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Students take time out from spring break to spend time with professional engineers

While some of their classmates basked in the sun or hit the slopes, other University of Missouri College of Engineering students found spring break gave them the perfect opportunity to get a close look at an industry they might be a part of after graduation.

Industrial engineering freshman Taran Winnie job shadowed at HDR, Inc., in Lee's Summit, Mo., over spring break. About 55 engineering freshmen took advantage of the job shadowing opportunities available to them over spring break this year.

Last fall, the College of Engineering’s Student Services Department provided an opportunity for students to job shadow at companies near their hometowns over spring break. Taran Winnie decided it would be something perfect for him to do while at home in Lee’s Summit.

“Student services sent out an announcement for anyone interested in job shadowing over spring break. I signed up through them, told them my major and my interests, what I’m looking for and where I’ll be, and they matched me up,” Winnie, a second semester industrial engineering freshman, said.

Spring break is an excellent time for students to shadow professional engineers on the job because it allows students to take time out to visit a company without interfering with study time, said Tina Balser, assistant director of student enrichment. A spring component to the Freshmen Enrichment Program, this is the second year MU Engineering has offered job shadowing opportunities. This year, 55 students signed up to spend some time at one of a dozen companies over spring break.

“Many students go back home over spring break,” Balser said. “Because they’re going back to St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago — where all these bigger companies are — it’s a cost-effective way for them to get a great experience.”

Winnie toured HRD, Inc., an architecture, engineering, consulting and construction firm headquartered in Omaha, Neb., at the Lee’s Summit facility. He said exposure to the various components of the company allowed him to see how different disciplines of engineering fit into one place.

“This gave me insight into an office setting. IMSE has places where it works with civil engineering, like traffic flow studies,” he said. “This office was more civil engineering-based, but I really could use the tips I got from the new employees on how to do interviews and what to do near graduation. They were the freshest out of college, so they were almost on the same level.

“One person had been there for about a month. Another was just starting her second week. It was very helpful. We talked to them about the interviewing process and what it’s like working for the company when you first start,” he said.

Edward Straub, a senior design engineer at Garmin International’s facility in Olathe, Kan., said the two students he mentored were very interested in how to prepare for a career in engineering.

“We spent some time initially going over which classes they had already completed, which classes they’re currently taking at Mizzou, and where their future interests in engineering lie,” said Straub, who received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mizzou in 2004.

“I then gave them a lesson on surface-mount soldering techniques at my lab bench and had them try out the principles by themselves on non-functioning printed circuit boards (PCBs),” Straub said.

Job shadowing opportunities are currently only available to engineering freshmen over spring break. Balser said the opportunities are promoted in introductory courses, and interested students fill out applications, where they indicate their majors, interests and career goals. This information is used to match students to the best job shadowing opportunities available near their hometowns.

“We start promoting this in the fall, so if students don’t have plans for spring break, which most usually know by November, they can take advantage of this opportunity,” Balser said.

For some students, it’s just a glimpse into what lies ahead. Winnie said he would like to job shadow again.

“Once I get in contact with the HRD’s Kansas City office, I’d like to job shadow there and see if they’re more a better fit for what I want to do,” he said.