Preparing the Next Generation of Engineers
Civil engineering student Kathleen Sagun felt a bit scared going into her freshman year at California State University, Long Beach’s College of Engineering. So, a recent visit to Southern California Edison’s GridTech Labs to meet engineering interns and tour the lab gave her some helpful direction.
Kathleen and 59 fellow students are part of the Beach Engineering Student Success Team at the college. BESST, a recipient of an SCE STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) grant, provides incoming engineering students — particularly first-generation and underrepresented students — with a one-week orientation program that helps them meet academic challenges while building a support community.
At GridTech Labs, the students were part of a Q&A session with SCE engineering interns. These interns, students themselves, shared what it is like to be a new engineering student, to have a prestigious internship and to see the end of their studies in sight.
“It was very helpful to have a first-person experience in an actual workplace with engineers,” said BESST student Melissa Gaines. “It opened my eyes to the workplace.”
A recurring theme was how difficult, yet rewarding, the process of learning engineering can be.
“You put your head down and keep going through it and you keep failing,” said engineering intern Jordan Rickards, a senior at California Baptist University. “And you fail again and again and again and then you get through it and move on to the next.”
Intern Nikki Gmerek, a fifth-year student in electrical engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, talked about failing a semester her freshman year, and about applying to 43 internships before she got her internship at SCE.
“Rejection can be hard to handle, but [Nikki] was able to get a good internship. This was inspiring for me,” said Melissa.
The students also toured the GridTech Labs and learned about the huge modeling computers that help research engineers understand how to modernize the grid to integrate renewable energy.
SCE engineer Renee Cinar, who organized the event, is one of many engineers who started at the company as an intern.
“I know firsthand how hard it is to bridge that gap when none of your family members or people that you know around you can provide you advice or mentoring,” she said. “The direction I received from my parents was ‘you need to get a job when you graduate from high school because we can’t support you.’ Others stepped in to mentor me, so I am delighted to be able to pay it forward”