On Thursday morning, Dan Summerfield and Rob Hanson manned the Quanta Utility Engineering Services booth in Montana Tech’s HPER complex during the university’ 19th annual career fair, hoping to fill four open positions — or “maybe more,” Summerfield said.
A couple of hours into the fair, however, the two engineering supervisors hadn’t yet found what they were looking for: engineering students with good organizational and customer-service skills who were available to start working immediately.
The issue, according to Hanson, was a good one for students: too much competition among employers for employees.
“I feel like there’s a lot of jobs out there,” he said, which meant things seemed “slower than usual” for those who were hoping to hire and recruit interns.
With employers like Quanta holding "more openings than resumes," as Hanson put it, students like sophomore nursing major Marissa VandenBos found themselves in a strong position to find opportunities.
Though not ready for a full-time career, VandenBos said she entered the career fair with an open mind, ready to take the opportunity for an internship if it “came (her) way.” And according to VandenBos, a couple of those opportunities presented themselves, one of which would start this summer and the other of which would begin immediately.
While VandenBos hadn’t formally signed up for either opportunity as of Thursday morning, it’s safe to say Sarah Raymond would encourage her to do so.
As Montana Tech’s director of career services, Raymond says an internship “really helps (students) get good skills that connect with their experience in the classroom — and employers are really looking for that hands-on experience.”
And Raymond says the career fair allows students to make connections with those employers, to start “talking to people that are doing the careers they want to do” and to begin building professional networks. This year, the possibilities for doing so were enlarged with the addition of 16 new companies that hadn’t previously recruited on campus, bringing the total number attending the career fair to 110.
To prepare students to make the most of the career fair opportunities, Raymond says the school’s office of career services works ahead of time to help students develop lists of companies they're interested in, to create an “elevator pitch” they can approach recruiters with, and to come up with good questions for those recruiters that are based on company research. The goal, she says, is “to help get the student the confidence...to start to build a connection with that company.”
While Raymond says the career fair is a key way for students to begin building those connections, it’s not the only way Tech students find their way to career-enhancing internships.
Take, for example, Tech senior geophysics major Andrew Wilson.
In April of his junior year, Wilson says he “applied to a bunch of different internships” and “hadn’t heard much back from them” when he came across a posting from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was seeking interns. Though it was “pretty late” in the year to find a summer position — much less one with “the leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system,” as the JPL website puts it — Wilson decided to apply.
A day later, he was interviewing for the position. And within months, he was in Pasadena, California, helping design a program that seeks to map Mars’s subsurface geology.
While Wilson says he was surprised to be selected for the prestigious position, he doesn’t believe it was an accident. He credits another summer research experience for giving him the skills and experience he needed to get to JPL, albeit it in much different environs. Namely, an archaeological excavation site outside of Dewey, where Wilson used his knowledge of geophysics to help lay out grids, process data, and use the data to interpret and excavate areas where they believed relics of Native American hunting camps might be.
“That was pretty much the number-one thing that got me to my internship, was that our school had to offer that research program, because without that, I wouldn’t have had the necessary background to get my foot into the door at JPL,” Wilson said.
During his 10-week stint at JPL on the campus of Caltech, Wilson helped design ground-penetrating radar technology that will “digitize relevant geologic information” to help produce a computer model of the Red Planet’s subsurface as part of the Mars 2020 project, which will use a rover to search for signs of microbial life.
While that experience opened Wilson’s eyes to the extraterrestrial possibilities of the earth science he is studying and to the exciting challenges to be found in a top-notch academic environment like that of JPL, he says he plans to pursue a professional position before eventually going to graduate school for a Ph.D.
So on Wednesday, he was there in the HPER complex, checking out the booths for new ways to build on his background and toward his career.
While he didn’t find a lot of opportunities for geophysicists during this year’s career fair, Wilson said it was good chance to use the experience he’d gained during his JPL internship interacting in a professional environment. As for finding a job, Wilson says he hopes to have more opportunities at a professional conference he plans to attend in October.