Envisioning the Future: CIT's Real World Engineering Comes to Silicon Valley-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Envisioning the Future: CIT's Real World Engineering Comes to Silicon Valley

CIT freshmen and CMU-SV graduate students visit Palantir as part of the Real World Engineering program.
CIT freshmen and CMU-SV graduate students visit Palantir as part of the Real World Engineering program.

What is it like out in the working world? How do I apply my classroom learning to a career? What is it really like to be an engineer? What is the work culture at top Silicon Valley companies? Questions like these arise for many college students considering a career in engineering but have only had exposure to the academic side of the field. Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering (CIT)’s Real World Engineering program partnered with CMU’s Silicon Valley campus this spring, bringing twelve rising sophomores to Silicon Valley to provide a first-hand look into what makes an engineering career unique in the global epicenter of innovation.

The Real World Engineering program was piloted in Fall 2012 in Pittsburgh and has expanded to Washington, D.C. and Silicon Valley, the latter of which is fully funded by the Gupta First Year Experience. Twelve freshmen and several CMU-SV graduate students attended campus tours hosted by CMU alumni at Apple, EA, NVIDIA, OnLive and Palantir, as well as a tour of the Computer History Museum and various other Silicon Valley sights.

“The students had the opportunity to ask questions about what career paths CMU alumni took at each company tour. They learned that every path is unique and that there are so many ways they can use their engineering degree,” said Annette Jacobson, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies.

William Ehrett, an ECE/EPP (’16) student in the program who will be interning at Intel this summer, observed that the company tours took him and his fellow students out of the bubble of academia: “We got insight into the actual engineering industry and what work is really like. Just hearing the alumni stories detailing their career paths was really helpful.” Ehrett added that his favorite tour was at NVIDIA because of his interest in hardware and the engineers’ willingness to “speak about their work at a high level without talking down to us.”

A high value was also placed on networking both at the tours and at a reception open to Bay Area alumni held at the Silicon Valley campus. Undergraduate students mingled with graduate students, faculty and alumni, establishing connections that will be invaluable as they move forward in their academic and professional careers. “This experience was eye-opening for many of the students because they realized that they are part of a huge network of CMU alumni that they can tap into long after their four years on campus,” noted Treci Bonime, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies.

The Real World Engineering program also gave the students a chance to meet classmates at the Silicon Valley campus who are earning their masters or Ph.D. degrees. “The Pittsburgh students got the opportunity to network with our CMU Silicon Valley students, who have already worked in various engineering roles and are now earning advanced degrees in order to continue their career trajectory. I saw several discussions about jobs, locations, companies and industry sectors between the two groups during the program. This type of “informational interviewing” is always valuable for people interested in a specific industry, and our SV students appreciated meeting enthusiastic CMU classmates who they may cross paths with at companies in just a few years” explained Mikelynn Romero, Associate Director of Career Services and Student Affairs at CMU Silicon Valley.

The Real World Engineering program painted a picture of the many opportunities available to the aspiring engineers post-graduation while also opening the door for future collaborations between the Pittsburgh campus and its Silicon Valley counterpart. After positive feedback from students, the program looks to continue annual trips to Silicon Valley. "It was exciting to see the Silicon Valley campus, and meet the students and faculty for the first time. We appreciated the warm welcome we received and the support of the campus personnel and alumni in making our visit possible and very rewarding,” reflected Jacobson. “We look forward to continued collaborations regarding this program as well as the development of new opportunities in the future."

“This is the kind of collaboration that is highly beneficial to CMU as a whole,” added CMU-SV Director Martin Griss. “Mikelynn did a great job working with Treci and Annette to coordinate company visits by leveraging this campus' Silicon Valley connections. I see this program serving many more CIT students to come."