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Career Connection: Linking students with companies

Student Robyn Anderson with Anne Davis

Fifth-year senior Robyn Anderson, an industrial engineering major, talks with Anne Davis, a recruiter for General Mills. (large image)

Fifth-year senior Robyn Anderson finally has the College of Engineering's Career Connection figured out.

Don't try to visit all of the companies at once.

"It's a lot more helpful if you know who you want to talk to before you get here," said Anderson, an industrial engineering major. "At first it's overwhelming."

So Anderson focused her visits on a few companies she had researched that provided leadership development and rotation opportunities. Among the companies she visited last week was General Mills, maker of cereals such as Cheerios and other consumer goods.

General Mills was just one of nearly 130 companies that took part in Career Connection 2003, designed to allow students a chance to meet employers in a casual, friendly setting before they begin their formal job search. The Career Connection is organized annually by the college's Engineering Career Services office.

Many students come prepared with resumes, and in return the companies use the annual Career Connection to recruit students for internships, cooperative program opportunities, and jobs. The companies display information about themselves, and some hand out items such as pens, candy and staplers.

In addition, many of the companies bring recruiters who graduated from UW-Madison with engineering degrees.

"We try to recruit from the top universities," said Tim Gluszak, a 1991 graduate (MS) in chemical engineering, and one of the lead recruiters for General Mills at the Career Connection. "We've had a very successful run in the quality of students here. We've just been getting phenomenal candidates and that's what keeps us coming back."

Why would a company handing out boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios be interested in hiring engineering students? Plenty of reasons, Gluszak said. The company invests heavily in its research and development programs, and chemical engineers are well suited for General Mills' product line. In addition, the company is always looking for capable electrical engineering, industrial engineering and computer engineering students for its manufacturing and distribution systems.

For those jobs, students obviously need the technical skills they develop at the College of Engineering, Gluszak said. But just as importantly, the company seeks students who are involved in activities beyond the classroom, and in particular have shown leadership skills.

"What were some of the challenges (and) what were some of the obstacles they had to overcome?" he said. "So many people think it's all about the grade point average. We want to see more than just that."

One company on the lookout for potential hires was Zebra Technologies Corp., a suburban Chicago company that provides on-demand label and bar-coding solutions for businesses involved in shipping and distributing. Major clients include shipping giants like UPS, Federal Express, and Wal-Mart. Zebra has experienced sizable growth in recent years, even during a tough economy.

Jessica Hansey and Danielle Jacoby, both 2003 UW-Madison graduates in computer engineering, went to work for the company by turning their internships into jobs. It was a key component to getting hired, they said.

"It's critical to do internships or co-ops when you're in college," Jacoby said.

Other company representatives said they were also weathering the prolonged flat economy by finding solid niches for their products. EcoLab, a St. Paul-based company, sells cleaning and sanitizing products and systems to large, institutional customers such as hospitals, restaurants, and hotels, as well as bottlers and laundry-service companies. Students with backgrounds in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering are ideal candidates for the company, said Mark Swisher, one of EcoLab's recruiters at the Career Connection.

"The markets we're in are very conducive to growth," he said, showing off a folder of resumes a few inches thick. "We're definitely in a growth mode and to grow we need good people."