Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Engineering students explore life after graduation

At times, students wading through classes such as Introduction to Continuum Mechanics or Composite Materials might decide the road to an engineering degree seems long, hard and, well, what’s the point?

Is there life after graduation?

DU engineering majors spend a day each fall hearing answers to that question at Engineering Industry Day. The second annual event was held in October this year, and students heard leaders in industry and from recent DU graduates pursuing careers in engineering. From aerospace developments at Lockheed-Martin to one woman’s quest to build the world’s fastest electric motorcycle, opportunities abound.

“We wanted to help students find those opportunities once they graduate, and at the same time keep students interested in their engineering studies,” says Walker Bolger-Kumm, who chaired the student committee that helped put the day together. “Engineering traditionally hasn’t had a very high retention rate, due to the intensity of the curriculum and the amount of work demanded of the students.”

While it can be hard to stay focused early on, Bolger-Kumm says it’s important to remind students of the great rewards at the end and the exciting things there are for successful graduates.

“Whenever you take a class, take a step back and say, ‘What are they trying to teach me,’” advises Roy Godzdanker, who is seeking his PhD in engineering at DU. “Don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m never going to use this.’ When the time comes, you’ll have to go back and relearn what they were trying to teach you the first time. It all comes into play.”

If students pay attention, stay focused and keep an eye on the prize, opportunities are plentiful, says Billy Grell, who graduated from DU in 2005 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Since DU, he’s found challenging work at Lockheed-Martin.

“I’m definitely happy to be an engineer,” says Grell, who works in a test laboratory in the Denver area.

The day wasn’t just for past students to speak with current students.

Eva Hakansson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences in Sweden, is going back to school starting in January at DU, after spending years developing and racing electric motorcycles. She hopes to take her work to the next level while studying at DU, with a goal of breaking the record for fastest electric motorcycle at 176 mph and perhaps someday challenging the overall speed record for all motorcycles at 367 mph.

“Build your future, pick a project,” she told students. “Never turn down an opportunity to do something hands-on, and take every chance you get. You never know where you’ll end up.”

Bolger-Kumm, who graduates next June with dual degrees in mechanical engineering and a master’s in business, says he hopes the program helps students of all levels in DU’s engineering programs see the value of an engineering education and stay excited about their goals. While he prepares to graduate, Bolger-Kumm is already at work in research and development at the Gates Corp. rubber laboratories, learning about opportunities in engineering.

“I think an unintended benefit, something we didn’t expect, is that by inviting professionals to come to campus and talk with students, they learn about DU,” he says. “That’s helped us bring in new partners from industry, and that will turn around and help students as they go looking for internships, guidance and careers.”


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