Advice from STEM Major Alumni

As STEM careers continuously expand, COD students had an exceptional opportunity to hear advice from alumni that are working in a variety of jobs within the field today.


Graphic by Mariyam Syed

Mariyam Syed, Staff Writer

At the STEM Club event on Dec. 1, a panel of COD alumni shared their valuable insight on what it’s really like working in STEM jobs and how their experiences in COD’s STEM clubs helped propel them to their chosen professions.

Resume building was the biggest point of advice from the alumni. They reminded students that gaining experience early on, in their first few years of college, could go a long way.

One of the alumni speakers, Alec Steinkraus, is an engineer at Caterpillar Inc., the construction company. He described how the skills he learned from the COD Engineering and Technology club and the Midwestern Robotics Competitions still help him in his professional career today. Steinkraus told students to add their ETC experience and competition wins to their resume. 

“Go above and beyond on your class or club projects, get those bonus points,” Steinkraus said. “Do something you’re actually passionate about and put extra time into it, so you can stand apart.”

This was echoed by another alumni panel speaker, Josie Suter. She is a robotics engineer working at EarthSense, a startup company that creates sustainable agricultural robots. 

“If you’re excited about what you’re doing and what you’re learning, it’s very important,” she said. 

When she was in the Engineering and Technology Club, she participated in the NASA robotics competitions. She told students that while it may be tough at COD, pursuing these extracurricular projects would be very worth it to set them up for successful internships.

“Through those experiences and Engineering Club, I got an idea of what kind of things I like to do and what skills I have,” Suter explained. 

During her studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she sought internships even before graduating. She recommended the Research Park at UIUC for students to find internships if they transfer. It was how she found an internship at the Caterpillar construction company, where she worked in the innovation studio. It gave her access to 3D printing and other novel building technology that developed her skills and interest in the engineering field. It was a valuable opportunity that she encouraged other students to seek out in their own internships.

Matias Kotlik was another alumni panelist who encouraged students to pursue unique opportunities to learn more about their own interests.

“Try as many things as you can as early as possible. The more you try, the more you learn about yourselves. You need a willingness to try new things and teach yourself as the field changes,” Kotlik said.

Being self-taught can be a great asset, explained alumni Dan Markwell, who’s currently a chemical engineer. He advised students to take the initiative to teach themselves about their chosen field of study, even before they enter the formal academic program. He also gave advice to students about job interviews. In Markwell’s experience as an interviewer, there have been people with impressive resumes who didn’t get the job because they conducted themselves poorly in the interview itself.

“Interpersonal communication in an interview is extremely important, being able to appear calm and interested,” Markwell emphasized. “Companies don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t know anything about the job or company. Showing that you’ve taken time to research and had interest with the company you’re potentially working for goes a long way in the interview.”

The alumni panelists also discussed difficulties people face with getting responses to their resumes from companies that get hundreds of resumes at a time. To get past this obstacle, their first tip was to find ways to directly communicate with the company.

“Go to career fairs, get a contact within the company. See if they have job openings and if they see you as someone who’d fit into that job,” Suter described. “There’s usually very little feedback from just online applications.”

The alumnus’s second tip was about constructing your resume to include keywords from the job description that you’re applying to.

“So if you’re applying for a web developer job but don’t have a prior job that says that, put web developer in the description of your qualifications,” Markwell advised. 

He also explained that students may benefit from having different versions of their resume. For a basic job application, they could use a generic resume. For their top priority applications, use a tailored version of their resume with more relevant, specific information.

They also recommended the Career Services Center at COD, which can help students construct resumes. The STEM Club Night event also helped students network with each other and set up LinkedIn profiles. With these resources and the experiences gained from STEM clubs, the alumni assured students that they could create a bright future in their chosen STEM professions.