UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Engineering Leadership Development (ELD) students embark on a leadership journey in the program’s ENGR 408: Leadership Principles course, learning about the importance self-awareness, team dynamics and project management on design solutions — all to become technical leaders ready to impact innovation and creativity in a global workforce. As part of the educational experience offered in ENGR 408, students receive practical application opportunities to practice and test their leadership knowledge and abilities.
Through the course’s new industry engagement-based experience known as “interview an engineer,” ELD faculty challenge students in ENGR 408 to reflect on their experiences in the course. Using that reflection, students form questions to engage with and learn from practicing engineers.
According to Kaylyn Forte, a project manager at John R. McAdams Company, agricultural and biological engineering alumna, ELD alumna, and “interview an engineer” interviewee, the project bridges the gap between the available resources for undergraduate students and the experiences working engineers gain in the field.
“Unfortunately, what many classrooms do not teach engineering students are the experiences that they are undoubtedly going to face such as ethical dilemmas and how they were approached and solved, what to expect in a managerial engineering role, why it is great to aspire to keep growing your career, conflict resolution with coworkers and general questions and answers with engineers for guidance,” she said.
Forte explained that though many engineers learn these skills during the first few years after graduating, she believes the ELD program sets engineering students up to succeed immediately upon graduation by providing opportunities like the “interview an engineer” experience.
“I’m appreciative of this minor and its impact on me as both an engineer and a person,” she said. “It led me to consider approaches, solutions, communication styles and ways of thinking in a manner that has benefited me greatly in my career and life. I’m thankful for assignments such as the ‘interview an engineer’ assignment to connect current students with past students, keeping the conversation lines open for growth.”
William Kraus, a mechanical engineering and ELD minor student, said the interviews allowed him to learn how practicing engineers evolve their leadership skillset through continued career development and practical application.
“The interview made me realize the myriad of leadership tools I can use in different situations, and that to develop as an engineering leader, I must continue learning new strategies to improve upon successful teams,” he said.
Glenn Gesoff, a performance adviser for BP, Penn State industrial engineering alumnus and an “interview an engineer” interviewee, explained that he shared personal career development experiences with students during his interview.
“I enjoyed chatting with engineering students and sharing my perspective on my career, how engineering leadership played a significant role throughout my career, the importance of the ELD program and how professional skills have proved invaluable in my career development,” he said.
Olivia Olsen, an industrial engineering and ELD minor student, explained how she initially wrote interview questions that outlined each unit in the course. During the interview, she opened with a guided question but found the conversation flowed naturally.
“In hearing some of the challenges in the workforce, it gave me a better idea as to how to prepare to combat such issues,” she said. “Overall, more knowledge and information is better, and what better way to get it than to pick the brain of someone who’s been through some of the real things?”
Brad Sutliff, a maintenance and engineering manager with Solvay and chemical engineering alumnus, explained how as his conversation with an ELD student progressed, it became more of an open dialogue — transforming into a two-way interview.
“Discussing what is out there and learning about different workplace cultures and career paths that can be pursued can help graduating engineers have a better idea what direction they want to head and areas they want to explore post-graduation,” he said.
The ELD program and its alumni association, the Engineering Leadership Alumni Society, were recently recognized by the Penn State Alumni Association for the “interview an engineer” efforts and received a 2021 Volunteer Award in the fellowship and networking category. An awards celebration will be held on Friday, Oct. 1.