When entering college many students choose some form of science and engineering as their major. 2007 saw the highest number of science and engineering degrees ever awarded, and the number of students entering sciences and engineering -a field that already takes up one third of all bachelor’s degrees- is constantly growing, so what draws young people to this field? Maxwell Wolf, a civil engineering undergrad sat down with DN to discuss why he chose this field, what he has accomplished so far, and what his plans for the future entail.
What first interested you about civil engineering?
I’ve known since high school that I wanted to be an engineer, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I chose civil engineering. What appeals to me the most about civil is simply the scale of the projects I work on. Mechanical and electrical engineers are constantly trying to make things smaller, to fit more into an engine, cell phone, or microchip. In civil however, the opposite is true - the bigger the better. The ability to transform great landscapes and locations into areas for human use and interaction fascinates me as a civil engineer.
You attend Northeastern University where you worked as an intern for a structural engineering company. What was the transition of coming back to classes from having worked full time like?
It is definitely different, but I didn’t find it difficult because I am learning things that I wish I had known while I was on co-op. My schedule is so different with classes too. I have more flexibility and I can do work at night, which I like. I am a very type-A person, I work hard to maintain a high GPA. In fact I think my GPA is why I got the job that I did, because to get a structural engineering job on your first co-op is hard because you need more schooling.
What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned from your “real world” experience?
On co-op, it’s important to be flexible. You may have been hired as just the intern, but if you can cover multiple roles in your company, you will add more value to your employers and get a wider range of useful experiences. Become indispensable at anything you’re asked to do, and the company will rely on you more and give you more interesting responsibilities.
What advice would you give to companies looking to hire interns?
One, give interns real work that relates to their field and that force them to make a finished product. This will involve interns and show them what is really like to work for a company. Additionally, a finished product connects their efforts with their results, making the work enjoyable and valuable. Second, hire more than one intern if you can. It can be difficult adjusting to a new job, and having another young co-worker can help an intern transition from the academic world to the corporate world. Also, having more than one intern forces the interns to both compete for credit and work together effectively to manage projects. And third, offset your intern hiring schedule so that new interns can learn from old ones before the old ones leave. This way you won’t be bombarded with mundane, distracting questions - the old interns can handle those inquiries. Fellow interns are also easier for new interns to approach when confused.
Is engineering simply work for you, or do you find it “fun” as well?
Engineering is more than just work; I chose it because it is something I enjoy. It may not be “fun” in the traditional sense, but it is definitely challenging and rewarding. In other words, you won’t find me working on the weekends, but I also won’t be routinely using sick days to avoid my job.
Do you have an ideal job? Or a specific company you would like to work for?
Since I’ve been doing research for co-op it gives me an idea of where I would like to be. The companies I like more happen to be larger companies because you have more room to travel and it is more flexible. I would like to be designing, and to do that I need more experience. As an intern I did mostly field work or drafting, to be general. The more experience you have the closer you get to actually designing.
Will you continue your education after you graduate?
I pretty much need a master’s degree, but I don’t know where it will be from yet.
*You can see another Q+A in our March issue. DN talked to another Northeastern student who just started his second co-op in chemical engineering.