By: Peer Career Coach Priscilla Akpabio
I am currently a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student at Illinois Tech. I transferred into IIT in 2018 having a vague idea about what I wanted my career to look like after graduation. I wasn’t sure about how to reach my career goals. I talked to fellow students, alumni and career services, everyone seemed to agree getting an internship was the first step in launching my career. I got a lot of information about how to search for internships. I knew what career fairs to attend, what campus organizations to be a part of. There were a lot of resources available that discussed the journey to getting a job but not as many on what actually happens during an internship. I wanted to share some key points that helped me succeed in my internship and some valuable lessons I learned from working in the engineering industry some ways it influenced my growth personally and professionally.
I got an internship as a Service engineer in the New Power business unit at Cummins Inc. It was a co-op, so I got six months worth of experience. Taking a semester off school; initially a difficult decision ended up being more than worth it. The biggest motivation to take an offer for a co-op was my career uncertainty. I had no idea what exactly I wanted to do or what type of company I wanted to work for. I had certain interests and I thought it would be great to get experience in these interests before deciding if I wanted to make a career in them or not. I developed an interest in electric vehicles and decided to pursue that at Cummins. My experience was wonderful, I learned so much about electric vehicles. I also got the opportunity to shadow other teams and functions to find out if I was interested in anything else.
At the start of my co-op I sat down with my manager and came up with a list of internship goals. We both tailored my experience at Cummins to achieving all those goals. Each project I was assigned was devoted to tackling one or more of my goals. I think this is very important at any internship experience, as an intern I highly recommend communicating with your supervisor and making sure you get as much from your internship experience as possible. The whole point of an internship for me was testing the waters and figuring out what I wanted to do full time. Creating this list of internship goals really helped shape my experience.
Another important takeaway for me was learning to ask questions. I really struggled with this at first because I was worried I would come across as dumb or it would send the wrong message about me. I found out it actually worked the opposite way. Asking questions shows people you are paying attention and you are enthusiastic about learning. Remaining silent gives the impression you understand everything going on or you aren’t as attentive. I also learned to take advantage of the resources that were available to me, walking up to colleagues and getting insight, hanging with technicians in the workshop to learn from them and see things firsthand. These are all traits that show your team members that you are invested in whatever project you have been assigned.
My final goal and by far my biggest personal takeaway was learning to be confident. I had to step outside of my comfort zone; learn to lead meetings and presentations. I struggle with self doubt and it was nice to work with members of my team to help me overcome that.
I hope these three takeaways can help shed some light on some things I wish I had known going into my internship.