Today's college students likely will face one of the bleakest and most competitive job markets in U.S. history when they graduate, and Steven Miller is no exception. Instead of growing discouraged or burying his head in the sand, Miller, who is currently a junior at Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa, U.S.) majoring in industrial engineering, spent this past summer adding valuable work experience to his résumé by completing an unpaid internship at the St. Charles Public Works Department located in St. Charles, Illinois, U.S.

“Our internship program is operated by the human resources department,” said Glynn Amburgey, electric and communications manager for the city of St. Charles as well as the person who hired and supervised Miller. “The program's goal is to provide training for the individual rather than production for the city. We believe it is our responsibility to assist the interns and provide them with valuable experience and information to help them make career decisions.”

A large part of Miller's internship included exposure to real-world situations faced on a day-to-day basis by power industry engineers.

“Because my internship was unpaid, it involved much more than just pushing paper,” Miller noted. “I actually shadowed engineers around the facility and out into the field, where they showed me the various aspects involved in their jobs. For example, I was able to learn about transformers and substations in person. I also helped with technical drawings and worked a little with SCADA. Obviously, I am not a licensed engineer, so I was limited as to what I could do — but I learned a ton just by observing.”

A lifelong resident of St. Charles, Miller was exposed to the electrical industry throughout his life via his father, who has more than 30 years of experience in the business. A strong aptitude for math and science helped steer the then high school student toward the engineering profession.

“Growing up, I liked and excelled at chemistry, biology and math,” Miller said. “I took a product design class in high school that employed a lot of engineering concepts. We designed items like lamps and worked with AutoCAD-type programs, which really interested me. I decided to attend Iowa State because the school has a strong engineering program and I was offered several academic scholarships.”

Although he is uncertain where his industrial engineering degree will take him, the college undergrad admits he has developed an appreciation for the power utility industry.

“Working for the city of St. Charles has showed me just how diverse a utility engineer's job can be,” he said. “No two projects are the same, and problem-solving skills are needed every day. I think it would be a challenging and rewarding career.”

According to Amburgey, Miller is exactly the type of person he likes to offer an internship.

“I am always looking for the student who has not decided to move into the power field,” Amburgey explained. “I say this because I feel the power industry has tremendous opportunity, yet it is often overlooked because it is not perceived as being glamorous. It is also a field that does not pigeonhole engineers. For example, over the course of his or her career, a power utility engineer might be doing anything from designing a relay scheme in a substation to building a transmission line or constructing a power plant. In my own career, I have been involved with a large investor-owned utility, smaller utilities, the manufacturing of components and running industrial plants. It has been very fulfilling.”

In addition to his duties at the St. Charles Public Works Department, Miller spent 30-plus hours per week during the summer performing swimming pool maintenance at a local park to earn money. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with friends and family, running and judo.

“Judo is a martial art sport that I always wanted to learn when I was younger but never did,” he said. “During my freshman year at Iowa State, I decided to go for it and enrolled in a local martial arts program.”

Miller encourages students of all ages not to be afraid of trying new things, even if it results in failure. “Take time to discover what you enjoy doing and what interests you,” he advises. “Then, set goals and turn what you love doing into a career. Do not be afraid to take risks or change your mind if you find something else you would rather spend your life doing.”

Amburgey agrees with Miller's philosophy. “Often, engineering students — or any students for that matter — have an idea of what their long-term employment future is going to look like. I find that many of those students are basing this on a very narrow field of exposure to the various disciplines within the industry. My recommendation is to keep an open mind that there might be a different or more in-depth career path that could suit you better.”

So, if anyone is looking for an aspiring engineer as an intern next summer or a graduate in the spring of 2013, contact Miller at sdmiller@iastate.edu.