To observers looking in, the life of an engineer is a glamourous and largely misunderstood venture; undertaken by many, and attained by few. It appears as a mirage of promising wealth and success to those who “make it”. These stereotypes persist most especially with the students who desire to pursue engineering as a career.
Therefore, it is important for the students to be able to engage with individuals who have already gone through the process and entered the workplace so that they have the opportunity to learn as much as possible, thereby entering the workplace with their eyes a little wider and their expectations a little more realistic.
EWB-Wits acknowledges this need for its members to have someone from whom they can attain this knowledge and maybe even look up to. To address this issue a ‘Speed Mentoring’ event was held in the hopes of fostering an environment for its members to perhaps identify a role model/ mentor, and if nothing else, to have an opportunity to learn from the individuals present.
The idea of ‘Speed Mentoring’ works on the same premise as speed dating. A group of professionals, who either were practicing engineers or who had completed engineering as their undergraduate degree, were assembled as the mentors. The students were then split into small groups which would move from mentor to mentor. Each group had 7 minutes to engage with the mentor before rotating to the next professional.
Having the opportunity to engage with mentors is both a privilege and a responsibility for the student. One of the benefits of being able to speak to someone already in the field that you wish to go into is that you gain new perspective; illuminating potential challenges as well as potential prospects. It also provides an opportunity to learn from the mentors and piece together a vision for yourself of yourself in the future. And this vision is different to the initial beguiling ideal that you had because now you have been exposed to a few new realities, as recounted by the mentors’ experiences.
One of the interesting aspects of this particular event was the diversity of the professionals themselves; these mentors represented a wide variety of engineering fields, including mechanical, biomedical, mining, electrical, computer and civil engineering. It also reflected a diverse group including both men, and women, those who had recently graduated and those who had been in the field for decades. But what was very interesting was that many of the mentors had actually ventured into fields outside of engineering. There were mentors who were now working in banks, people who worked for huge companies as analysts, and there was even a mentor who had worked as an engineer but was now working as a lawyer, having decided to use their previous experience to further their career.
This diversity was important because it shared with the students the possibility of more than one type of set career path. Understanding that the opportunities are limitless helps to fuel the drive within a student to want to grow and reach whatever potential they possess.
Throughout the event the students had actively participated and engaged with the mentors; asking questions, listening attentively and taking note of the answers received. At this stage from the standpoint of EWB-Wits the event was a success, but for the members the range of success they can have with this event is based off of what they do with the knowledge they have received. This application of knowledge can take many forms and after the event EWB-Wits was excited to witness a few of these instances. For example, there were students who contacted a particular mentor afterwards, requesting more information and advisory assistance, which the mentors gave graciously. There were students who received business cards and industry contact details. And there were students who wrote down what was being said to them and left the event feeling empowered and invigorated.
As EWB-Wits this is all we can hope for; that our members have opportunities to learn how to network and market themselves, and that they can continue to feel a passion for engineering and achieve the goals that they have set for themselves. And most importantly to empower them to know that others have made it through and so can they.
Written by Ashleigh Vetten