Now, the real work begins: Cal Poly’s class of 2010 graduates

Dana Clyman,center, leaves no doubt as to her location on the field at the Cal Poly graduation. At left is Shara Schuman, and at right is Sarah Nielsen. 
Photo Jayson Mellom  6-12-10
Dana Clyman,center, leaves no doubt as to her location on the field at the Cal Poly graduation. At left is Shara Schuman, and at right is Sarah Nielsen. Photo Jayson Mellom 6-12-10 The Tribune

Getting a first job out of college is challenging in these tough economic times, Cal Poly students and university officials say.

But students who have been hired and will start new jobs now that they have graduated point to Cal Poly’s emphasis on practical experience and project-based learning as keys to their success.

They cite connections with employers through university job fairs and career services in helping land employment.

While some students continue to seek work or opt for graduate school in the tough job market, others say that participation in academic competitions and projects at Cal Poly helped them get their foot in the employment door.

The Tribune interviewed three students at Cal Poly who have found jobs.

A fourth, senior mechanical engineering student Eric Johnson, 23, with a 3.6 grade-point average, said that he has applied to 15 to 18 companies without success yet.

“Finding companies that have availability is one of the most difficult things,” Johnson said. “Companies are getting applications from hundreds of engineers.”

But Johnson said his practical experience at Cal Poly was beneficial, and he believes his persistence will pay off, though it’s taking longer than he hoped.

“I’ve been happy with the different classes (and) projects I did and the practical applications of lessons we learned,” Johnson said. His senior project was on a stand-up wheelchair.

Recruiter Lisa Silva, with the accounting firm KPMG, said that Cal Poly is one of the top 40 schools in the nation the company focuses on.

“We look for well-rounded students that show a balance between their academics, on-campus activities and involvement outside of campus as well,” Silva said.

She said she looks for skills that include good communications, problem-solving, interpersonal relations, critical thinking and decision-making.

As a good sign for graduates, Cal Poly officials cite U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing that jobs have increased in recent months, including more than 200,000 new positions nationwide in March and April.

Saba Abuhay

Abuhay, a 22-year-old from Bakersfield, said she was lucky to receive an offer for her new position with Amgen in December. Her just-completed degree from Cal Poly is in statistics.

She recalled a classmate at Cal Poly being stressed out for the past six months while looking for work before being hired.

“A lot of people I know weren’t as fortunate as me,” Abuhay said. “A lot of people are going to grad school as a plan B or just getting offers now.”

Abuhay will work as an information systems analyst at the Amgen headquarters in Thousand Oaks.

She credits her participation in the National Society of Black Engineers and Scientists, as well as two internships with Boeing, as key influences in her development.

At Boeing, she helped fine-tune a data-tracking system, including making employee records more efficient.

“I think my internships really helped me to learn a professional demeanor and apply my knowledge in a real-world setting,” Abuhay said.

Courtney Ritter

Ritter, 22, a graduate of Arroyo Grande High School, will start her new career in San Francisco, where she’ll work with the consulting division at Deloitte, an international auditing-consulting-tax services firm.

The business graduate found an internship with the company through Cal Poly’s MustangJOBS career services website, she said.

Last summer, Ritter worked on a consulting job in which her company helped a San Jose firm develop a human resources program for keeping track of employee work hours and pay.

She also participated in a Cal Poly faculty-led business education program in Thailand during college.

Ritter said Deloitte hired her permanently for a job upon graduation, and she credits her international business professors Mike Geringer and Colette Frayne in particular for helping her develop critical-thinking skills.

“We read dozens of case studies that look at business problems and talked about how to handle them,” Ritter said. “They were constantly prodding us to find solutions to the problem.”

Brian Parker

Transfer student Brian Parker, a 24-year-old from San Diego, said work in construction management is tight now, but two internships with the company Sundt helped him land a job.

He’ll head back home to San Diego to work for the company as a field engineer.

“Cal Poly was the only school I wanted to go to, and I applied four times until I got in,” Parker said.

Parker said he initially applied as an architecture major, but decided to switch to construction management and was accepted; he said he chose Cal Poly because of its strength in those majors.

Parker said he learned important skills from student competitions in Reno, Nev., for construction management majors.

In the Associated Schools of Construction event he participated in the past two years, Parker’s team had to plan models of a seven-building hospital and a beer-bottling plant.

As part of the competition, he used Building Information Modeling, a three-dimensional system that aims to increase productivity, reduce errors and decrease cost in projects.

“I think a lot of other schools have theory-based classes,” Parker said. “I could point to this and say that I’ve worked on projects and solved practical problems using a modeling program.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune