Part 1: Insights From a Seasoned Engineer
Recently, Brindley Engineering’s very own Courteney Fabbri (Process Engineer) and Gavin Palmer (Process Team Lead) held an engineering Q&A with a class of Chemical Engineers at UIC. Fabbri graduated from UIC in 2020 with a degree in Chemical Engineering and Palmer began mentoring Chemical Engineer students at UIC just before the pandemic hit. The goal of their presentation: to discuss engineering career advice, the industry and to bring a sense of ‘real world’ expectations to the classroom for soon-to-be career seekers.
Q&A with Brindley Engineering Process Team Lead, Gavin Palmer
Q: Why did you mentor at UIC?
GP: I became a mentor for UIC Chemical Engineering students (senior design teams) a few years ago and the design project is a huge part of their final grade. I am not a UIC alum, but I was interested in helping wherever I could, my own school being overseas. As a mentor I help with teaching and giving feedback on soft skills communication, organization, documentation, and other parts of their projects. Work with my assigned group at least weekly, and attend 4 presentations from all the students, so we get to see all of them in action.
Q: In your presentation, your counterpart – a more recent grad than you – talked about transitioning from college to the ‘real world’. From your more ‘seasoned’ managerial perspective, what’s that transition like for engineers these days?
GP: Yes! She inspired confidence to the students that they can get right in and get to work in the industry.
What I see is that a lot of programs do not directly teach organizational skills, independence, soft skills, etc… They focus on academics much more than soft skills, but being an engineer isn’t just about being academically smart, it’s about problem solving, collaborating and soft skills!
Q: In your presentation you assigned ‘real world’ problems to the students. Tell me about those problems.
GP: Our goal was to show how these problems relate to real world problems and we wanted to teach them how to solve them step-by-step. We focused on specific problems and real-world numbers and provided a great basis for what they could expect as an engineer.
Q: Again, you are a seasoned manger. At this point in your career, what do you look for in recent grads?
GP: School only covers a part of the technical skills part of education. Soft skills are the thing that can really help folks stand out.
The ability to work with confidence and put ideas out there without hesitation. Be confident in what you do and DO NOT know.
Q: Job searching is a two-way street – what should grads look for in BE?
GP: Good question! It needs to be a 2-way street. We want younger engineers to not only put the time in but to have fun and be open and curious along the way. We want to provide a good experience so they should ask for opportunities that are available long and short term.
I’ve always been interested in the insides of process equipment, the parts we design but rarely get to see working. In a previous position, I expressed that interest when a particular piece of equipment was open for repair, and it led to me being trained in confined space entry – all because I asked about it. That in turn led to me being trained as a confined space rescue technician. There are so many opportunities in our industry as well as right here at Brindley, it’s important to think about your career goals both short and long term, ask questions and never be afraid to tell people where your interests lie. The confined space training allowed me opportunities to get in the field in ways I didn’t expect.