Senior Angela Berthaume of the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department, who works part-time as a career advisor in the Career and Student Development Center, is the perfect person to offer good advice to incoming students at the College of Engineering. The crux of her advice is simple: Start networking as soon as you hit the campus! You can do that by joining various student engineering societies, visiting the college’s Career and Student Development Center, asking your professors for advice, beginning to set up summer internships, co-ops, and undergraduate research projects, and attending career fairs and industry information sessions on campus.
“My advice for first-year students is to take advantage of all the services that the Career Center offers,” says Berthaume. “Go to the resume workshops. Attend the networking events. Learn how to make a good impression in a job interview. Go to the career fairs. Regularly check the schedule of industry information sessions. Sit in on the presentations from companies you’re interested in working for. It’s all very important stuff.”
Berthaume, who comes from Hampden, Massachusetts, jumpstarted her own college career as a first-semester student by taking a seminar from Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Advising Greg Brown, who, in addition to offering many other gems of advice about succeeding at the college, assigned his class to attend a career fair.
“Well, at that point,” exclaims Berthaume, “I didn’t even want to think about careers, but was I really glad he gave that assignment! Because that first career fair opened my eyes to how important it is to start networking and honing your job-hunting skills from day one. Every event you attend is an opportunity to learn more about the most important process you will go through in your professional life. And each event is an opportunity to help set up an internship, a co-op, or your first fulltime professional job. It is a huge thing to build up contacts. This is the key to your future.”
In Berthaume’s case, she was offered two internships through career fairs, but by then she had decided on an academic track and attending graduate school, like her two older brothers, who both attended undergraduate and graduate school at the College of Engineering. So Berthaume used her extensive networking skills to set up undergraduate research projects.
Currently, she is involved in an intriguing highway infrastructure sustainability project with CEE Professor Behrouz Shafei which is assessing the effect of climate change on the deterioration of structural integrity in reinforced concrete bridges. Among other goals, the research will determine future effects of corrosive environmental conditions on concrete structures based on projected climate change scenarios.
“Basically, what we want to do with this project is that we’re using projected climate data based on the records over the last 30 years or so and want to extrapolate that based on predicted emissions scenarios and the climate changes likely from global warming,” explains Berthaume. “So we want to see how all that would affect the deterioration of concrete infrastructure. The premise is that climate change could actually make our bridges and other concrete structures deteriorate more quickly. Emissions can hasten the corrosion of reinforced concrete. Both humidity and temperature levels are factors that affect the corrosive agents that come from automobile emissions and other emissions from fossil fuels.”
This is just the sort of fascinating research that Berthaume would like to do in graduate school, especially since it combines the skillset and knowledge she has been developing in the CEE department and in her Natural Resource Conservation minor.
One other key resource that has helped Berthaume to adjust, achieve, and thrive at the College of Engineering is the Society of Women Engineers, for which she is the freshman program coordinator this year, fittingly enough.
“SWE is awesome!” says Berthaume with her typical exuberance. “It’s a really important organization if you’re looking for roommates, or you need a study group, or if you just need some other girls to hang out with. You have your own support group. It gives you the feeling that we’re all in engineering, we’re all in this together, we can do it!”
Berthaume notes that joining SWE or one of the other student engineering organizations during your first year is one of the smartest things you can do for yourself.
“My first semester of college was a huge transition for me,” she recalls. “I’d never really been away from home. I was nervous about my studies. I knew that first semester was really crucial. So that’s the time when women really need SWE. It’s great to have somebody looking out for you. In this case, many people looking out for you. It helps you know you can do this, you can get through this first semester of college.”
Her advice about the Society of Women Engineers also goes for the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Engineers Without Borders USA: UMass Amherst Student Chapter, or any of the 12 professional societies in the college. Berthaume, for example, also belongs to the Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honors Society.
“It’s really daunting to come from a small high school to a large university, where there might be 400 people in your freshman chemistry class,” she says. “But student societies make the university into a much smaller place.” (October 2013)