Alexandra Forsythe is a student at Indiana Tech. She is a double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering with minors in CS and math. Alexandra is currently working as a year-round intern for Ultra Electronics USSI.
Hi! I’m Alexandra (“Alex”) Forsythe. I’ve been fortunate to have worked as an intern for NASA, Raytheon, and Ultra Electronics USSI. I designed a mission critical circuit board for NASA that will be used in an upcoming launch. For Raytheon, I programmed artificial neural networks. I’m a year-round intern for Ultra Electronics USSI, where I have been placed in charge of a new innovative product, and I’ll be an FPGA/ASIC design engineering intern for Intel next summer. At Indiana Tech, I’m a double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering with minors in CS and math, and I’m an officer in four student organizations.
You need an internship, but what else should you do to get your dream job?
Students are often told that internships are essential, but they are sometimes uncertain of the necessary steps to obtain their dream jobs. Many of the steps are obvious: selecting the right major, taking courses seriously, earning a high GPA, being active in student organizations, writing a professional resume that is error free, holding leadership positions, using websites like Indiana INTERNnet and putting the best foot forward during interviews.
An often overlooked but crucial step is community service. Volunteerism not only provides unexpected networking opportunities, but it also allows participants to develop much needed soft skills such as organization, communication, teamwork, time management, public relations, flexibility, creativity, planning, problem solving and project management. It provides exposure to a variety of personalities and leadership styles. Most importantly, community service allows participants to see the world in a different light. It enriches lives and expands viewpoints. Volunteers emerge well rounded, more empathetic and better prepared to deal with the challenges of the workplace.
How did my volunteer experiences help?
I began volunteering in earnest during middle school. While completing a 4-H project, I consulted with a naturalist at a state park. He noticed that I was interested in wildlife and nature and asked me to become a volunteer naturalist. I learned a great deal from him, and I became an avid birder. I joined several organizations including the state and local Audubon societies. Soon, I asked to be the keynote speaker for crowds as large as 150 and to write articles on behalf of the Indiana Audubon Society. From there, I became a wildlife rehabilitator, county science ambassador, program developer for a state historic site and founding board member for a nonprofit that benefits children.
Although my volunteer activities seem disconnected from my intended profession, those activities taught me skills that went beyond the lessons I learned in my engineering classes. I dealt with diverse people in the birding community, including mission-driven CEO’s, contemplative engineers, quiet veterinarians, dedicated teachers, talented machine operators, passionate artists and impulsive children. Despite dramatic differences in our personalities and backgrounds, we successfully worked together to reach common goals.
As teams, we drafted grant proposals, created websites and flyers, led fundraisers and wrote teaching materials. We helped clean up neighborhoods, taught orphaned owls to hunt and spoke to public officials about important issues. In the course of these activities, I learned a number of important soft skills, including the realization that each teammate is valuable and brings something unique to the table. I have carried these skills into the workplace, and they have served me well. I am also convinced that my experiences in community service have helped me stand out from the growing crowd of job applicants.
For every job application you submit, there may be hundreds of competing applicants. If you want to stand out from the crowd, I would suggest becoming active in your community. Not only will you benefit a valuable organization, but you will also expand your skillset, and you will network with a diverse group of people who will inevitably broaden your horizons. You’ll emerge from the experience as a better student, a better job candidate and a better person. Volunteer. You won’t be sorry.