Brian Smith, a senior in the Aerospace Engineering program, still has two months left until graduation, but already has a full-time job offer thanks to his rotational four-semester stint as an Engineering Co-op at Gulfstream Aerospace. With over a year of experience working in various areas (Powerplant/Environmental Control Systems, Advanced Composites Technology, Structural Testing, Stress Analysis) within the company, he also has a sense of what he wants to do with his Embry-Riddle education. When Brian isn’t in Savannah, he works both in the Career Services Office as a Student Assistant and as a Teaching Assistant/Peer Mentor in the Department of Freshman Engineering at Embry-Riddle.
Tell us about your co-op experience at Gulfstream.
My experience started at the Industry/Career Expo during my freshman year, where I found Gulfstream at their booth winding down on the second day. I grabbed the requisite freebie (a Rubik’s cube), and asked them what they did. I heard about their products and their co-op program, and he told me to apply back the following year, which I did and landed the job.
When I got there, nearly everything was taken care of for me. Lodging, work schedule, orientation, etc. They told me where to go the first morning, gave me a map to get to the check-in, and walked me through the location with the rest of the first-time co-ops and got me situated in my office. And every semester for me was as smooth as can be.
My semesters were spread across 4 different departments, each of which made me feel as an integral member of the team. They went to great lengths to give me meaningful work and left me to do independent work while doing their best to be available as a resource for help.
However, as each department (ECS & Powerplant/Adv. Composites/Structural Test/FEM & Stress Analysis) knew that I had experience in prior semesters, my responsibilities grew. I was looked to and referenced to incoming co-ops as a resource for information in the co-op world and expected to be more competent as my job tasks became more in depth and directly affected tasks of the full time engineers. The point of mentioning this is how with this company, and most of the others I’ve heard tell of, utilize their co-ops as critical members of their project teams. You should expect to have responsibility and a direct effect on your company.
In what ways has your co-op experience impacted your college experience?
College has become both easier and more difficult. Easier in that with first-hand knowledge of aircraft and manufacturing methods in the real world, you can understand some of the things a professor says that would normally pass over your head. It also makes it easier to organize and run class projects, as the experience you gain in teamwork in the workforce very easily translates to classroom leadership.
However, it can become difficult in that some things you learn in school are in no way relevant to the actual work you will likely do outside of school. This is a true fact, and though some people will object vehemently to this, in my experience it is 100% true. However, keeping the mindset where you’re “learning to learn” can help get you through those harder classes.
On the whole, there is nothing better to help your college career than a co-op. Confining yourself to a classroom is a quick way to a sheltered outlook, and nothing is more unappealing to a company than someone who is a drone and cannot think; they have computer programs for that.
What would you say to students who are on the fence about doing a co-op or internship?
I would say definitely make space in your college plan to do at least one internship if possible. It can be fit into a summer, and the experience you gain far outweighs any cost you may incur; you’ll likely be paid. There are no genuine reasons I can think of to not do one. At worst, you find out if the actual job is something you won’t enjoy and move on before burying yourself under a completed degree. At best, you lay the foundations for your dream job and have security in your final semesters knowing your future is secured all while being more knowledgeable in class and likely a bit richer. It’s a no brainer.
Is there anything that you would do differently if you had it to do all over again?
I would have done more to learn about the physics of aircraft and structure than looking like the noob that I did at first. A bit of eagerness and more independent study on aircraft physics would have gone a long way. It places you a bit behind the curve of where full time engineers are, but it’s possible to catch up.
Go in enthusiastic, be open to new ideas and be prepared to swallow your pride. No matter how smart or clever you think you are, there is someone you will work with that will blow you away. Be prepared to accept other ideas and have yours shot down, and don’t take anything personally. It is the bottom line that is cared about most, not feelings. But by meeting this different perspective head on and embracing it, you will go a lot further both professionally and socially.