This fall, the University published a new magazine designed to keep alumni, donors, partners, and friends connected to UTC, highlighting the outstanding accomplishments – both on campus and in the community – of alumni, current students, faculty and staff. The cover story and lead article features the College of Engineering and Computer Science with a focus on how the success of CECS alumni and its responsiveness to industry and community partners reflect the vision for and mission of the College. (link to the Magazine)
In the article which follows, the “towering success” of the College’s grads, and how the rising demand by employers for work-ready engineers, technologists, and computer scientists drive CECS’s teaching, research, and service are featured. The commitment of our faculty, and staff to helping our students develop the key qualities of teamwork, collaboration, ambition, and work ethic, as well as the knowledge and skills to succeed after graduation, are also shared with the reader. .
TOWERING SUCCESS – Raising Engineering
The Demand for CECS Grads Grows
CECS Rising by Shawn Ryan
Dean Pack’s Mantra: Teamwork, Collaboration, Ambition, Work Ethic
The first time Bethany Griffin Butler climbed a TVA transmission tower—the ones that march off into the distance like giant, broad-shouldered robots with high-voltage power lines stretched between them—it was 100 feet tall.
A mere 10 stories. Straight up.
She was “a little nervous,” Butler says, but “I’ve always loved climbing and heights don’t bother me.” As proof, a photo shows her at the top of a tower, her wavy, copper hair spilling out from under a hardhat, safety harness latched onto a metal strut and a you-kiddin’- me? drop below her.
As one of TVA’s transmission line engineers, climbing the tower was part of the job for Butler ’15, who earned her civil engineering degree from UTC’s College of Engineering and Computer Science last December. One month later, she started her full time job at TVA.
“Climbing the tower,” not coincidentally, is an accurate description of her time at TVA, which began in May 2013 with an internship that lasted until she graduated. As an intern—which she insists was essential in landing the full time job—she worked in such departments as Line Maintenance and Substation Physical Engineering. With each move, she faced new people, new ideas, new cultures.
“It’s always different when you transfer into another group,” she explains.
But her ability to work, cooperate and problem-solve with others— even those who speak a different technical language—is an invaluable skill she learned at UTC, she says. “It helped me tie-in the connections between what I was learning in the classroom to what I was learning here at TVA.”
Partnering with UTC
Teamwork. Collaboration. Ambition. Work ethic. Words that crop up often when local companies describe UTC engineering and computer science graduates. In turn, graduates use the same words when they describe what they learned at UTC. Yes, classroom lessons in engineering and math and chemistry and computers and other subjects, so-called “hard skills,” are crucial to earning a degree. But there also are “soft skills” such as building relationships and instilling trust that are vital elements in relationships between companies and the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“We need top talent and we need that pipeline,” says Crystal Renner, advanced specialist in staffing at Denso Manufacturing, whose Athens, Tenn., plant fabricates automotive parts. “We also need a university that wants to continue to explore and innovate technology because our world changes quickly. We need universities that have that vision and we believe UTC is one of those schools. UTC graduates come out with the knowledge, the skills and the desire to be in the workforce, especially in technology and manufacturing … We could not be happier to partner with UTC.”
Echoes of Renner’s comments are heard from executives at other regional companies. After graduation, UTC students hit the ground running, they say, no babysitting needed to make sure they’re doing their job. “They want to work,” says Tim McGhee, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee. “They’re more focused on a career and not so much on staying in college for 10 more years.”
UTC programs in civil engineering and construction management take many cues from the construction industry, so “they’re closely linked to our industry’s needs,” he says. And one of those needs is a solid work ethic, something UTC graduates personify. You can have all the classroom knowledge in the world, but it’s useless if you’re unreliable or lazy. “If you can’t get to work on time or you just don’t come to work at all … well, people in our industry don’t have a lot of leniency toward delinquency and not showing up to work on time,” McGhee says.
Being ready for the world of work is one of the driving forces both in and out of the classroom at the college, says Dean Daniel Pack. “Our approach, our philosophy, is that students should not just have book knowledge but real-world knowledge and experiences,” he says. “In our classroom and coursework, we deal with real-world problems and having those skills and experience is paramount.”
Wally Edmondson ’01 says that, when he graduated from UTC with a degree in computer engineering (now called computer science), perhaps the most important thing he took with him was a solid work ethic, the ability to “cross the finish line.” Edmondson, who works as head of engineering for Feetz, which builds custom-made, recyclable shoes through 3D printing, says “You can do what you have to when you have to do it, whether you like it or not. You get the job done. Sometimes you have to eat a frog, but it means you get to do the things you love to do instead.”
Job Growth Explosion
Chattanooga is rated as the secondbest city in the country when it comes to the number of new engineering jobs, according to Change the Equation, a group of corporations, including Amazon, IBM, Verizon and Microsoft, pushing STEM-related initiatives. Detroit is No. 1 on the list.
Over the past five years, jobs for engineers in Chattanooga have grown by about 28 percent, Change the Equation reports. Some of that growth can be attributed to the arrival of Volkswagen in 2008 and the supply companies that have sprung up nearby, the group adds, while companies in power generation such as TVA also have brought in new jobs. Newlyminted engineering graduates earn the highest starting engineering salaries in Tennessee when they are employed in Chattanooga, studies show.
With the need for engineering employees rocketing, many companies are eager to snag UTC students. Joe Ferguson, chairman of EPB’s board of directors, says the company often finds interns, as well as full time employees, by working directly with faculty at UTC, setting up events to help students grow more comfortable with writing resumes, the interview process and networking with local businesses. UTC students “come prepared, are work-ready and have the skills needed for the positions we are looking to fill,” Ferguson says.
Equally important is the close, trusting relationship that has developed between EPB and UTC as a whole, he says. “It’s a good relationship and that makes a whale of difference.”
Pack calls the college’s partnerships with local companies “critical,” not just through internships but through company-led information sessions, workshops and joint research projects.
Women in Engineering
Ashley Thompson Poe ’13 worked as an intern at chemical manufacturer BASF while earning her degree in chemical engineering. Upon graduation, she was immediately hired by the company. Her responsibilities at the plant on Amnicola Highway now include process and product optimization, production and maintenance support, technical support for research and development projects and handling customer concerns.
While the engineering principles she learned at UTC “directly affect my job,” she says, “the most important aspects from college that affect my job are my time management skills and my networking skills. I learned how to improve both of these skill sets as an engineering student due to the complex and difficult class schedule and by getting involved in multiple student chapters for the engineering societies such as Society of Women Engineers.”
Bethany Griffin Butler says much the same thing, describing how she juggled multiple responsibilities while in school. She attended classes, studied and completed assignments while also maintaining a life outside of school with family and church, says Butler, whose husband, Jordan, is a mechanical engineer graduate from UTC now working at Komatsu.
A major driving force through her NASCAR lifestyle was working with outside organizations. Faculty at UTC strongly urged her to join the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, saying the networking would help her career. They were right, she says. “As a member, if I wasn’t in class or at my [TVA] internship, I was doing ASCE or I was at home sleeping a couple of hours. I was going about 200 mph.”