Terri-Jane Yuzda

U of C Internship Earns High Grades from Students, Employers

Mechanical Engineering Intern Kris Klementis with ALSTOM in Switzerland

Whether working at home or abroad, students extend their learning curve -- while employers benefit from youthful enthusiasm, knowledge and intelligence.

Freelance Writer

How does simulating the combustion process or working with robotics in Switzerland sound? Or perhaps developing software for a major firm in Calgary? While you're still in university? For students in the University of Calgary Engineering Internship Program, these are just a few of the hundreds of opportunities available.

The internship program is understandably popular among Calgary engineering students. About 60 per cent of them take part - almost double the national average for placement programs - with 228 students earning some $9 million last year. As well, about 75 per cent of interns are offered permanent, after-grad jobs by their placement companies.

The program, which adds an extra year to engineering students' degrees with 12- to 16-month work-terms, has many benefits, says Nima Dorjee, P.Eng., the program's director. "The experience and the challenge are attractive, and at very little risk," he says.

Building Confidence Abroad
Fourth-year student Mackenzie Baker, whose internship took her to ALSTOM Power in Switzerland and ABB Applied Mechanics in Sweden last year, says the advantages include work experience and clarifying career goals. "It's really neat to apply what you've learned on the job in school and vice-versa," she says. "As for motivation, it's like, wow, I've got one more year and I can jump into the work force, and I know a bit about what the work force is like, and I can feel confident."

Manpreet Aulakh, a current intern with Autodesk, a software development firm in Calgary, echoes Ms Baker's sentiments. "It's excellent," he says. "I'm actually doing some networking and site support, and compiling software for major software releases."

Students typically earn about 70 to 80 per cent of new graduate salaries during their internships. The year's work can be credited to their professional designation requirement, too.

Employers Like It Too
The program is also popular among employers. They get first crack at the University of Calgary class, and access skilled employees with up-to-date technological knowledge. "The employers we work with have shown incredible support, but it's not just altruistic; they're getting enthusiasm, knowledge and intelligence," says Mr. Dorjee, who also serves on APEGGA Council.

Barry Lester, P.Eng., vice-president and COO of Stantec, a strong supporter of the program since its inception in 1993, agrees. "Students get the opportunity to participate in industry and get some valuable experience, and the companies get willing workers and a chance to look at a number of potential candidates for future employment. I really can't say enough about the program. I truly believe it's a win-win for both the students and the employers."

Employers often put a lot of thought into how to benefit both students and their own companies. At Stantec, students rotate through each department. "In the summertime, we get the kids out on construction, land development, transportation or building sites. In the wintertime, we have them in the office, working in different departments, helping with design," explains Mr. Lester.

Beginning to End Projects
Other companies, such as TRLabs, a non-profit research consortium, give students cutting-edge projects to complete from beginning to end. "What we have most of the interns doing is developing prototypes for futuristic communications systems," explains Dr. Grant McGibney, P.Eng., director of wireless research at TRLabs. "The intern who's working with me is working on a piece of hardware that will implement a wireless computer network. They do exist right now, but they're very slow, so we're trying to boost the speed up to the same as a wired network."

The interns "actually build the hardware; they're in on the design," Dr. McGibney adds. "The staff member acts as a mentor, but the intern does all the work - from design to finding parts to laying out the circuits to actually building the prototypes."

TRLabs also uses the U of C program for recruitment. Since most of the staff members are professors and grad students, they try to recruit students for grad school and promote TRLabs as a "place to do high quality graduate research.

"We've had interns that came here, did their intern project, and that was three, four years ago, and they still haven't left," Dr. McGibney says with a laugh. "They've done their master's and they're onto a PhD or whatever else."

Marketplace-style Placement
Another interesting aspect of the intern experience is the marketplace philosophy the department uses for placement. Jobs are advertised on a website, students apply, and companies interview their top choices. About 70 per cent of the students end up working in Calgary, 10 per cent in the rest of Alberta, another 10 per cent in the rest of Canada, and a further 10 per cent abroad in countries such as Sweden, Japan, the U.S., Australia and Malaysia.

There are benefits to domestic and international internships, as the experiences of Mr. Aulakh and Ms Baker aptly illustrate. Mr. Aukakh's work at Autodesk has confirmed his decision to work in the software field, and he hopes to be permanently hired after graduation.

Internationally, the opportunity to be hired on is obviously not a factor. "I was pretty keen on the traveling aspect," says Ms Baker. "(An internship) is the way to really get to know a culture and a country. If a student was thinking about backpacking through Europe for the summer, I'd say no, try to get an international placement."

It's clear the experience is almost always extremely positive for both employee and employer. As Mr. Lester comments, "The first internship student that we hired in the first year of the program still works for us today. I don't think you can say anything better than that."


Home | Past PEGGs | PEGG Search | Contact Us