Designing for a Better Future

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Pele Colins, SEAS’ 17 and Steve Rybicki, SEAS ’16.

The company with whom we were offered summer work is called Robohand, which is located in Pretoria, South Africa – not far from Johannesburg. Robohand works out of a large house, as opposed to an office building, called House 4 Hack, an incredible technological innovation center. Doctors (PhDs) and countless intellectuals come to the house every day and work on a number of different projects. Aside from Robohand, these projects include 3D printer development, development of quadcoptors and drones, advanced computer science and software development, etc…

robohandRobohand was created back in 2012 by a South African carpenter and innovator named Richard Van As, who created the idea for the hand after losing a few of his fingers in an accident. What originally began as on opportunity to rebuild his own fingers expanded into a company helping individuals all over the world. In fact, a Robohand product exists in every country around the world, except three!

According to the website’s press page, “Robohand creates 3D printed and aluminum CNC machined, anatomically driven, custom fitted, mechanical devices to help limb different individuals as an alternative to standard prosthetics.” The company’s technology has been able to help finger, hand, and arm amputees as well as individuals born with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS), a congenital disorder which inhibits the development of the hand and/or fingers. 3D printing technology allows for the prosthetic’s parts to be manufactured incredibly quickly and cheaply; thus, an entire, partially-functional hand can be manufactured in only a few hours and at a fraction of a cost of traditional prosthetics. The functional Robohand prosthesis, when coordinated with the movement of the wrist, allows the individual to grasp and release items such as a ball, cup, pencil, etc. Adults have been able to regain partial use of their lost extremities and limbs; children born with defects have been able to perform actions and pursue goals they otherwise would have found impossible. Robohand is rewriting the futures for children and adults around the world.

In March, we Skype-interviewed with Leonard Nel, the Director of Communications for Robohand. Through our conversation, it was apparent that the Robohand organization would benefit from additional support. Demand for the product is currently exceeding its supply, both in material and manpower to produce the devices. Leonard also indicated that, in addition to printing and fitting Robo-fingers, hands, and arms, we would also be involved in the development of new Robohand technology. The company is in the process of creating a new line of 3D printers, called the RoboBeast. The RoboBeast’s larger, more rugged design allows the technology to be more easily transported to areas of the world where people most need the devices printed. Additionally, in our role with the company, we would be involved in the design and creation of Robohand’s most recently conceptualized products – Robo-feet and legs.

What’s also incredible about Robohand is that their prosthetic designs and computer files are all open-sourced and available for free online. Anyone with the correct software and access to a 3D printer – anywhere in the world – can print and assemble one of these hands. Continue reading “Designing for a Better Future”

The “Foreign Culture” of Job Searching

CultureRecently I was reading a career book when one sentence jumped out at me. “In many ways, conducting a job search is like adapting to a foreign culture.” Aha! I thought. This is exactly what career exploration and job searches are like for a number of the international students I advise (actually, for almost all students to some extent, since most students have not yet had full-time professional jobs, so it can be a “foreign culture” to them too).

Adapting to new situations is not unusual for university students. Luckily, most of you are able to rely on the advice of friends to interpret what we advisors suggest to you during orientation sessions and workshops. Some of you are brave enough to raise your hands and ask us, “What exactly do you mean?” or “Can you give us an example of how yoFish master-art-adapting-foreign-office-cultureu would actually do that?” Often, it seems easier just to ask your friends after the session. The problem is that, depending on the topic (careers in this case), your friends may not know much more than you do. (Or what they know may be very specific to their individual experiences.)

What I appreciated about this book is that it gives clear and specific instructions about how to actually do whatever is suggested. It doesn’t assume that the reader has the experience (or the social skills) to inherently know how to implement many career suggestions. It even gives examples of common mistakes.

Here’s one:

“Adam is like many job seekers I coach: frustrated and discouraged. He graduated near the top of his class with a degree in computer science. With some help from his father, Adam put together a resume, drafted a cover letter, and began applying for software testing jobs on internet job boards. After sending more than 40 resumes, Adam received an invitation for a telephone interview. Confident about his technical ability, Adam anticipated no problems answering questions.

The interview did not go as planned. Adam hadn’t kept a copy of the job advertisement, and had a hard time answering specific queries about his qualifications. Since he hadn’t done any research on the company, he wasn’t prepared to explain why he wanted to work there. When asked about whether he had experience using a specific tool, Adam responded, “No,” even though he was proficient with one that was very similar (and could have called attention to this.) The call lasted ten minutes.” (Bissonnette, 2013, p. 16).

Sound familiar to anyone? This skilled young graduate didn’t realize that he was entering a foreign culture, the world of work. All of us who explore new cultures need to learn their languages and norms in order to interact with the people native to those cultures. Here’s one cultural example for Adam’s case. Job applicants need to understand that simply wanting to work at a company is important toFit that employer. It helps the employer determine if you fit their company culture. Yes, you need to have the skills necessary for the work, but once an employer has determined that you have the skills they need, they want to understand why you want to work there. Responses such as, “Because you’re a famous company” or “I’ve always wanted to work for a company like yours” are not sufficient. Your response needs to indicate both what you know about the company and that you’re enthusiastic about working for them. Adam could have said something like, “For one of my class projects we tested a programming language you use, so I was interested in reading more about your company when I saw this job posting. When I read about your projects, the languages you use, and how you invest in new employees, I knew this would be a good fit.”

The book goes on to provide specific examples and definitions and to point out common errors. As another example, there is a section on mistakes made during interviews that focuses on four common errors: “long, rambling responses to questions,” “very, very short answers to questions,” “being unprepared,” and “not showing enthusiasm.” I know from the many mock interviews I’ve conducted that these are frequent mistakes among all students—in any class year, in any degree. Just explaining your skills isn’t enough. Preparation is essential so that you know what types of answers are appropriate and that you know a lot about the job and company. Being authentically enthusiastic is key.

So, for full disclosure now. The reason this book so carefully explains the norms of this “foreign culture” and provides many examples, clear explanations, and detailed worksheets is that the targeted audience of this book is those of us who find social skills difficult to understand and master—namely those on “the spectrum” with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’m not trying to say that I think most students struggle with development of basic social skills. I am trying to say that this book might be helpful to many students, especially those who want to understand how and why to communicate with potential employers—in other words, how to understand the employer’s culture. The author attempts to “explain the ‘whys’ behind aspects of the job search that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome find confusing or silly.” (Bissonnette, 2013, p. 19). How wonderful to have a resource such as this for students on the autism “spectrum” who are exploring their career options! But, I’m also excited that there are tips in this book that I find potentially helpful for any student navigating a “foreign culture,” especially international students who want to find job opportunities in the U.S. Actually, I think many students might benefit from this book’s straightforward advice. For all of us it can sometimes be confusing to understand and adapt to a new culture.

The book is The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome: Find the Right Career and Get Hired, by Barbara Bissonnette, published in 2013 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers (London and Philadelphia). The quote in my first paragraph above is from Bissonnette, 2013, p. 12. The four examples of interviewing mistakes are from Bissonnette, 2013, p. 136.

culture balloons

Learning Diplomacy at the US Embassy Paris, Press Office

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Jacqueline Heinrich, CAS ’15

Just as many International Relations majors, I have always dreamed of working in diplomacy, but I never counted on it becoming a reality. Especially in my area of focus, Europe and primarily France, diplomatic opportunities are very competitive. Regardless, also majoring in French at Penn and having studied abroad in Paris, I aspired to work in France in some capacity. Both dreams of working in diplomacy and in France were realized to their full extent through the State Department internship program

While abroad in Paris last fall, I applied to the State Department for a summer internship, voicing an interest in European affairs and public affairs. I was extremely fortunate to be offered an internship at the Embassy of the United States, Paris in the Press Office. The Press Office has many components and a hand in much of the embassy’s activities, as it is responsible for embassy’s media output and keeping track of the French media. I felt lucky to be a Press Office intern because I was able to be involved in and learn about the Press Office’s many roles and much of the embassy’s activities.

My days were made up of both consistent daily tasks and a changing variety of projects. Every morning I contributed to the Press Office’s daily media summary, which entailed reading France’s major newspapers, then translating and compiling their commentary on pertinent global and domestic issues into a summary that would be sent to other State Department bases.

Every afternoon was different and filled with varied tasks and projects. One of my biggest roles was helping the social media team with the embassy’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. This included outreach, in both French and English, on serious topics like events in the Ukraine and more light-hearted ones such as the World Cup. Learning to use social media as diplomatic tool was eye-opening and made me realize the impact and importance of public diplomacy. I also worked on projects that were more broadly associated with Public Affairs, since the Press Office falls under the Public Affairs section. Of these, I was most involved in Solar Decathlon Europe, part of which entailed organizing a day that showcased American culture, and commemorations for the centennial of World War I, which consisted of researching the US Embassy Paris during that time.

The Press Office is also involved in the media coverage of events and receptions held by the Embassy, so I often assisted, such as by filming or photographing them. Although I was working during them, these were also special opportunities to be in the presence of important invited guests and to experience embassy-hosted events and receptions, such as the embassy’s Fourth of July party.

Extraordinarily, the timing of my internship coincided with the 60th anniversary of D-Day, which brought President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to France. Secretary Kerry also visited Paris another time during my internship to meet with Middle Eastern delegations. My main role during each visit was helping manage the press, but I also witnessed the greater work that went into them. Both visits were extremely exciting to be a part of and gave me a sense for the power of diplomacy, which really moved me. I was truly inspired by the work done by the US Embassy Paris during these exceptional circumstances, in addition to what it does on a daily basis.

My internship was an incredibly valuable experience as it opened my eyes to a career in the Foreign Service as well as other careers that overlap in characteristics. This experience taught what its like to work in a foreign city, to use a different language in the office, to work in communications and with the press, to use social media professionally, to work with the government, and most of all to work in diplomacy. While I loved the combination of all of these things and wish I could continue my internship forever, I now can identify areas in which I would like to work and characteristics of a job that I would like to have in the future. This experience has made me feel much more prepared to embark on finding a career that is impactful and that I am passionate about.

Priming your Network

Dr. Joseph Barber

I don’t like DIY. In my experience, “doing it yourself” often turns into “damaging it yourself”. The simple act of hanging a decent-sized mirror turns into a 4-hour adventure involving drilling holes, patching the holes there were just drilled, waiting for the filler to dry, trying again, failing, re-patching, and so on. Painting a room is less traumatic, but the process of priming the wall before you actually paint it can sometimes feel a little redundant (especially when most of it seems to end up on me anyway). 20140817_230624Surely, the top coat of paint could or should do whatever magical thing the coat of primer does. As far as I can tell, primer helps the final coat of paint stick to the wall more effectively. It gives the shiny, colourful paint something to hold onto. As I was awkwardly perched upon a ladder over the weekend, precariously applying my primer on the ceiling, I wondered if this might be a good analogy for the process of networking.

In many cases, the goal of networking is to help people find the job or career path they are looking for. While your ultimate or final goal might be getting the job, there are many goals along the way that you still need to focus on.

  • There is the goal of making yourself some networking goals – so that you are approaching this activity strategically. This is what makes networking different from just randomly bumping into people.
  • There is the goal of doing some background research into different careers fields so that you know what questions to ask, and who might be able to answer them for you.
  • There is the goal of reaching out to the right people, in the right way, to encourage them to respond. Chances are your first outreach to contacts will be to ask them about what they do, how they got where they are today, and to get some insight into their specific role or organization.
  • There is the goal of sharing information about yourself to the people you meet with, so that they remember key information about who you are, what you have done or can do, and how they can help you. This is key. People need to know how they can help you before they can, well…, help you. You need to be able to articulate what your goals are to the people with you meet so that they are aware of them.

Let’s get back to the painting analogy, for a second. Reaching out to Penn alumni and other contacts you make is like applying the glossy topcoat of paint. It should be the culmination of the process that includes the steps listed above – especially developing your networking goals. Without all of this preparation, your networking might not stick (like my paint, it will just peel off the walls). If you haven’t done background research into career fields, if you haven’t identified the right person to talk to, if you haven’t identified the right questions to ask, if you haven’t developed a narrative you can use to talk about yourself, and if you haven’t identified what you goals are, then your interaction with new contacts might seem to go well at a superficial level (while you are meeting), but you probably won’t make the best impression. Your name/face/experience might not stick in the minds of your new connections as well, or for as long, as you hoped.

Let’s take an even more straightforward example. You have a very broad network of friends and family – everyone does. It would be impossible for you to know all of the people that all of your friends and family know. They know lots of people in professional settings. That’s great, but you still need to be able to connect with some of these potential contacts. Your friends and family probably won’t start randomly contacting you with suggestions for people you should talk to in different career fields from their networks, because that would just be strange. I know someone who works at Disney, but I don’t keep telling people in my network that they should contact this person, because they don’t want to work at Disney or in the entertainment industry. So, my Disney contact continues to exist in my network – I might not even think about my Disney contact for months at a time. Only once someone tells me that their goal would be to work in the entertainment industry would I suddenly think to myself, “Hey, I know someone at Disney – I should offer to put them in contact”. Until your friends, family, and other professional contacts know what type of information or connections you are seeking (one of your networking goals), they cannot tap into their own networks to help you.

So, prime your network by first identifying and then verbalizing your networking goals. You’ll find that your efforts get much more traction and you’ll make much more progress because you’ll be altogether stickier in people’s minds. That doesn’t sound so good, now that I have written it, but it sounds so much better than peeling off someone’s mind and falling to the floor – like my mirror is probably going to do!

Clean Air for 1.3 Billion New Faces

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  

This blog is by Guthrie Gintzler, SEAS ’16

I set out looking for an internship for the 2014 summer in pursuit of something close to my home in Pittsburgh. When I received the offer to be an engineering intern at LP Amina in Beijing helping to reduce pollution, I knew I had to leave home behind; the opportunity was too tantalizing to pass by. Having never left the United States before, spending ten weeks working in Beijing seemed daunting at first. For one thing, I didn’t know a single word of Mandarin; I learned “nihao,” hello, on the plane ride to Beijing. I was thrilled to have the chance to gain experience in the energy industry on a global scale all while learning a new language through the free Mandarin lessons my company offered.

LP Amina is a multinational environmental engineering firm that researches NOx reduction solutions and retrofits Chinese coal-fired power plants with these solutions. For those not familiar, NOx, the general term for various nitric oxides, is one of the main chemical compounds that contributes to smog. Beijing has such bad smog that the PM 2.5 index used to measure air quality had to be extended from 500 to 800. The smog has been traced to increased lung cancer rates. LP Amina is a small 100 person company with a culture that shouts change and innovation. This made for a perfect environment to learn about clean and sustainable energy while making meaningful contributions in the pollution reduction efforts in my position as an engineering intern.

Although I am a mechanical engineering major at Penn, LP Amina placed me as a structural engineering intern. This proved to be a challenging position for me as there are a surprising number of differences between the two disciplines. Instead of designing the mechanics behind nozzles and burners, my job was to design the structure to support the ducts drafted by the mechanical engineers. My main project at LP Amina was designing a Secondary Overfire Air (SOFA) duct for the Linyi power plant in the Shandong District. My company flew me out to visit the site. There I received a full technical tour of the power plant, collected old blueprints, and climbed two of the boilers to take measurements and determine the best location for the SOFA ducts. While a power plant retrofit project in the US traditionally takes two years, a similar project in fast-paced China only takes two months. This enabled me to play an active role on all structural engineering aspects of the project, from creating an AutoCAD version of the old blueprints to checking the structural integrity of my design to support the SOFA ducts and creating material lists. I learned a few CAD software programs including Staad.Pro, which was all in Chinese, that I used to verify the structural integrity of my and other engineers’ designs.

Continue reading “Clean Air for 1.3 Billion New Faces”