Six Alumni Give Advice to Engineering 101 Students

The best way to understand something is often to actually go through it. Tuesday afternoon in the Hahn University Center Forums A and B, though, an audience of first-year students had the good fortune to hear six recent Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering alumni share their experiences and, perhaps, gain insight on how to go through it better.


Students from USD’s Living-Learning Communities taking the Introduction to Engineering 101 preceptorial class sought to glean advice and do some networking with the alumni, who work for San Diego Gas and Electric Company, Cubic, Clarity Design, Accenture and Thermo Fisher Scientific, respectively.

The six alumni — Mechanical Engineering’s Joshua Williams ’16 and Devyn Bryant ’17 (both with SDG&E), Industrial and Systems Engineering’s Rishika Daryanani ’16 (Accenture) and Kim Woodbury ’15 (Thermo Fisher Scientific) and Electronics Engineering’s Esther Cho ’16 (Clarity Design) and Neil Vranicar ’16 (Cubic Corporation) — introduced themselves, their year and current employment before quickly moving into advice mode.

Alumni Give Good Advice

The alumni’s immediate advice centered on making sure students ask questions, find the abundance of resources available at USD for success; the importance of time management and work-life balance; connecting to a student organization within the school as well as an ally who can encourage them such as the energetic Rhonda Harley, an assistant director in the Career Development Center who works closely with all School of Engineering students; take advantage of opportunities such as studying abroad courses and to know that companies are always hiring interns so never feel you should wait to send a resume and inquire about job prospects.

“Spend more time on school than you think you should,” said Vranicar, an associate electrical engineer at Cubic Corp., when asked about time management tips when, as a first-year student, one is getting their first taste of freedom as a college student. “But have fun, too.”

Daryanani, a senior analyst with Accenture, suggested that students should find the right study groups, such as ones who will study well mornings or night and other factors in order to “find people who have habits like you.”

Added Woodbury: “Whatever you do, don’t leave things to Sunday night. Make sure you do some of it during the week, but Sunday night should not be that stressful.”

Each alum had positive things to say about their student experience at USD’s engineering school, which was founded only in 2012 (USD has had an engineering program since 1986) and just last month earned its highest ranking to date — 11th in the nation without a doctorate program — in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges 2019 publication.

“The wonderful thing about getting an engineering degree is that after four or five years in engineering (here), you’re ready to go out into the (job) field,” Bryant said. “That’s not necessarily the case with a lot of other majors and one of the things I really like about engineering is that it’s getting a professional degree in only four years.”

Bryant contends that student organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at USD he was in, great professors, internship opportunities and “finding that the hardest courses were often the most rewarding,” left him with a favorable assessment of choosing USD’s program.

The Dual Degree is Key

While Bryant touches on many reasons to appreciate a USD engineering degree, atop the list is the uniqueness that each graduating student earns a BA and a BS degree in the nine-semester program, essentially getting the Catholic education for “the whole person,” as Susan Lord, department chair for general engineering, stated on Tuesday.

“I think when you put a USD engineer out into the industry, you get people who’ll say, ‘Wow, you don’t come off as the typical engineer.’ At USD, we’ve had to operate in so many different spheres (because of the BA classes),” Bryant said of the dual degree. “Yeah, it’s a couple of extra classes, but if you think about it, it’s a break from all of the math, science and physics schedule. I remember taking logic and the philosophy of human nature and the concepts I learned in it made me think about life in a different way, such as human interactions and why do I do some of the things I do? It expanded my mind learning about different things and it was great as a conversation tool, too.”

Woodbury, a manufacturing engineer with Thermo Fisher Scientific, said the soft skills training is what she appreciated most from the dual degree component. “The public speaking class was one of my favorites. It was a fun class, I met some of my best friends and while it seems like work, you’re with different people. In my job, I have to talk to different groups so it does help.”

Williams strongly praised the dual degree’s soft skills benefit in that engineers are seen as problem solvers, “but if we can’t articulate it, then it’s not worth anything. Being personable, attaining soft skills. You have a toolbox and this is just about adding different things to that toolbox. Having the BA/BS degree gives you a leg up on others. When I interned at Harley Davidson and we were able to articulate what we designed. Thank you, USD, for that.”

Cho, an Internet of Things (IoT) engineer for Clarity Design, said the BA/BS degree helped open up the conversation during job interviews because you can have a great conversation on how USD prepares you with your communication skills. When I came to USD, English was a second language for me and never felt comfortable. But having the required courses helped me gain confidence.”

— Ryan T. Blystone 

Learn more about the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering program by visiting its website.


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