HOUGHTON — If everything stopped every time they had a snowstorm in the Upper Peninsula, not much would get done from November to April.

So it’s not surprising that 229 employers attended last week’s Michigan Technological University Career Fair at the Student Development Complex, despite a fierce blizzard. More than 2,000 interviews were scheduled.

Largest Spring Fair Ever

Shortly before noon, it was a sea of winter jackets and boots. There was even a full-body hunting suit visible in the piles of synthetic fibers. Students braved a blizzard, with more than a foot of snow, determined to show up and stand out. Classes had just been canceled due to the weather, a true Tech rarity. The question of canceling the Career Fair was moot, however: students were crowding the lobby, a half-hour before the fair opens.

Inside the room, most of the companies were set up and ready to go. Clusters of smiling professionals in colorful polo shirts are eager to spend a few minutes talking about their companies, keeping an eye on the main door and the rush of students they expect and hope for.

Randy Poirier is director of drives and propulsion engineering at Mercury Marine. He’s also a graduate of Michigan Tech, so he knows what to expect  at the Career Fair.

“From Michigan Tech students we expect a good technical education, but also hands-on experience,” he said. “The Enterprise program and Senior Design fit well with our organization.”

Mercury Marine planned on conducting 70 interviews while on campus, splitting between full-time positions and co-ops.

“Tech has young, talented individuals, so this is one of our primary spots,” Poirier aid.

Across the floor, Christopher Strebel from Integrys was happy to be back on campus, having graduated eight years ago. His company was looking to fill five positions, “from intern to co-op and full time.“ It’s a familiar path for him: he smiled while looking out across the room from his corner booth, remembering being in the students’ shoes: “That was me not too long ago.”

At the opposite corner of the room, Rob Sweet of Jackson National Life Insurance was equally enthusiastic about recruiting at Tech. “We recruit more than half of our internships here,” he says “And we make a significant number of full-time offers to those interns, too.” Jackson recently opened an office in Michigan Tech’s SmartZone facility, making a close relationship even closer, and Sweet relocated here to work in the office. The company’s commitment to Tech runs deep.

Former students abound around the room, from Burlington Northern-Santa Fe to Bechtel and many of the booths in between. The pipeline of Michigan Tech students is a strong one, demonstrating the value of a Tech education.

High Starting Salaries

Tech graduates earned the 12th highest starting salaries in the nation among public universities; the average starting salary was $56,000.

For the Career Services staff , this was one of the biggest days of the year, months of labor brought to a head the help students find the next step in their paths. Dozens of employees, assistants and students helped to make this event the success it is every semester. It’s a carefully choreographed routine put on by a team of professionals. They take pride in the helping hand they are able to give to the students of Michigan Tech.

“This is the largest spring Career Fair we’ve ever had, beating last year’s total by about 50 companies,” said Julie Way, assistant director of Career Services. “And it’s the largest career fair per capita in the entire country.”

All of this effort tells the story of a Michigan Tech education. Brenda Rudiger, executive director of Alumni Relations, recounts one such tale as she exchanges stories with the many alumni here as company representatives. A student had his pants tailored for today and tried to pick them up this morning. But the blizzard left most local businesses closed.   A few phone calls and a lot of tenacity later, he found a way to pick up his pants and be ready for the big day. “They’re showing a special kind of dedication today,” Rudiger says, understating it.

96% placement rate

Diana Olechiw, a first-year student in management information systems, was there to think about an internship and get a sense of what goes on at Career Fair: “I wanted to scope it out; that way when I really need an internship, I’m ready.”

Out in the hallway, Dean Keithly, a mechanical engineering student from Rochester Hills, was taking a break, a small, contented smile on his face. “Catching my breath,” he said. “I think I’ve got nine or ten interviews lined up so far. I have a lot more booths to stop at, though.”

Dyllan Walker, an environmental engineering student, felt equally confident, saying that “it all went really well, so I’m waiting for some calls.”

Confidence was a theme for many students, as one electrical engineering student quipped, “it can be a little overwhelming, but yeah, I’m confident.” Ryan Carli, a chemical engineering student, waited in line to meet with a representative. He was relaxed, chatting with a friend. “Nothing but confident,” he said with a smile.

Tuesday evening and Wednesday will be filled with literally thousands of interviews. In the shadow of the biggest snowstorm of the season, these students are breaking the ice, paving the way for their next steps.

Back in the hallway, Glen Shaw, a mechanical engineering student graduating soon, is attending his final Career Fair, getting ready for the job he’s always wanted.

“I’ve got two interviews lined up already, and I expect to get nine or ten more,” he said. He stops, thinking about what comes next. “It’s not about how many,” he says after a second. “These interviews are for the job I want, and they’re near my family and friends.”

He was back in motion, flipping through his portfolio, ready to take another lap around the room. “It’s exactly what I want to be doing.”


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