas into reality. Daniel’s favorite part of the process has been seeing the bridge finally come together after all their hard work and stress. He explained that the past month and a half leading up to the competition have been particularly stressful for the team. They had to make some 100_3874modifications to the bridge in order to keep it straight while holding a load. They also had to go through a great deal of practice to improve their speed and efficiency and minimize possible penalties. While making sure to tighten bolts and quickly pass off materials, all team members also have to make sure to stay in bounds during construction—stepping out is another way to get penalties.

Western’s steel bridge team has qualified for nationals for five years in a row, and this year they hope to do the same. First, they will face some of their rivals at regionals, which include many of the larger schools inside and outside of the Ohio Valley region, such as Akron, Ohio State, and the University of Pittsburgh. On the morning of the competition, they will put their bridge together to be judged for aesthetics, and then they will take it apart again so that they can re-build it later and be judged on speed. Slightly nervous and very excited, the team hopes their hard work will pay off and earn them a place at nationals, which will take place at BYU in Provo, Utah. Daniel Hammer is excited to once again experience the unique environment at this competition, where all WKU team members and faculty advisors gather near the construction team, loudly cheering them on and providing encouragement. Well-prepared and excited, the team is eager to present their bridge at regionals. They have all learned a great deal about team work, bridge construction, and what it takes to carry out a real engineering project.


Dated Desk Development: Design Sprint in Progress

March 23, 2016


“Too much homework!” “Too early in the morning!” “Too many tests!” Students are not shy to make their complaints about school known. All the way from elementary school, where kids whine about not getting enough recess time, up to their senior year of high school, where they feel the homework, tests, and college applications weighing them down, students complain about school. Even throughout college, the criticisms continue, regardless of whether students enjoy school or not. However, some of these complaints are quite justified—including one such complaint concerning the size of desks in WKU’s Thompson Complex for Science.

This semester, Dr. Gordon 129Smith is teaching several engineering classes in the Thompson Complex that are typically taught in the building for Engineering and Biological Sciences. Classrooms 129 and 402 contain lecture hall-type seating, only providing students with small flip-up desks attached to the chairs. According to Dr. Smith, while it may be the “finest educational seating of 1954…it is awful” for the engineering classes he teaches currently. Students struggle to learn effectively in these environments, and taking exams is particularly difficult. In order to find a solution, Dr. Smith decided to give this problem to the students and allow them to solve it themselves through a design sprint.

In the engineering department, there are six design courses, where students have between a semester and a full year to analyze a problem and solve it. Oftentimes, these are high stake problems—industry partners provide factory problems and want applicable solutions from upperclassmen. However, design sprints give younger students an opportunity to gain similar experiences. Appropriately named a design “sprint,” these projects shorten the process down to only 6-8 weeks. For this particular project, Dr. Smith asked students to come up with some sort of desk modification to improve the quality of learning in his classrooms. His specifications: the desks must be able photo 1to be added and removed by students before and after class, easily stored within the classroom, and made from common materials. Two groups of students quickly got to work, eager to complete a project that would make their own lives and the lives of others much easier.

After exploring several design options, they were put to the test at the WKU Engineering Expo. Using chocolate to entice attendees to use and evaluate their desk prototypes, the students gained feedback to help them create a final design. Many of the testers thought the desks worked well, and others gave some helpful criticism. Getting comments ranging from “desks are a little tight” to “great for napping,” the students used this feedback and created the final design. The desk modifications were built so that, when several are used in a row, they will fit together and create one long tabletop surface. Currently in production, the desks are being created for a total of $1600, which was generously provided by the photo 2dean. Choosing inexpensive methods and working in a production line fashion, student volunteers are making the desk modifications become a reality.

It is exciting for current students to experience the production of the desks, and future students will not miss the benefits of this project either. Whether they get the opportunity to use the desks or not, they will get to see the results of a hands-on engineering project carried out by Western students. One of the most important things students are learning in this project is that nothing ever goes as perfectly as pictured, but this is ok and sometimes even leads to new, better ideas. The desk modification project should be completed in time for this semester’s students to utilize the new desks for their final exams. But, the work is never done! Dr. Smith hopes to maintain a list of projects that can be completed as design sprints to help the engineering department, as well as others on campus. Next on that list? To build a stand for the desks using only the scraps from this project! A challenging and meaningful task, it will be a project perfect for engineering students who love to dive in and get their hands dirty!