HE Lecture Series: What is all this Engineering Service Good for Anyway?

Why do employers look favorably on candidates with experience in engineering service? Why does participating in Engineers Without Borders or minoring in Humanitarian Engineering make for a strong resume? Greg Rulifson, a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado-Boulder, is not only asking these questions, he is finding tangible and logical answers.

“I do not know anyone else, besides Greg, who is implementing a systematic methodology and framework to understand something that to many of us sounds trivial, but we don’t know why it’s trivial,” Juan Lucena, professor and director of Humanitarian Engineering at Mines, said. “Why do we join EWB or why do we do Humanitarian Engineering? Why would employers even care or attribute value to a minor in humanitarian engineering or a membership in Engineers Without Borders? There are a lot of answers as to why employers attribute value to things like being a member of EWB or being in the HE minor, and, as far as, I know Greg is the only one asking these questions in a systematic way.”

Rulifson, who is studying the influence of learning through service activities such as Engineers Without Borders on hiring decisions, closed out the Humanitarian Engineering Lecture Series for the fall semester. Prior to enrolling in the Ph.D. program at CU Boulder, Rulifson earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice at the University of California, Berkeley and worked on a tsunami relief mitigation project to earn a Master’s Degree at Stanford.

Rulifson offered insight into the importance of engineering service and how to best market such experience to employers. Throughout Rulifson’s research, he has interviewed a dozen employers in civil, environmental, and mechanical engineering fields. Employers shared their views on the importance of engineering service and how such service plays into hiring decisions.

“You learn ten times as much from a practical experience than a theoretical. You might have a leg up because you have (practical) experiences,” one employer told Rulifson. “Entry level students that have that experience are about a year ahead than what we would see out of a regular program.”

Rulifson’s interviews allow him to quantify which skills learned via engineering service projects make applicants who participate in such service projects more appealing to employers.

According to Rulifson, Employers want technical and professional skills, practical skills, a holistic understanding of engineering, passion, leadership, and international experience. Working on engineering service projects allows for the development of all of these skills.

“Engineering service is very valuable,” Rulifson said. “Nobody spoke to me (and said) it’s not really that big of a deal actually. A very key differentiator (in hiring) is extracurricular activities that are related to engineering.”

“It does not get you in the door, but it helps,” one corporate interviewee told Rulifson of engineering service experience. “It absolutely differentiates you once you meet the minimum qualifications.”

Participating in Engineers Without Borders and minoring in Humanitarian Engineering will not guarantee a job. Rulifson reminded students that they must still have the minimum qualifications and must retain their engineering knowledge learned in academia.

“You’re not going to get away with ditching all of your schoolwork and having (engineering service) take over your life,” Rulifson said. “You’ve got to balance those things.”

Engineering service does make a difference when it comes hiring time according to Rulifson’s research. “Companies do find service valuable and engineering service in particular. So however you feel like you’ve been most impacted by the engineering service that you’ve done and the more effectively you can speak towards it, then the better chances you’ll have of having them know what you bring to the table.”

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