Name: Thomas Erb
Type of Project: Internship
1.My STEP signature project entailed supporting a design team of engineers for a summer Co Op. I worked on testing a surgical device to make sure it met specifications and requirements. Along with this, I was part of the service committee within the Co op group, which entailed scheduling and attending service events.
2. My worldview changed most from my multicultural experience over the term. My team was based in Shanghai, China and I had to learn to communicate effectively with them. Additionally, the Co Op sitting next to me was from Puerto Rico, and I often helped him with wording Emails in English, as Spanish was his first language. Prior to this experience, I had very little interactions with people from different cultures. I learned the value of a diverse workforce, while learning valuable conversational skills. The Chinese team often approached tasks in a different manner than I would, therefore my greatest learning from this diversity was finding out how to best communicate our methods to still be productive.
I also grew to understand myself better on a professional level. Previously, I had assumed that most professional communication happened over Email while people worked on their tasks at their desk. I learned from my assignment manager the value of getting up from your desk to go talk to people face to face. By doing so, it draws more attention to what you’re working on, while forcing the person to give you attention for a moment. This also ensures that they have heard you, and that whatever you may need assistance with is on their mind. This experience taught me that I need to push myself to engage with people face to face. I also learned that this made the workday significantly more enjoyable, rather than being stuck at a desk all day.
3. My interactions with the Puerto Rican Co Op and my Chinese coworkers helped lead to my change discussed in #2. When I first arrived, I was new to the professional world and had no prior experience with working with an international group. I was the outsider, and had to learn how to communicate effectively to create a positive work experience.
Through my term, four of the Chinese team members were there for 4 of my 12 weeks, and an additional 2 arrived for my final week. The 12 hour time difference taught me the value of working ahead and making sure that I was staying on top of my work to be able to send Emails with questions by the end of my work day, in order to receive a response by the next morning. For example, in one moment I had to do a test and needed a part stored in a cabinet. Some of the parts were supposed to be used for testing, and other parts were to be kept in good condition for more official testing to come. Because of this, I had to push my testing back an entire day, solely because I was unsure of which cartridges I could use. I ended up having to send a picture of the cabinet for them to respond effectively as to which parts to use.
To teach me to be up front and talk to people, my assignment manager would often introduce me to people in my first few weeks. He’d make a point to introduce me to people I may need to speak to later. The emphasis he placed on this practice taught me that it was something he very much valued. He often spoke to the benefits of doing this, and would almost force me to talk to people directly if possible. By the end of my term, I was much more comfortable talking to new people whom I’d never met before in order to get things done.
Going into this project, I was hoping to grow professionally. I was able to achieve this by gaining experience in a multicultural environment and team. This allowed me to refine my communication. I learned to communicate in a clear concise manner, which fit my audience of engineers from outside the country. Additionally, I got experience working within an Engineering design team which redefined my view of the importance of knowledge that I’ve been gaining through classes.
4. By expanding my work experience to include diverse coworkers, it has taught me the value of having a diverse team to work with. We had many ways of going about tasks, which led to new and innovative ideas. This matters moving forward in my academic life. As I look forward to capstone and undergraduate research, it is likely that I’ll have a diverse team. Having experience working with people of different backgrounds will help ease this situation and give me a head start on forming a productive group environment.
Additionally, I would like to go into management later in my career, and having a sense of how companies collaborate internationally will definitely help me achieve that goal. With this, learning the value of face to face interactions helped to cement in my mind that I like working with people directly. While I knew I didn’t want to do general Engineering work my whole life, this experience showed how I can still be around the world of innovation, while working with people towards an end goal. I also learned a lot from my assignment manager, and would like to be able to help other Engineers later on in life in a similar manner.
Finally, the experience as a whole has given me real world context of why the knowledge that I’m gaining in coursework is important. This can help motivate me to work harder in classes in order to retain information, as I see a practical use for it now.