Friday, November 5, 2010

Southern University Recruiting Trip

A few weeks ago, I got a note from the awesome graduate administrator here at World's Best School. The MechE department here is trying a new program, where they want to reach out to excellent undergraduate MechE universities and encourage the students there to go to grad school. Specifically, the women and underrepresented minority students. And of course, specifically to go to World's Best School.

So basically, the higher-ups want to start doing trips to recruit women and minorities to come here for grad school.

They wanted a grad student to go along, so the admin recommended they take me. The other two people going on the trip were the head of the MechE department (a woman - and by the way, how awesome is that?), and a junior faculty (a minority).

I suspect I was chosen because a) the admin likes me, and b) I did the trip to Alabama to talk to highschool girls about engineering, and c) I'm a woman. And perhaps because d) for an engineer, I'm pretty well-spoken, friendly, and charming. Right? Right. :)

I figured it couldn't hurt to go - could be fun, interesting, and I would get to spend some time with the head of the MechE department, which is never a bad career move. Also it's a good cause - always productive to encourage students of all backgrounds to look into grad school. And finally, free trip! So really, why not?

The trip was last week, and the school the three of us went to was a huge southern university in the top 5 for MechE undergrad programs. It was only for a day, so not a huge time commitment. Since it's the first trip like this, it was sort of a pilot program.

The worst part of the whole thing? The flight time.

Six AM.

My cab picked me up from my dorm at 4:30am, and since I didn't do dishes or pack the night before (ack!), I got up at 3:30. The funny part was when I stumbled into the bathroom to take a shower, my undergrad girls were still up and gossiping away.... :) Ah, college life.

The day consisted of a bunch of activities. We sponsored an American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) student chapter meeting in the morning - apparently if you pay for pizza and drinks, you have a rapt audience for an hour. It fondly reminded me of ASME meetings at my own undergrad school. (I met a lot of incredible people through ASME, and it has always surprised me that ASME does not have a strong presence at World's Best School.) We were supposed to give a talk with slides during the ASME meeting, but the projectors weren't working. So the two professors talked off-the-cuff. Turns out the head of MechE is a bit long winded...

Anyway, then we had a lunch with students who wanted to talk with us. I hadn't been aware that only women were invited, so I was so surprised when all 8 of the students at the table were girls. "Wow," I thought, "well that's a coincidence..." Silly me. :) But they asked lots of good questions, and since I ran Orientation for MechE grad students at World's Best School in Sept. this year I was well-prepared to answer all sorts of first-year questions.

Then one of the professors gave a seminar, and then we had dinner with minority students, and then the 3:30am caught up with me and I crashed into bed.

Next morning I flew home, and on life rolls. All in all it was a good trip. For myself, I was able to chat with the head of MechE, and ask her some questions about the challenges of the job, what the job entails, and her opinion on how MechE across the nation is doing. She told me about the hiring process and how she was selected for the job, her philosophy on running a department, and about how much travel she does, and what day-to-day life is like. I promise I didn't ask incessant questions, I think she was just happy to chat! She also had just gotten back from a national meeting of MechE department heads, and apparently all across the US enrollment in MechE is up. Generally, at the expense of Electrical Engineering - which I would not have expected.

I also hope I was able to be helpful in answering questions the undergrads had on grad school. I forget what that's like - not being aware of how different life is in grad school. For instance, some of the students didn't know that grad school is free for students. Unless you are doing an MBA, you get funding to pay for school - either by doing research, or being a TA, or an outside fellowship. That's a pretty key piece of information if you are deciding what to do with your life.

And another piece of key information? Grad school rocks. :)

Maybe someday I'll see some of those students wandering the halls here. You never know.

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