Fiat Chrysler Automobiles takes students for a test drive

12Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA US) recently visited the College of Engineering and Computing to get to know students and host a design challenge. The end goal –  to get FIU students hired.

Admission to the event was simple – register with a resume, and get to network with FCA US executives in the hopes of landing an interview, and perhaps even a job, with the company. More than 100 students from various engineering disciplines and even business, marketing and criminal justice attended the college-wide recruitment event.

“This event was a win-win for both our students and FCA. Our students learned from senior executive members of the Women’s Forum at FCA US and got to showcase both what they’ve learned here at FIU and their talents at the design challenge to industry executives,” said Ranu Jung, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computing. “FCA US got to see first-hand the quality of engineers we are training, identify them for internships and interviews, and hopefully have a few new engineers join their company as a result.”

The event was part of the Women of CEC, an initiative just launched by the college to recruit, retain and graduate women engineers.13

The day began with the panel discussion, Footsteps: From Campus to Corporate, which featured several FCA US women executives. The event was moderated by FIU alumna Maria Quintero ’13, who now works for FCA US as a foundation brakes engineer.

Each of the panelists talked about their individual career paths and offered professional advice to students.

“I didn’t have a calling … but I was always really good at math and science,” said Elizabeth Krear, chief engineer for the Ram truck program.

The daughter of an engineer, she sought input from her father, telling him she wanted to be a businesswoman. “My dad said, ‘It’s simple. Go get your engineering degree. It’s an excellent foundation for any business.’”

Panelist Julia Hawley, NAFTA program manager for FCA US, had a different experience. Her father did not want her to become an engineer and tried steering her to become a pharmacist.

“That wasn’t going to work for me,” she said. She pursued engineering and today has more than two decades with the company. “Be true to yourself,” she told students.

14Jill Katic, a director of research at the company, talked about overcoming obstacles as a woman in the automotive industry.

“I’m not really sure there are more obstacles for women. We just have to make sure we’re not self-imposing obstacles on ourselves,” she said. She added that women bring diversity to the workforce, and encouraged students not to apologize for who they are.

The final panelist, Samantha Montesinos, an engineer for body exterior fascia, shared her experience as an intern with the company and what it was like to participate in the Chrysler Institute of Engineering Program (CIE) Program – a highly selective two-year experience that exposes students to the many facets of FCA US with the opportunity to complete a master’s degree in mechanical or electrical engineering.

Montesinos told students to get involved in organizations like the Society for Hispanic Engineers (SHPE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), and also to seek internship opportunities.

Students got to ask the panel questions afterward, from what technical skills are the most useful for working at the company, to what the relocation from Mi15ami to Detroit was like. To the first question, Montesinos replied that managing time and prioritizing will help you in any work environment.

After the panel, students crowded the Panther Pit for the Design Challenge. The task – design and build a gliding car, one with wheels, but that could also fly once rolled off a table. Students were given a budget and had to decide what materials to purchase and then use those materials to make the car. They were judged on design innovation, weight of the car, cost and distance the vehicle traveled.

16Most of the students did not know each other and had to learn to work together during a very short time. The engineers-in-training got to work immediately. “Let’s go Chargers,” yelled one team when it was their time to present their car.

There was also friendly ribbing among the competition. “That’s what happens when you don’t use card stock!” yelled one student referring to a competing team’s choice of materials.

All in good fun, the participants had a nice time and learned from each other. The winner was Team Viper, which flew a distance of 136 cm. The prize was FCA US-branded portable Bluetooth speakers, and other giveaway items.

After the competition, students were able to discuss some of the challenges they encountered working together and their overall experience. Some of the feedback 17
included, learning when to be a leader, and when to follow, and respecting each other’s ideas.

“It was an exciting event. It gives us good insight on how it’s going to be in the real world. You’re going to have time constraints, your budget will be cut in half, you’ll have limited resources …,” said Vanessa Hawkins, a senior studying mechanical engineering.

Hawkins has interned with FCA US for the past two years. She will begin the CIE program at FCA US when she graduates in May.

18“I encourage all students to take every opportunity, and go to job and internship fairs. I got an internship [with FCA] through an internship fair at FIU, and from there, another offer, and then an offer for a full-time job,” Hawkins said.

While on campus, FCA US also presented the FIU’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Club with an $11,000 check to help with costs to take the Formula SAE car to the SAE International Competition, which will be held in Michigan in May.

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