Everything high school students need to know about engineering internships
By Lucy Toman, SWE Collegiate
I am currently in my third internship during my college career. The summer after freshman year, I worked at Gates That Open, based in Tallahassee, FL, selling gates . . . that open. I worked in the shipping and handling department and spent a lot of time taking measurements of inventory in the company’s non-air conditioned warehouse in Florida in July. Last summer, I interned with the Society of Women Engineers at their HQ office in Chicago (#lucyloveschicago – look it up!). At SWE, I was working with Randy Freedman, the Associate Director of Educational Programming, on anything and everything related to getting young girls involved in STEM, specifically engineering. This summer, I am interning with Burns & McDonnell at their headquarters office in Kansas City, MO (#LTgoesKC – look it up!) in the Water Department.
All of my internships have been very different from each other and I think that has given me a lot of insight into "what I want to do when I grow up." I have learned what I want to do later in life and, maybe more importantly, what I don’t want to do. As far as a career goes after college, I am still working my way towards figuring out what that is. Finding internships in different places with different companies is a great way to experience all engineering fields and really get your feet wet in a multitude of career paths.
Experience a New Place
One of the best things about my internships is that I have been able to experience so many different places. I am from Florida, but I don’t know if I’ll end up staying in the place that I grew up after I graduate college. Finding internships all over the country has given me a glimpse of what it would be like to live in other places.
Work in a New Setting
I have learned that I maybe don’t want to work in a warehouse setting and that I maybe do want to work in an office in a big city. I have learned that I really enjoy doing outreach work, but I also really love solving math problems in a typical engineering firm. I have learned that a smaller office can provide closer relationships and a larger office can provide a wealth of resources and knowledge from those around you. I do not think that I would have been able to realize all of these things without the different internships I have had. Plus, you get to meet so many more people – building a network to use later in life!
Where to Search for Internships
Internships are definitely not easy to find. The University of Florida (Go Gators!) has a career fair in the fall and the spring semester and for 3 years I did everything right; I had the polished resume, the insightful elevator speech, the great suit dress - all the things you need to impress. Each year I would go and come out empty handed. I have found that it is much better to search for internships in other places besides the school career fair. I think talking with people from your hometown is a great place to start, especially for freshman. Maybe your mom’s co-worker has a husband who is an engineer or maybe your grandpa knows someone that has her own small manufacturing plant. Those connections that you can make with the people around you in your natural environment are some of the best connections to have! I also think that going to conferences (like SWE’s conference in Philadelphia this year) are a great place to network and find internships. Most, if not all, of the people at SWE’s conference are looking for bright, talented, young women engineers and I have found that environment to be a lot less stressful.