Engineers are problem solvers. And the six departments that make up UIC’s College of Engineering developed a solution to put freshmen on the path to early success. It’s called the Freshman Engineering Success Program (FESP), and it is designed to motivate and support students with their studies. It also rewards them with a guaranteed paid internship at the end of the year.
The program, now in its third year, consists of a series of sessions and group projects encouraging students to learn more about their discipline and how to build an engineering sense by using their existing math and science skills. Throughout the year, the students participate in at least two general sessions, two team-based mini-projects separated by major, and are introduced to the wide array of resources at UIC to help them achieve academic success. Additional support comes from required tutoring sessions with by undergraduate engineering students who are dedicated to helping engineering freshmen in their math and science coursework throughout the year.
“This program is targeted toward students right out of high school,” said Vahe Caliskan, a Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It teaches them how to survive college, while teaching them about engineering and all the different fields it encompasses.”
Throughout the year the students will gain a better understanding of what it means to be an engineer, and learn more insight about the coursework over the next four years. They will learn from the faculty and have the opportunity to talk to them one-on-one, which is geared toward helping them get know and feel comfortable approaching faculty members with questions.
“We engage the students during the sessions and give them some small brain teasers to do,” said Caliskan. “In ECE, they will use a computer simulation tool or use Matlab to create something. These are freshmen taking fundamental classes, but this program will introduce them to engineering tools and terminology or jargon.”
Apart from providing students with projects and tutors, the program introduces students to the professional workplace. FESP coincides with an orientation class that teaches the students how to write a resume, discuss what to expect during an interview, and have the opportunity to learn from industry professionals who visit the campus for speaking engagements.
“We teach them about being professional, provide tips about working in groups, time management, and more,” said Caliskan. “There is resume writing and things to make the students aware of the tools we have available for them to succeed.”
“We want to help the students and give them all the support to succeed,” said Caliskan. “We are not giving them more stuff to do. We are providing them with the professional tools to succeed in their courses and in the real world. These are things that are not usually taught in classes.”
“They went over resume making, which was one of the first things, and they covered interviewing,” said Florian Richter, a junior in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. “We had to turn in a resume and it was critiqued. And for the interviews, they discussed what type of questions to expect and how to prepare, how to dress, and the basics, which is important.”
“They even provided seminars on how to use LinkedIn,” he added. “[The program] had outside speakers, who shared their work experiences, too. It gives you more direction and introduces you to all the parts of the industry.”
Gaining Real-World Experience
Students who successfully complete the FESP requirements and maintain a GPA of 3.2 or greater during the first and second semester qualify for the Guaranteed Paid Internship Program (GPIP) during the summer that follows their freshman year.
The freshmen are placed in engineering firms in the Chicago area or in a research laboratory at UIC, where they are exposed to real world engineering practices, build relationships with industry professionals and college professors, and gain valuable experience. In its first two years, more than 150 freshmen have participated in the program and worked summer internships.
Richter is among the students who have benefited from the program. After his freshman year, he participated in the Guaranteed Paid Internship Program (GPIP) and landed a three-month summer internship at Knowles Corporation.
“It was a great experience. I was working with the MEMS (Micro Electronic Mechanical Systems) Team and I was working on small microphones” said Richter. “I was able to get hands-on experience and my mentors let me get my hands dirty. The work is very different from school work.”
While interning at Knowles, Richter remembered what he learned in FESP and created a LinkedIn profile highlighting his work at the company. This move led to more opportunities after his sophomore year.
“I wrote down all the test equipment and my experience,” said Richter. “Within two weeks of posting it, I was contacted by an Apple recruiter who asked me if I would like to try out for one of the five teams available.”
After a couple of phone interviews, Richter was offered a paid internship at Apple in California. He started in January 2015 and worked on the Audio Electrical Engineering team for seven months. While he gained more experience, he also came back with more than work experience.
“After my internship with Apple, my confidence shot up through the roof,” he said. “I feel much more confident in my classes and talking to professors, and it was a big barrier I had to break.”
Today, the UIC junior is in Chicago working on his degree, and he already has another internship lined up with Apple. According to Richter, the projects are top secret, and his interviews consisted of “very technical questions.”
“I didn’t think I would get an internship until junior or senior year, like most people,” said Richter “Now, I’m taking off semesters to go work, and it is all within my field.
More information about the programs can be found at Internship Program.