Name: Michaela Shanahan

Project type: Internship

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP project was an engineering co-op with Toyota in Ann Arbor, MI. I worked 40+ hours a week in the interior design division focusing on the instrument panel, center console, and door trim for Tundra, Tacoma, and Sequoia.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Working full time in an engineering job for the first time in my life was very eye opening. I learned what the day to day work environment of being a design engineer looks like and how important company culture is. I went into my co-op with little to no expectations of what I was getting myself into, but I quickly learned what I do and do not want in a future job. My understanding of what I want out of an employer changed during my STEP project. I learned that my career is more than just a job and that I need a company that will foster my career development while still working with me to achieve ideal work-life balance. Toyota was a great company for my first co-op, as it showed me how crucial company culture is, that employers are able to and should promote work-life balance, and that employers should foster career development. Without this transformative experience, I would have probably settled for a terrible job after I graduated because I would not have known any better. Now I know what to look for in a future employer thanks to this experience.

  1. 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?

While I was at Toyota, I had the opportunity to take training courses to enhance my professional development and understanding. One course I took was a hybrid culture class. Toyota is a Japanese company and has a unique blend of American and Japanese practices. Taking this class introduced me to the company culture Toyota promotes. Seeing a company as large as Toyota offer a hybrid culture class was eye opening to me, as this company truly valued its culture and wanted to share these values with their employees.

During my co-op, I had the opportunity to network with other employees and pick their brains on prospective career paths for myself. One employee I talked to started out in the STEM field in the quality division of Toyota. After years in quality, he decided he enjoyed being a facilitator for trainings and would prefer to work in the talent development division. Toyota allowed him to move into the talent development division without taking any sort of pay cut, as STEM field positions usually have a higher salary than human resources positions. Hearing from a Toyota employee that he was able to stay within the company but find something he loved really showed me that companies are willing to work with their employees to allow them to pursue their passions.

Another thing I noticed at Toyota was how flexible management was with work schedules. I just needed to get my 40 hours a week in and attend my regularly scheduled meetings. Other coworkers would work four 10 hour days and not work Fridays or work four 9 hour days to have a half day on Friday. I also knew people who would come in at 5:30 AM and leave earlier so they could spend time with their kids. Seeing a company that is flexible with their employees’ personal schedules was incredible and promoted work-life balance, which is something I now look for in an employer.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

This experience was incredibly valuable for my life. It showed me what I like and what I do not like in the engineering field and in an employer. I now know that I do not really like the design phase and would probably prefer an evaluation position, which helps me know what jobs to look for once I graduate. This time away from classes for a semester also gave me the opportunity to focus on my own mental health in regard to work-life balance, which is really important for my personal wellness. Having this co-op experience has shaped what I look for in an employer and has opened several doors for me at Toyota, if I choose to stay there after I graduate. Due to this experience, I feel more confident in my future professional path and my future as a whole.