sEArching For Her Career — an EA Story

EA Stories is a series of conversations with current Engineering Ambassadors representing the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida. The stories are shared with the hope that they’ll spark inspiration, introspection, or a lesson that otherwise may have gone un-explored.

With UF’s Career Showcase happening this week, finding internships and full time jobs is on every engineers’ mind. So, we sat down with Engineering Ambassador Melanie Solo and got her story on how her summer internship shaped her professional path.

Tell me about yourself

My name is Melanie Solo, and I am a fifth year Chemical Engineering Major. I was born in North Carolina, but lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for 13 years: my parents both worked with the military and worked at the American high school there.

What motivated you to Chemical Engineering?

So I have a different path from most engineers. When I first started at UF, I was actually on a Pre-Med track, pursuing a Chemistry major. The main motivation behind the switch was that I had always been interested in engineering as a possible career. I wanted to look a little bit more into that, because I really felt like those classes fit my personality and my education style a bit more, and looking into all the different engineering majors, I chose Chemical Engineering because it is such a broad type of field, so you really can go into any sort of business you would like.

Where have you interned?

I have interned at the Ford Motor Company, GE Appliances, and Frito Lay.

Ford and Frito Lay were more project based internships, while GE Applicances was more job based. Within Ford and Frito Lay, I was given projects that I had the entire summer to work on, and I had weekly touch points with my manager to make sure the project was on track, but while at GE it was more job-focused, so I was managing their refrigeration testing lab, and getting units in and out, diagnosing and figuring out what was wrong with the refrigerator and tracking it back to our production line: that was my day to day role, that’s what I was always doing.

With Frito Lay, my job was to develop a critical care programs for some of the equipment we had within our potato chip packaging department. Since the plant pretty much runs 24/7, the machinery can break down and this can drive up our numbers for film and finished waste. Instead of calling maintenance to fix the equipment every time this happens, we wanted to ensure that we were having certain machine operators take ownership and keep the equipment up to date to keep things more efficient. So I put together a program and organized system to ensure we were fixing any issues on a scheduled basis and worked on getting our care owners trained.

Was this the kind of work you were expecting? It doesn’t seem that much Chemical Engineering

So, thankfully, a lot of times with Chemical Engineering, it’s not straight up engineering, they’ll hire engineers for management positions, which fits my personality more, so I really liked it.

You hear this from recruiters that engineers are problem solvers, so whenever something happens, you have to follow your engineering mindset. diagnose what went wrong. It definitely was much more of a management position, and I wasn’t necessarily engineering chemical systems and such. I was dealing more with people and the equipment itself.

Is that more aligned with what you’re looking for your career?

Yeah, it is. For a little while, I was not passionate about what I was studying. So up until this internship, I was a little bit confused about where I would want to go full time, but I knew that I had always been interested in the consumer good industry, and I always thought that Pepsico was an awesome company. They were always so nice during showcase, and I ended up loving the internship and it all just worked out for me.

Could you describe the story of how you got that internship?

The first time I ever went to Career Showcase was when I was a sophomore, it was my first year post being Pre-med. And Pepsico stood out to me, because, you know, they have the walls of chips and everything and I was like “UGH I’m so hungry!” But talking to the recruiters, I fell in love with the company. And after that, I went to every info session I could with them, and it took me a year . Two Career Showcases, I didn’t get anything with them. My third Career Showcase I did get an interview, but I completely bombed it because I was so nervous and overthought every little thing. But I learned from that. It wasn’t until I got internships with the Ford Motor Company and GE Appliances, when I had more things to talk about, that I felt comfortable during my second Pepsico interview. During the interview, I was a lot more calm and I realized that if I didn’t get that job, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. There are a lot of other great jobs out there, and that made me feel more relaxed. It also helped that I knew more about industry, so I knew what questions to be asking, what was relevant. Reflecting on what was important to me in a job and what I was passionate about and why that company really helped me during the interview, and helped me get that interview as well. Because recruiters, they talk to so many different people but certain questions are really going to stick out to them, and if you are really interested and research the company, they’re going to give you some thought.

What would you say you learned from this internship?

I wanted to make sure that the work I was doing was truly meaningful, and from going from a project based role at Ford to a job based role at GE Appliances, I realized that I liked more project based work, because I felt like I could have more of an impact on the company. So that’s one of the question I asked the recruiters. Are these internships project based or job based? And I’m sure that that’s not a question they get asked often.

Working at my past two roles, I learned more about myself and my leadership role, so there was definitely trial and error when I was working with different people and trying to handle different situations. That was a huge growth role for me: learning what kind of leader I was and I wanted to be, and being able to compromise between what was best for the company and best for the workers, but also being able to stand my ground and be firm in what I believe in.

Also, I enjoyed Frito Lay because it was a brand I was passionate about. My interest and passion came from learning about all of the small details that go into making a simple bag of chips that we take for granted. Learning about all of the engineering and getting to know all the people that help make a product I’ve known for as long as i can remember made me take pride in the product I was developing, and it made me excited to go to work every day. There’s something really special about being able to pull a bag of Ruffles off of the shelf at Public and being able to tell if it came from your factory and your people.

When I started seeing the people I worked with as “my people”, I knew that I could see myself having a future with the company.

Finally, from your internships, what was the biggest personal takeaway you had?

The biggest lesson I learned was to be confident in yourself. I know it’s cliche. There were a lot of times I would sit at my desk and doubt myself a lot, and I would be very stressed out about talking to a certain person, but I realized that I was wasting a lot of time worrying and I could have just gotten it out of the way if I had just done it. So my advice is that, if you stop doubting yourself and you just do it, you realize that you are going to get a lot more results and everything is going to work out fine.

Just stay persistent and don’t lose hope when searching for jobs and internships. I definitely received a lot more rejections than I did offers (I’ve honestly probably applied for over 100 positions throughout the last few years…)

But with each failure, take a step back and look at what went wrong and what areas you have the potential to improve on. Take these experiences and use them to mold and shape the type of leader and person you want to be. If you do this and stay persistent, it will all pay off.

Thank you for reading the very FIRST EA Story! EA Stories are created to recorded and publish the personal stories of the Gator Engineer, so that other students might find a spark of inspiration, introspection, or a lesson that otherwise may have gone unexplored.

If you would like to help, please comment below or message us on Facebook about what you thought! This series is just getting started and ever evolving, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.