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September 26, 2013

Director of Cleveland Engineering Society visits Fenn College

By Doug Vehovec

On Sept. 17, Fenn College of Engineering hosted a visit from Susan Davis, executive director of the Cleveland Engineering Society (CES).  Davis spoke as part of the “Meet the Experts” lecture series, a re-imagining of the alumni lecture series format that began in 2010.  The presentation by Davis focused on three topics pertinent to students’ futures: co-ops, networking and professional organizations.

Davis used real life examples to support her talking points, which resonated with the students gathered in Foxes’ Den Lounge inside Stilwell Hall.  About 60 students showed up, some of whom may only have come for the free pizza and refreshments – several attendees strayed during the course of the lecture.  The 40 or so who remained were given an opportunity to join CES, with Fenn College footing the $25 membership fee.  One of those who joined was Ryan Gertsma, a sophomore chemical engineering major.

“I came for the networking opportunities,” Gertsma said.  He was convinced of the value of professional organizations by one of Davis’ examples.  “When she talked about the two kids, how the one with great grades couldn’t find a job and the one who had experience and networked did.”

Davis’ 30-minute lecture likewise persuaded Euchechukwu Obiako to join CES.  A freshman chemical engineering major, Obiako attended the lecture and opted to take advantage of the membership opportunity to help both academically and professionally.

“The mentorship and assistance will help me,” Obiako said.  “I’m still exploring what I want to do, and being a member will help me out to decide where to take my career.”

That kind of impact is exactly what the lecture series’ organizer Gregg Schoof hopes to make.  Schoof is the manager of student programs for Fenn College.

“We try to bring in people who have graduated from here, as well as outside folks – as long as they bring some interesting stuff to tell students,” Schoof said.  “One issue that’s going on nationally is that these kinds of organizations memberships are dropping off.  These events let students know the benefits of organizations like [CES].”

Davis shared the story of an engineering student she’d helped to highlight the importance of networking.  She took the young man to a social function with the intention of introducing him to professionals in his field.  By following Davis’ advice, he left the function with four contacts.  Two of those offered co-op or internship opportunities on the spot.

“I reminded him to always be up front and ask for what you want.  To present himself with confidence and make an impression,” Davis said.  “You want to build your professional brand – that’s what people will remember.”

Two upcoming CES events offer students a chance to start building their brand.  The Leadership Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Independence on Oct. 17 features speeches from regional business leaders including Christopher Mapes, president and CEO of Lincoln Electric.  Later in the month the CES Annual Industrial & Manufacturing Conference and Tradeshow runs on Oct. 30.

Davis urged students to look for and attend events like this.  She noted that people often don’t recognize the importance of networking and figure out how to do it successfully until their 30’s.  The crowd of listeners looked particularly attentive when Davis pointed out that they were “the engineers of tomorrow,” a turn of phrase that could be taken both literally and figuratively.

“Meet the Experts” is one of several programs offered by Fenn College aimed at encouraging engineering students to take an active role in their success.  Due to the broad nature of engineering, many of these programs welcome students of any discipline.
Fenn College seeks to engage tomorrow’s engineers starting at the high school level.  The bulk of Schoof’s responsibilities lie in recruiting.  Fenn Academy is a partner program between the college and 44 local high schools.

“We have events called ‘engineering activity days,’ where we take groups of 50 down here for half a day,” Schoof said.  “The goal is that when they leave here they have a better understanding of what engineering is all about.”

Groups are given an overview of the engineering field, shown labs with ongoing projects, participate in Q&A sessions with engineering students and given an opportunity to pilot a Segway.

Fenn College’s recruiting efforts paid off this academic year as the college celebrates its 90th anniversary.  Freshman enrollment is up over 50 percent, the largest increase on campus according to Schoof.  He attributes that to the success of the department’s programs, and encourages anyone interested to find out what engineering is all about.

“It’s a great occupation to go into,” Schoof said.  “As an engineer these students are graduating and starting at $65,000 a year with their bachelor’s degrees.”