As president of the Case Engineers Council, Sarah Mortier addressed the Eweek Reception in 2019
Navigating the Covid economy
The class of 2020 graduated into a hiring freeze. It’s no better for students needing internships. Can alumni help?
This summer, Sarah Mortier expected to be putting her new Case engineering degree to work for Deloitte as a technology analyst. Instead, she’s been studying Spanish and taking gigs with Instacart and dog-walking services.
A member of the COVID-19 generation, Mortier ran into the worst entry-level job market since the Great Recession of 2008. Her position with Deloitte, which requires lots of travel, was scheduled to start in July but has been postponed until October. Meanwhile, she’s been scrambling to find work as she waits out the pandemic, having already relocated to Denver.
“I actually feel pretty lucky compared to my other classmates,” said Mortier, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering while serving in campus leadership roles, including as president of the Case Engineers Council. “At least I know I will start work eventually.”
Many of her classmates, she knows, face bleaker prospects.
“A lot of people just lost their jobs offers, or were laid off, or were furloughed and then laid off,” Mortier said. “A lot of people are looking for jobs, especially in engineering. And a lot of us are just taking random jobs, trying to make it fit.”
Recent graduates are trying to break into an economy stalled by a pandemic and uncertainty. Millions of Americans are out of work. Many employers have frozen hiring and curtailed co-op positions, which often lead to jobs for Case students. Summer internships were simply cancelled, often suddenly.
“It’s definitely tough,” said Genine Apidone, the Director of Cooperative Education for the Division for Engineering Leadership and Professional Practice at the Case School of Engineering. She typically places 200 to 250 student per year in co-ops.
“Our numbers are going to be down about 50 percent,” she said. “But we’re going to have to wait to see what happens this spring. We just don’t know, given what’s happening with COVID.”
Neil Wible, a computer engineering major, knows what many students could face.
His co-op with Baker-Hughes, an energy technology giant with a presence in the Cleveland suburb of Twinsburg, was scheduled to start July 6 and stretch through the fall semester. In May, he received a call from the main office in Texas: The Twinsburg project was shut down. His co-op was cancelled.
Wible, a rising junior, scrambled to register for some fall classes and vainly sought another internship. A member of the Spartan swim team, he spent the summer practicing at the local pool and teaching himself Python on coding projects while waiting to hear back from Baker-Hughes.
“They said they might be able to bring me back in the fall, but don’t count on it,” he said. “Unfortunately, now I’m back to square one.”
Seeking solutions, creating internships
With no economic turnaround in sight, students and recent graduates are pursuing all options. Alumni and university officials are trying to help.
Laura Papcum, the Assistant Director for Alumni Career Services at CWRU, often works with engineering majors. She believes most full-time job offers were either honored or delayed. To make up for lost internships, her office has partnered with the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship at Sears think[box] to help students get involved in projects with startups.
The result, the Remote Entrepreneurship Project, has been an overnight success. It places students in remote positions with young companies, many of which need talent but face their own pandemic struggles. The program covers the cost of the interns with $500 stipends.
By July 1, the program had placed 112 students, or a little more than half of the 200 who applied. Coordinators plan to place another wave of candidates this fall.
“It’s helping our students. It’s helping our spinouts. It’s been a double win,” said the program’s creator, Michael Goldberg, an associate professor at the Weatherhead School of Management and executive director of the Veale Institute.
He said many of the employers joining the REP program are Case connected and in Northeast Ohio.
“What’s nice is, they both have a need and want to help,” Goldberg said. “I think employers are keen to make this as good of an experience as possible. And because so many of our students lost internships, the available talent is really good.”
Cooper Reif, a mechanical engineering major, was left scrambling for a job when his internship with a Chicago food manufacturer was cancelled. When he heard about REP, he applied at once. He was connected to Folio Photonics, a young Solon company developing optical storage technology invented at the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems at the Case School of Engineering. The company was founded by CWRU physics professor Kenneth Singer, PhD, who serves as chief innovation officer.
“I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do in the first place. I’m doing CAD design work,” Reif said.
Working remotely from home in suburban Chicago for six weeks, he designed a precision part that the company intends to manufacturer. He’s happy for the $500, but more so for the experience.
“I was ready to give up, and I had this amazing experience when I thought nothing would happen,” he said.
For more information on the Remote Entrepreneurship Project, contact the Veale Institute via Doug Degirolamo, email@example.com.
Other efforts have been launched with the aim of connecting job-seeking alumni and students to employers who need them.
The university’s Office of Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education is steering alumni and students to the CWRU Alumni Career Network, where it has created online communities that address the job crisis for both new and mid-career alumni.
One such community is titled, “Projects, internships and opportunities for students and recent graduates.” It calls for collaboration:
For alumni, this is an opportunity to help our students. If you are aware of internships or co-ops within your organization, or if you are able and willing to offer a student a project or internship, please use this community to post those positions.
Students, if you are still seeking or have lost your summer employment due to an offer being rescinded, use this platform to connect and communicate.
Let’s work together!
You can join the Alumni Career Network HERE.
With the support of the Case Alumni Association, the university will be hosting an online “Engineering, Technology and Science Career Fair” from 9 am to 2 p.m. Friday, September 25. The career fair aims to connect employers with students and alumni who are seeking internships, co-ops and full-time jobs in engineering, computer science and natural sciences.
To join the online career fair, contact Kelly Hendricks at Kelly.Hendricks@casealum.org.
Meanwhile, more ideas and efforts are welcome.
“I know how good our students are,” Goldberg said, “because they had internships with really big-name companies before they got tossed.”