Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0. Attribution scot2342 at flickr.com

For undergrad students, I see two separate “Techs” on the same campus: one that is, indeed, the North Avenue Trade School and another that truly lives up to the reputation Tech carries as a research institution. With less than a third of Tech seniors graduating in spring of 2011 planning to pursue graduate school, it’s no surprise such a focus is placed on finding that perfect post-graduation position.

It’s generally accepted that the fastest way to a full time job upon graduation is dependent on the work done while at Tech.

And, with that goal in mind, it’s understandable that a huge emphasis is placed on work experience.

Students at Tech are continually directed to pursue jobs in their major field while still in college. At this point, it’s generally accepted that the fastest way to a full time job upon graduation is dependent on the work done while at Tech. While I don’t believe this is an entirely true statement, I’ve come to realize exactly why work experience is stressed to much.

While I found the constant reminders of the importance of such experience quite frankly annoying, I can’t begin to stress how important getting this experience has been for me. I’m in fortunate position of having co-op with a certain local bottling company and am currently on my second rotation. My first semester was underwhelming, to say the least; I was simply stuck with the stereotypical intern work. However, this semester has made the countless spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations I slogged through completely worth it.

Through a pure stroke of luck and good timing, I was given the opportunity to work directly in a plant for a two-week stretch, working on increasing throughput of a production line. Though many people work on projects like this day in and day out, for me, a (soon-to-be) industrial engineer without any direct experience, the opportunity has been invaluable.

My eyes have opened to intricacies concerning change..

First off, I’ve come to realize what career path I eventually want to pursue. I know people that have not had such luck with their work experience. The projects I have been working on in the past two weeks have been some of the most interesting, engaging and actually fun projects I’ve ever participated in. But, even if I had hated the work, I would’ve learned what did not work as a career path.

I’ve also had the opportunity to interact with incredibly competent people. In addition to talent and knowledge from an outside consulting firm, I’m able to talk to and, more importantly, learn from this massive collect knowledge base. Not only have my perceptions of problem solving changed, but my eyes have been opened to intricacies concerning change management, people and sustainability I could never learn in a classroom.

Finally, I was able to get my hands dirty and contribute to a real (and impactful) project. While crashing a million-dollar piece of machinery was not my intention on my first day on the production floor, the process of diagnosing and fixing the problems that arose from my actions helped the project along and gave me even more visibility and understanding into the machinery and allowed me to apply problem solving skills.

While I will likely end up falling into the minority that pursues a graduate degree, the experience afforded to me by my co-op has been invaluable. Though the process initially may be nuisance, finding some job in your field of study is by far the best thing you could do at Tech. I know it was for me.