As the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looks to boost its recruiting profile for engineering jobs, SEAS students are flocking to project-based extracurricular groups to gain experience and professional connections.
The trend has contributed to significant growth in groups like the Harvard Undergraduate Robotics Club and Harvard's chapter of Engineers Without Borders in recent years.
From just five students in 2014, the Robotics Club’s enrollment ballooned to 101 this fall. Engineers without Borders expanded to 42 members in 2017 from 18 members in 2014.
Citing Cornell’s award-winning robotic submarine and MIT’s aerospace engineering groups, Yankang Yang ’18, president of the Harvard College Engineering Society, said that other schools have more established engineering extracurricular groups that Harvard students are trying to “emulate.”
These project-based groups enable students to gain “hands-on experience they wouldn’t otherwise get,” said Niamh Mulholland ’19, co-president of the Robotics Club, noting that designing robots presents a welcome contrast from her mostly theoretical coursework.
Mulholland said working with teammates throughout the year—including over academic breaks—to build robots that fly or navigate mazes nurtures a strong sense of community and strengthens an engineering resume.
Nicole D. Trenchard ’19, co-lead of an Engineers Without Borders project, said her club affords her the opportunity to collaborate with peers on meaningful projects and receive feedback and mentorship from practicing engineers. The Engineers Without Borders chapter is partnered with the Boston Professional Chapter, whose members review student projects. Their current projects include a clean water system in the Dominican Republic and a schoolhouse in Tanzania.
“It’s a good challenge for us to remember that not only are we engineering students, but that we’re entering a world with real problems to solve—not necessarily p-set six, problem six,” Trenchard said.
SEAS Director of Experiential and Career Development Keith R. Karasek—an in-house career advisor dedicated to SEAS students—said engagement with practicing engineers is a great opportunity for students. Karasek highlighted the design review Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX conducted last year for the Robotics Club.
Daniel A. Galindo-Navarro ’18 said students seeking engineering jobs have to “do a lot more legwork” than those pursuing more institutionalized recruiting tracks in consulting, finance and tech.
In light of this trend, Mulholland said she appreciates that Karasek is ramping up efforts to connect with engineering companies and “encourage engineering students to apply for those [jobs] rather than go for software internships if that’s not something they want to do in the future.”
In his capacity as Career Outreach and Development Chair of the Engineering Society, Galindo-Navarro works with Karasek to host career advising workshops for students, where older students or professors can pass on their knowledge. Yang and Galindo-Navarro also both said alumni have been helpful in the job search process.
In hopes of placing more engineering students in internships related to their concentration, Karasek has sought to improve connections with national labs, such as the National Institute of Standards of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On Nov. 15, Harvard will co-host the “Engineering Career Fair Collaborative” with several other Boston colleges and Yale.
Since some large engineering companies such as Apple do not yet recruit at Harvard, Karasek enrolls approximately 60 Harvard students in MIT's on-campus recruiting program every fall.
Yang said he hopes SEAS will continue to build official relationships with engineering employers.
“While it would be nice to have these resources in place—which HCES and SEAS are trying to do—a cool aspect of being in this community is that we are part of this build-up process,” Yang said.
–Staff writer Sarah Wu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sarah_wu_.