- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
This past semester, I spent the duration of the academic semester working for GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was placed in the Military Propulsion and Power Engineering (MPPE) Division, where I pushed my own boundaries and those of the company by progressing work in digital scanning, point-cloud reverse engineering, and turbine engine foam-washing.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
The setting of the corporate work world was widely different from the confines of academia, and exposure to it fostered growth that no classroom could ever provide. This was my first real exposure to the working world and to what my life after graduation may very well hold, so naturally it took me awhile to acclimate to the differences between this and school. I quickly learned that at a large company such as GE, you must be the advocate for your own success and take it upon yourself to thrive. Unlike school, where academic advisors, program leaders, and mentors all have a vested interest in your success and are readily available to help plan your future for you, the corporate world offered no such luxuries or comforts. Oftentimes, this required more individual initiative to be taken.
My views of accountability also changed following the completion of this internship. Prior to the work experience, in academic terms, accountability meant that you had a prescribed set of work that was expected of you, perhaps including regular class attendance (ex: Anything on the Syllabus). These expectations were clearly spelled out. If the syllabus prescribed that students were to complete a given set of homework problems, then that is exactly what they could expect to complete; nothing more, and nothing less. In reality, regular class attendance may not even be required for several classes. In contrast, the expectations set forth in the workplace are nowhere near as clearly defined. Oftentimes, they require putting in far more effort than what may have been originally understood because the completion of one task leads to another, which leads to another, etc. The optional attendance of many college classes has no translation into the work place: repeated tardiness and absence are grounds for firing and dismissal. After completing this co-op experience, my attitude on general accountability has been transformed in a way that is sure to make me a better student for my remaining years at Ohio State.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
At GE Aviation and in the workplace in general, I found that group co-operation was challenged beyond what is normally experienced in school. In academic class projects, it is often the case that students can select their own groups. This generally leads to good outcomes, as students can choose to work with students with which they share similar work values and are amicable. This is not always the case, however, as random group parings are not uncommon. These academic random group pairings create diverse and multifaced groups in terms of demographics, but all group participants are on the same standing in terms of rank/authority (namely: undergraduate students at OSU). In the workplace, there is no luxury of choosing your group for projects. You work with whomever is on your team, or with whomever the job function requires you to coordinate. Consequently, these teams will often be equally as demographically diverse as academic groups, but they have the added complexity of containing members of different ranks / authority levels. As an intern at GE I was at the lowest of these levels, but my team projects required cooperation with other co-ops, entry-level professional engineers, senior engineers, and of course management. As disagreements arose, this dynamic demanded different courses of action than that of any academic project I had yet experienced, because of the increased diversity of the group. We too often think of diversity in terms of simply demographics, but it includes aspect such as age and rank within a company. Working in projects at GE exposed me to this new and often overlooked aspect of diversity, and made me a better team-mate because of it.
Unexpectedly, my work experience at GE Aviation led me to an incredible service opportunity. The Lighthouse community school in Cincinnati is a charter school that offers unconventional learning opportunities that have proven particularly effective in the schools low-income neighborhood. Through urban agriculture and maintaining their own urban farm, students are able to learn about values of mathematics, economics, nutrition, and biology, all while taking ownership in the process. However in Cincinnati, this urban agriculture is not feasible for several months of the school year.
This is where GE Aviation, also located in Cincinnati, stepped in to give back to the community. GE bought the school a (relatively large) greenhouse to put in their parking lot, so that the students could continue to grow crops throughout the winter. Although the greenhouse came in a kit, it required a great deal of assembly, and who better to follow the tedious assembly and construction steps than a group of eager volunteer engineers? The effort to construct the greenhouse was a massive undertaking, and spanned several months, but I was lucky enough to be part of its construction. On two separate days, I spent the duration of the workday volunteering in the hot sun to construct the heavy metal frame of this greenhouse. Although skeptical at first, the experience turned out to more rewarding and valuable than those days would have been if I stayed in the office for traditional work. On the site we met with the school superintendent and some of the kids of the school, who looked at the GE Volunteers with a degree of admiration. The experience was a meaningful reminder that, although working hard and career success ins important, it is not everything, and giving back to the community is always a worthwhile cause.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
This change and this internship experience was significant to my life for several reasons. First, it was the first time that I lived completely independently and functioned exactly as a work-force adult would. I was the farthest away from home that I had ever been for any extended duration, and I was responsible for taking care of myself in every aspect of life. It gave me a new outlook on what it means to be away from home and family, and helped me reach the conclusion that I would like to stay as close as possible to my family following graduation.
Lastly, this internship could very well develop into a full-time employment opportunity. If true, this would represent the single most important experience of college for me. Because the goal of a college education is to make yourself marketable for post-graduation employment, this internship experience was a considerable step towards reaching that ultimate goal. I gained experience in the field that I would like to enter, and it helped to confirm that I am in fact entering the right industry.