Experiential learning, in all its guises, generates job offers
By Diane Luckow
Daniel Dixon, 23, will receive his bachelor of applied science at SFU’s June 12th convocation ceremony—a year later than most of his engineering science buddies. But he’s okay with that. Because an extra year of co-op experience, at Tesla, has landed him a job at Apple with a generous six-figure salary and a signing bonus.
He credits the Tesla co-op job for giving him the technical and business experience he needed to become a prime job candidate.
“Co-op at Tesla has completely shaped my career, at least in the short term,” says Dixon. “I knew Tesla was a good fit because I was using a lot of my academic experience from SFU and my previous co-op at Sierra Wireless. However, Tesla was much faster-paced and my responsibilities much greater.”
Dixon fielded competitive job offers from both Tesla and Apple and says choosing between them was difficult.
He took the job at Apple as a way to diversify his career path. He’ll be a haptics firmware QA engineer at Apple, working on a team that validates the precise vibration functionality of the iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac and future products.
Paving the way to good jobs
There’s no question that SFU’s experiential learning options, such as internships, co-op education, field schools and international exchanges, can pave the way for graduating students to find good jobs, regardless of their faculty.
Rebecca Gunderson, for example, has just graduated with a BA in geography and is already working as a research coordinator with Altus Group, a commercial real estate consulting firm.
She credits experiential learning and a co-op job with helping her land her current position.
During her last undergraduate year, she took an experiential learning course that involved planning an international workshop with the City of Surrey and visitors from Germany. This led to an undergraduate research assistantship to help plan a new experiential international field school in Germany on the topic of resilience planning. She then remained in Germany to complete research with German partners at the Technical University of Dortmund that resulted in a report, a journal manuscript and a conference presentation.
“I learned a lot about urban planning in an international context that is applicable in my job,” says Gunderson. “You also learn to think critically, especially because we were writing a paper and doing research.”
Her international experience also led to a volunteer position on a City of Surrey committee that advises council on social planning issues.
Gunderson’s eight-month co-op position with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, where she worked with data sets, was also directly applicable to her new job, where she analyses data and develops data sets. It also piqued her interest in a government planning career.
“Without those two experiences I don’t think I’d be where I am now,” she says.
“Sitting in a classroom and learning is important, but SFU offers a lot of other opportunities that are interesting and allow you to build on your studies.” Gunderson will begin a part-time master’s degree in urban studies this fall.
While she did earn a grade point average of 4.11 out of a possible 4.33, she still attributes much of her job success to a three-month internship last summer with LinkedIn.
“A lot of interns do get conversion to full-time jobs,” she says.
Wu was very engaged on campus, working as a teaching assistant, and also serving as president of her student union and as a faculty peer mentor.
“My SFU experience was the best years of my life,” says Wu. “I had such an amazing experience at a university that is a half-hour drive from home. I think our SIAT program is really on the map for big tech companies and I’m really proud of us—we’re such a small school but there’s a lot of talent coming out of it. Our alumni reputation is really helping us land jobs. None of this would have happened for me without our inspirational alumni paving the way.”
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