NCE Dean Sunil Saigal on NJITs Career Resource Center
In the below interview Sunil Saigal, Dean of the Newark College of Engineering (NCE), talks about how important the career center is to our students. Saigal is intent on preparing our students to become global leaders in the fields of science and technology. After they graduate our students will compete with other students from around the world for top engineering and technology jobs. But NJIT students have an edge -- and in this interview Saigal explains why.
Why is it important for prospective students to know that NJIT has an effective career center?
Prospective students and their parents are much more consumer-oriented these days about selecting a college. They commonly take a practical view of the value of a college education. That is to say, after paying four years of tuition, parents want to know that their children will find well-paying careers. And that’s exactly what our career center prepares our students to get: great jobs. The center preps students by helping them edit their resumes, refine their career plans and by learning how to interview well – dress properly, speak properly, give strong presentations, etc. Hundreds of major high-tech companies, moreover, regularly recruit here, either during our career fairs or during special recruiting sessions. The center doesn’t wait until students are seniors. Rather, the center starts helping students when whey are freshman, so that they can get the internships and co-op jobs that companies value so much when they hire. Do you realize that some 600 students a year participate in our co-op and internship programs? That’s phenomenal.
How does the career center here benefit the Newark College of Engineering and the university at large?
Let me answer with a short anecdote. Recently I was on a fundraising trip in North Carolina, meeting with NCE alumni. A group of about 30 of us went to a baseball game. After the game an NCE graduate approached me and asked about Greg Mass, the director of our Career Development Office. Why did he ask after Greg? Because Greg was the one who helped him find his first job.
So that story, to your mind, shows how important the career center is to NCE.
Absolutely. If you graduated from a university and its career services office helped you find a good job -- would you feel a sense of gratitude to that office? I suspect you would. And when graduates feel a sense of gratitude it’s more likely that they will become engaged alumni. It’s a relationship that comes full circle. We get good students. We help them get great jobs. And then, when they are established in their careers, they support NCE. Many of our graduates are also in the position to hire students and they’ll look to hire our students. That’s what I mean by things coming full circle.
Are NCE students that serious about their careers?
Our students are extremely serious about their careers. They are focused and eager to get their degrees and begin their careers. So it’s only natural that NCE be supported by a great Career Development Office. If our students come here, study hard, work internships and maintain high GPAs, they want their hard work to pay off. And the pay off is a well-paying and creative career. Our graduates do extremely well on the job market. I’m starting to hear now about the great jobs our graduating seniors have landed. That’s the outcome our students want.
How important is it for students to work co-op jobs and internships?
Employers want to hire students who have work experience, students who already have a strong work ethic and know what is expected from them. And co-ops and internships are the ways that students get that experience. They are invaluable in that regard. Co-ops and internships are also times for students to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s better that they make mistakes during internships than during their first jobs. Employers know that students are learning during a co-op or an internship. In addition, these jobs help students refine their interests. A student might think she likes architecture but after working a summer internship at an architectural firm, she might realize she prefers engineering. So then she can switch her major and refine her career goals. Sometimes you think you'll love a certain field, but when you actually work in it, you don't. Or you find another area you like better. So in this way summer jobs and co-ops help you find your passion in life.
What are your thoughts on having NCE students do community service, also called service learning?
America is not producing enough engineers, in part I believe because engineers have not been as visible in the community as they should be. Our students should be out in their communities, helping people. People need to know that engineers are the ones who solve community problems and improve society. Our biomedical engineering students, for instance, are doing research to help children with disabilities. Our civil engineering students study ways to improve our infrastructure problems. And one of our volunteer student groups, Engineers Without Borders, is developing a water purification system for a poor village in Haiti. The villagers are growing ill from drinking contaminated water. The purification system will prevent them from getting sick. It’s fantastic. The students are learning how to do a real engineering project – great experience – at the same time that they are helping people in need. It’s an enormous benefit to both the students and the villagers.
Would you like to have all NCE students work on a service learning project?
I would and I’ll tell you why. If people in communities see the important work that engineers do, they’ll have a higher regard for engineering. And maybe then more students will chose to study engineering. Also, as I just said, our students learn so much about the real world from community service: How to pick a project, how to get financing for it, how to work in teams and how to confront problems. These are all valuable skills to master. They can better learn this from a good service learning project than they can from their classrooms. Or another way to put it is that community service is a way for students to apply what they learn in their classrooms.
Since you’ve been at NJIT, you’ve seen two career fairs. What was your impression of them?
In the course of my career I’ve been at five universities, some of which, like Carnegie Mellon and Purdue, are much bigger schools than NJIT. But the career fairs at NJIT are infinitely better. The number of major companies that come here, the number of students who participate in them, and the professional way the career fairs are run – it’s mind boggling. The NJIT fairs here are a cut above the rest.
What does NCE learn from the companies who come here to recruit?
The companies tell us what skills they are looking for and the kind of majors and the variety of skills they need. Knowing this helps us make sure we are teaching our students the skills that employers need. We don’t want a gap between what we teach and what employers need. We want a match. And our close relationships with hundreds of major employers help us keep our teaching updated and in line with industry needs. So again it’s a circular relationship. We give companies great young employees and they keep us informed about the major engineering and technological trends. Everyone is happy.