Let knowledge serve new engineers

PSU engineering students gain job edge with year of paid internships

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Pegah Alavi wasn't sure at first if she should delay her graduation from Portland State University by a year to make time for two paid, six-month internships. 

But she's really glad she did, because the internships led to a job in transportation engineering with David Evans and Associates as soon as she graduated in June 2017. 

Alavi was among 130 PSU engineering students who are placed each year in paid internships through the Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program (MECOP). Four Oregon universities and nearly 200 industry partners including Intel and Boeing participate in the program.

Portland State also offers structured internships to computer science students in the PSU/PDX Cooperative Education Program (PCEP) and engineering students in the Engineering Work Experience (EWX) program.

A similar, new campuswide PSU CO-OP program alternates periods of academic study with periods of employment in positions directly related to academic and career interests. This gives Portland-area businesses the chance to train students while they are still in college and hire them when they graduate, retaining skilled employees in the region and powering the economy.

MECOP is serving as the model for PSU CO-OP. Each MECOP student works in two full-time, six-month internships with pay averaging $20 an hour, which adds a fifth year to their undergraduate degree path and gives them a year of income and work experience before they graduate. More than 80 percent of students in the program are hired by a MECOP partner company after graduation. 

Recruiters like the program because it helps them find and develop the best new engineers, says Frank Goovaerts, director of student career success in PSU's Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.

"I hear it over and over again: When hiring a MECOP intern, you take a lot of uncertainty out of the hiring process," he says. 

"Students love it, too," he adds, "because they make good money and enter the workforce with a whole year of experience, which really translates into an easier time finding a job and a higher starting salary. They can hit the ground running." 

Alavi, who was born in California to Iranian parents and grew up in Canada and Iran, says the job experience was worth the extra year.

Her first internship was at the Portland Water Bureau, where she inspected and designed culverts in the Bull Run Watershed near Mt. Hood. 

She gained valuable skills and made lasting connections with her mentor and colleagues, but the experience showed her that water projects were not for her. Alavi prefers designing roads, railroads and other transportation structures because she can see the results of her work in the world. "I get to design the future," she says. 

Alavi returned to PSU for two terms with a stronger focus on transportation. She landed her second internship at David Evans, and the firm offered her a full-time job after graduation, working on projects such as the proposed Southwest Corridor MAX light rail line.

"I think the program can benefit any student," Alavi says. "They should have it in every field, not just engineering, because it widens your perspective while you're still in school."

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