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‘SELF on the Road’ Offers Real-World Experience

Thursday, August 09, 2018

LAWRENCE — For years, incoming seniors in the School of Engineering’s Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program have taken a big trip to a major American city — to meet with executives at big firms, to network with KU engineering alumni and to get a head start on making the relationships they’ll need to navigate their career.

That tradition is changing: This year, both the junior and senior classes in the SELF Program are taking a “SELF on the Road” trip — the seniors to Omaha, Nebraska, and the juniors to Seattle. Going forward, it will be exclusively juniors who make the journey.

“We found that rising seniors already had a couple internship experiences under their belt — and several have job offers, even — and had really done a lot of career exploration already,” said Clint Stephens, the SELF Program’s new director. “And that's a lot of value out of SELF on the Road.”

One other change: The students themselves are taking a bigger role in pitching destination cities and in planning trip itineraries. Stephens said the planning process is an additional learning opportunity for the students involved.

“There's a whole lot of value in the students learning how to put the trip together,” Stephens said. “They're more invested in the trip instead of it being a trip that's provided for them, where they simply show up, get on the bus and away we go for a week.”

The senior trip to Omaha was pitched and planned with practical concerns in mind. Nicholas Mechler, a senior from Shawnee majoring in electrical engineering, said the city is home to a number of Fortune 500 companies with a need for engineering services: Students will meet representatives of Union Pacific, Kiewit Corporation, Northrop Grumman and other companies.

“My goal was to increase our chance of building a network with employers, to build some connections with people who are at the headquarters of these firms,” said Mechler, who is helping plan the trip, which is set for Aug. 12-18. “A lot of these companies are pretty diverse, wide-scale engineering firms. It works out well for a diverse group of majors.”

The junior class, meanwhile, will travel to Seattle Aug. 13-17 to tour companies such as Google, Blue Origin, Boeing and more. 

“A lot of it, I think, is figuring out how we can apply the skills we're learning to industry. On this trip we'll see how what we're learning can be applied to the real world,” said Zachary Hall, a junior from Bloomington, Illinois. “You can see pictures of stuff, but you don't understand how large scale a company is until you see their facilities.”

Stephens said the trips offer SELF students a chance to see engineering practiced across a range of disciplines.

“We often have CEOs come meet with students, as well as a floor manager give them a tour of the factory — they get a chance to have some small conversations with engineers,” he said. “To see the breadth of experiences that engineers are doing after they graduate — to hear about things that they might not otherwise be exposed to beyond their discipline — is valuable for their learning.”

This is the fifth year of the SELF on the Road program. Previous classes have visited Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin.

The Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program was established in 2007 as the result of a contribution to the KU Endowment Association from Madison "Al" and Lila Self. The Selfs' intention for the program is to identify and develop students who have a passion for engineering. Fellows are required to maintain at least a 3.0 cumulative KU GPA and participate in approximately 40 hours per semester of program activities.

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