Dan Sable, CEO of VPT, remembers that teaming his undergraduate MIT coursework with weekly work at a high-tech firm enhanced his education immeasurably. So when Sable was tapped to be the next chairman of the ECE Alumni Advisory Board, he vowed to set up a program of informal internships for ECE students with local firms. The students would work up to 12 hours a week in a very specialized field while taking classes and full time summers.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “The students make money while getting a jump start on their careers. The education they’re receiving in these highly specialized fields surpasses what they get in the classroom alone. The companies get good workers who, by graduation, are pre-trained in the firm’s specialty.”
Sable, who holds a Tech M.S. and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, affirms that he’s had good experiences with the students VPT has hired over the years. Shawn Graham, who began part-time in 1996, moved up to establish VPT’s quality department and become executive director of quality over VPT’s U.S. and Asian facilities.
“I started out sorting resistors,” Graham said. “Then I hired on full-time after graduation.”
VPT makes hybrid micro-electronic DC-DC power converters for high accuracy aeronautic and GPS space applications. When the firm needed its products to meet exacting government specifications (ISO 9001:2000, MIL-PRF-38534, MIL-PRF-38534 Class K), Graham set up processes for quality assurance to meet the highest levels of certification – a level only two other companies in the field have obtained.
VPT engineers Clay Rogers and Bertrand Nkei also started out as part-time student workers. Nkei, a dean’s list student from Cameroon, started last spring, worked in the summer, and became a full-time engineer upon graduation. Michael Lin, a junior, worked at VPT’s Taiwanese plant in the summer and plans to work for VPT again this summer. “I’m applying lots of skills from my courses and learning how things happen in the workplace,” Lin says.
Sable thought other Blacksburg companies would benefit as well, so he pulled the names of high-tech businesses from the Corporate Research Center roster and invited the CEOs to dinner last April to talk establishing a local internship program. A dozen were interested, and ECE students were hired at Luna, Recognition Research, Harmonia, and other firms in the summer and fall.
“We usually get a couple of dozen resumes right after we send Jaime de la Ree (ECE assistant department head) a job description. There’s definitely a lot of interest there,” Sable said. “These students are extremely capable. We train them, and they come to know our technology and way of doing business. It’s great if we can help them choose electives that are applicable to the job.”
Sable believes in job experience so much that he’d like to see it become a requirement. “I would highly recommend to all ECE students that they have at least one internship or company work experience before they graduate,” he said. “It makes all the difference in the world.”