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Opportunities abound

Thousands attend MTU career fair

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Lily Ahlstrom, a fourth-year environmental science major at Michigan Technological University, talks with Chris Abraham, branch manager of the Marquette office of GEI Consultants, during Tech’s fall Career Fair Wednesday. 

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University students met with recruiters from more than 370 companies at Wednesday’s fall Career Fair, the first to be in-person since 2019. 

The five-hour fair drew thousands of students to the Student Development Complex. 

“We’ve been open for an hour and 10 minutes, and this is the first time it’s been clear,” said acting Career Services Director Cody Kangas, pointing to the hallway leading to the Multi-Purpose Room. “You’re talking a line that was probably close to a half-mile long.”

The fairs take place each fall and spring. Since fall 2020, those have been held virtually.

The return to in-person after a two-year layoff accounts for part of the high-turnout, Kangas said.

“Having that virtual space filled the need at the time, but you missed that human element,” he said. “You missed that opportunity to look somebody in the eye, shake their hand.”

For this year Tech also implemented a two-hour recess between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. where no classes could be scheduled.

As a STEM-focused university, Tech is well-positioned to graduate students into critical areas of the workforce, Kangas said. Those jobs also correlate with areas where Tech is seeing increased enrollment, such as the College of Computing.

“We’ve got 57 companies that are looking for computer science alone,” he said. 

The connections students make at the fair are just the start. Companies also schedule follow-up interviews with students afterwards. Leading up to the fair, Tech holds five industry days where employers set up on campus and meet with students. There are also 30 to 40 career development events, such as resume reviews. 

“We did everything we could to try to get our students ready because 80% of our campus hasn’t attended an in-person career fair,” Kangas said. 

Phil Curd, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at Tech, was looking for an internship or full-time job in materials.

“There’s been a couple of companies here that are doing carbon-based materials, superconductors, that kind of thing, and I’m interested in that,” he said.  

He’d talked with several companies, including Polaris, Toro, Milwaukee Tool and Hemlock Semiconductor.

“They’re interviewing me as much as I’m interviewing them,” he said. “I’m for that connectivity, I’m looking for if they’ll want me, I’m looking for the opportunity for growth.”

It was Curd’s first time at the career fair. He came away with a positive impression. 

“It’s well-organized, and the companies that are here seem like they genuinely want to be here,” he said. 

Fourth-year environmental engineering student Lily Ahlstrom had spoken with several companies at Wednesday’s career fair and at an earlier networking event. Her hope was to find a job dealing with water quality or water resources. 

She’d just finished a talk with a representative from GEI Consultants, which she said was near the top of her list.

“I’m definitely looking for a position where I can gain good exposure to a lot of projects starting out,” she said. “Preferably, I’m looking for companies that are eco conscious and make an effort to be sustainable.”

Many of the companies, including GEI Consulting, had Tech alumni returning to meet with students. Chris Abraham, a Tech graduate and manager of GEI’s branch office in Marquette, has come back for about 40 career fairs. 

The civil engineering consulting firm is looking to fill geotechnical, water resource and civil engineering positions. Students can also come on board for co-op positions of four or eight months. 

The quality of Tech’s students has made the fairs critically important as a recruiting event for GEI, Abraham said. About 75% of the employees at its Michigan offices are Tech grads. 

In conversations with students, Abraham’s looking to learn what they want to do when they graduate and where they hope to take their career. Co-ops can also help students decide if it’s the right career for them. 

“Sometimes they decide they love what they’ve chosen to do, and other times it helps them redirect to something they found they enjoy more,” he said.

Being back in person offers several advantages over the virtual fairs of the past two years, Abraham said. It’s harder in a virtual setting to keep students around for additional questions. It’s also easier to gauge other qualities in person, such as eye contact or comfort level. 

“We really get a sense for who we are as individuals and what we’re looking for, which is a bit more challenging in the virtual,” he said. 

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