One of the important lessons that I learned upon my arrival to the United States centers on the value of the practical experience available to undergraduate students in order for them to explore and prepare for a career that will be rewarding – both professionally and personally – and fulfilling. At Illinois Tech, co-ops and internships provide the opportunity to work in a professional setting for a time- period of three to eight months to gain “curricular practical training” in an area related to their field of academic study.
Is such programs, the company will have a training program where they introduce the student to the daily life of a young professional within a particular field; students gain skills within their future career pathway and also practical life lessons including the fundamental competencies and attributes necessary to be successful. In addition, students learn to be resourceful, to work on diverse teams, to ask questions, and to take responsibilities on many different levels. The work is challenging because the problems are often undefined but these experiences also give you an opportunity to learn in ways not possible in the classroom.
One of the challenges as a recent transfer student from the University of Damascus in Syria was the lack of connection, or a network. I was new to Illinois Tech, and to the United States and I wondered how I might secure an good internship program. Luckily enough, Illinois Institute of Technology has a strong Alumni Association that connects recent graduates of the university who have launched their careers and businesses with aspiring students like myself who are just about to start their careers. Students can go to the alumni association and ask to be connected with one of the graduates who may provide guidance and mentoring. Formally – and informally – I found this network to be amazing, and certainly one that I had not expected.
Through the alumni association I was introduced to Mr. Said Al-hallaj, the founder and CEO of AllCell, and himself a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Illinois Tech. After applying for a co-op and interviewing with Said and the team at AllCell, I had the chance to participate in a Co-Op program with AllCell, and this was a turning point in my career. Among the memories that I have taken with me from my co-op was diversity of the staff, the mentoring and coaching that I received and the fact that Said was not only providing opportunities for me but that he had other undergraduate and graduate students as interns and co-ops and that he had hired other graduates of IIT. AllCell was a microcosm of Illinois Tech and testing and training ground for entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers.
I would like to close with this lesson. When I first arrived, Said and so many others reached out to me when I asked questions and inquired about everything. I have been swept up into this Scarlet Hawk enthusiasm, and now as a Spring 2015 graduate of Illinois Tech, I know look forward to the emails and LinkedIn messages from current undergraduates with questions. Though I am less than six months into my career, I know that I have a responsibility to share what has been given to me to others.
In my next post I will talk more in details about the program, the lessons, and skills I gained, and how I was able to use this program as a starting point in my professional career.
Electrical and Computer Engineering | Armour College of Engineering