Two months into her junior year as a University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial and systems engineering undergraduate, Alyssa Wang accepted an offer—one of three she received—for a summer 2020 position as a supply chain warehouse optimization intern with a large food distribution company.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across the United States—and in late-March, Wang received an unwelcome phone call from the company. “The HR lady said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was forced to cancel its entire internship program,” she says. “At that point, I felt very discouraged. As a rising senior, the summer internship was really important to me, especially since many companies tend to provide returning full-time offers.”
She quickly pivoted. She scoured the university’s recruitment platform Handshake and LinkedIn, reached out to the two companies whose offers she had declined, and leveraged other connections in her network to find and email companies that still might be hiring.
Her persistence paid off. After applying for numerous positions near home in the Chicagoland area, Wang received a response from supply-chain management company DSC Logistics. A phone call and a Zoom interview later and her summer plans were cemented. She’s now an industrial engineering intern with the company, working on projects that include CAD drawings, optimization tools, running Excel reports and more.
When she began her position in mid-May, she completed a week of training on-site in a mostly empty corporate building, complete with masks and temperature checks at the main entrance. Then, she transitioned to working remotely, using Zoom, Gmail and Google chats to meet and interact with her colleagues. Now, as stay-at-home orders in Illinois begin to lift, she dons her mask for weekly Wednesday trips to the office.
Wang, who also is earning a Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate, says she chose industrial engineering because it would provide her the opportunity to transition to business fields in the future, and because of the flexibility it offered her to pursue a variety of fields ranging from supply chain to manufacturing to data analytics and beyond. “I also enjoy being innovative and coming up with new ideas to help solve and improve current issues,” she says.
She expects to graduate in December 2020. Due to the pandemic, Wang says, she is less confident about her full-time job prospects—but is buoyed by her success in securing a new summer internship. “I am hopeful that despite the circumstances, there will still be opportunities available,” she says.
For students who spend the summer working at Extreme Engineering Solutions (X-ES) in Madison, Wisconsin, opportunities abounded. The company hires approximately 40 engineering students, plus an additional 20 from other disciplines, for co-op positions each year. “We’re a company founded by UW-Madison engineers, and we’ve continued that tradition. Our co-op program is designed to train engineering students as entry-level engineers,” says Brian Borkovec, the company’s human resources manager. “After the first couple of months, they are doing the same type of real engineering work that our full-time employees do. The experience for the students is just fantastic, and we often hire several of them full time following their graduation.”
In spring 2020, as waves of the pandemic began to wash across the country, X-ES realized its role as an essential business—manufacturing products for applications in several industries, including defense and transportation—in keeping its workers employed and the local economy running. “The attitude we’ve taken is yes, we are thankful that it’s not necessarily affecting X-ES and we have an obligation to continue to serve our customers and to keep the community going,” says Borkovec.
That obligation also enabled the company to offer additional opportunities to students whose original summer 2020 internships, co-op positions or study-abroad experiences had fallen through. “In total, we’ve hired 12 additional students—students we weren’t planning on hiring at the beginning of summer,” he says.
And while most of those additional hires might be overqualified for some of the tasks they’re currently doing, there’s still the potential to make meaningful contributions to the company and leverage their experiences now into internships, co-op or full-time positions with X-ES in the future. “At X-ES, there’s a lot of work in manufacturing processes that some of our current engineers were helping with,” says Borkovec. “I saw the opportunity to bring in additional students, train them on some of these tasks, and free up time for full-time employees. It’s work that needs to get done and might otherwise have resulted in overtime or tasks that were pushed off. The engineering interns we hired from UW-Madison bring a great work ethic and willingness to help wherever needed.”
Author: Renee Meiller