UW-Madison engineering students set for success
Today's brightest students compile ambitious wish lists of prospective engineering schools. And from the likes of the "who's who" of academia--Berkeley, Cornell, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, Stanford and others--many choose the UW-Madison College of Engineering.
"You have a regional university that has enormous diversity, a very good reputation and offers a great education," says Michael Corradini, the college's associate dean of academic affairs. "I think the reason they come here is it's an incredibly great value."
The cost to attend UW-Madison is among the lowest in the Big 10. In addition, says Corradini, the College of Engineering (ranked 12th best undergraduate program by U.S. News and World Report) also is one of the smallest large public engineering colleges, making for a more relaxed environment in which students can stand out.
And increasingly, they're coming to college with more mental muscle. As few as five years ago, it was unusual for engineering freshmen to enter UW-Madison with advanced-placement credits. Now it is common, says Donald Woolston, assistant dean of pre-engineering. And while five years ago, fewer than 40 percent of new engineering students ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class; today that number is more than 50 percent.
"They want to go to a place where there are many other bright students," Woolston says. "The only time that appeal wears off is when they look around a lecture hall and say, 'You know, all these people are smarter than me.' Well, no. They're not smarter than you-they're just smart."
Though the reasons vary from test anxiety to too many social activities, even bright students can struggle in the classroom, says engineering counselor Linda Schilling. She helps students deal with academic, personal and career concerns and says the most difficult part is asking for help. "They assume that if you go and ask for help, there's something wrong with you-that you're not as bright," Schilling says.
Sometimes the solution is simply changing study times and location or developing different ways to learn the material. "What students also find that works--which isn't such a common strategy in high school--is that there is strength in numbers," Woolston says. The college encourages such learning collaborations in many ways: The Kurt F. Wendt Library recently designated a newly remodeled floor for group study. The college's LINKS program joins students in study groups and course clusters, while such residential learning programs as Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) enable students to live, study and take core courses together.
Students also design learning environments through active memberships in organizations that, among others, conduct industry tours, host speakers, mentor students, or design cars, trucks, bridges or canoes for competitions.
These activities also provide some of the resume "extras" employers look for. "Students' extracurricular activities yield high dividends in the marketplace," says Sandra Arnn, Engineering Career Services director. "It is through these experiences that students develop and hone skills in communication, teamwork and leadership-all high on the list of skills employers seek."
In addition, employers place a very high value on a UW-Madison engineering education, she says. "Our students' solid, high-quality engineering education is a 'given' in the minds of our employers. Each year, nearly 100 unsolicited 'new' employers contact us to join our on-campus recruiting program," says Arnn.
Her office co-hosts Career Connection, an annual five-day event that enables employers to talk informally with students before actual on-campus recruiting begins. This September, a record-setting 240 companies set up displays in the Engineering Hall lobby and for the first time the office will host a spring-semester job fair in February.
These events are fertile ground for both students and employers. Many recruiters say their challenge isn't finding enough strong UW-Madison engineering candidates to interview--but deciding which to eliminate from further consideration, says Arnn.
Signing bonuses, once offered only to elite MBA candidates, now are common here, too. "Last year, more than 50 percent of our reported BS offers included signing bonuses. In the computer technology areas, nearly 80 percent received them," she says. "And in the current marketplace, many of the college's bachelor's degree candidates receive multiple offers with starting salaries near $50,000. Many offers also include stock options, tuition reimbursement and repayment of student loans."