Making the Transition from Student to Professional MEP Engineer: A Conversation with our Recent Graduates

Camille Thompson
Sep 7, 2016 9:56:45 AM

Transitioning from a university setting to a fast-paced MEP engineering workplace comes with its challenges. However, PBA’s new engineers seem to have adjusted rather quickly as young professionals in the ever-evolving AEC industry. As new hires, they are quickly immersed in the design engineering experience and are involved in, often, multi-million dollar projects for clients across the State of Michigan.

We asked five of our new engineers, most of whom are recent graduates and many of whom were PBA co-ops, what their secret is and if they have any lessons learned or words of advice to share with other students interested in pursuing a career in MEP engineering.

We first asked them if they could describe engineering in one word. Brett Galbraith described engineering as ‘efficient,’ while former PBA co-op, Doug Giroux thought the profession required ‘perseverance’ and lastly, former co-op Cecily Sparks thought that being ‘dynamic’ was a significant attribute of being a professional MEP engineer.

Next we asked our young engineers, what has been their favorite part of ‘going pro’ so far? Former Co-Op, Kenny Fitzgerald wrote, “Now that I’m finished with school, it’s been great to be able to get really involved in projects and accept some responsibility. He went on to say, “I feel even more integrated into the PBA team than I ever have before.’ Galbraith acknowledged ‘flexible hours and nice people,’ as making the transition a little easier.

Tough choices are never easy, but we also asked our respondents to choose a favorite PBA project that they’ve worked on either during their internship or as engineers. Reynolds mentioned Jimmy John’s Field, the new professional ballpark in Utica, MI. While Fitzgerald cited the Detroit News Building tenant improvements for Bedrock Real Estate. Giroux mentioned the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus Athletics South Competition and Performance Project, a $168 million project in the South State Street district. Sparks reflected on the diversity of project experience you get as an MEP engineer at PBA. “As PBA engineers you are not pigeonholed into one project type, but rather have an opportunity to work in different groups within the organization.” She mentioned her favorite projects are Michigan State University’s (MSU) Breslin Center as well as MSU’s Clinical C-Wing renovation.

Tools of the trade are vital to success as an engineer. Many cited all of the new software available in the field, while others focused on more standardized tools. “Using the 3D point cloud scanner has been incredible,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a tool I never really imagined myself using, but it makes drawing existing mechanical systems so much easier.” Reynolds acknowledged that his favorite tool of the trade has been his NEC 2014 Handbook.

With the ever-evolving profession of engineering, we asked our young professionals what the next 5-10 years might have in store for engineering. Giroux expects the future of engineering to focus on ‘autonomous cars, renewable energy, and energy conservation methods. Sparks stated that she hopes ‘the industry becomes more exposed to the rest of the engineering world, because most people think only about the automotive industry when it comes to engineering.’ She also wants to see, and thinks we will see, ‘more energy conservation measures being taken, whether by choice of the owner or by codes.’ Galbraith took a more personal approach to this question stating his interest in earning his PE license over this timeframe.

Lastly, we asked our young engineers why they might recommend becoming an MEP engineer to students considering MEP engineering as a career, or for those currently studying in the field. Fitzgerald wrote, “Working as an MEP engineer offers a lot of exciting ways to exercise creativity and critical thinking simultaneously. Each project presents its own unique set of challenges that the team has to face and work around, and it’s always a satisfying feeling to figure out the best solution to a difficult task.” Reynolds expanded on this by stating that 'Every job you get is different from the last. No matter how similar jobs may be, they have their own quirks and characteristics. There is little room for monotony in this field.' Giroux concluded that, “MEP engineering requires a blend of creativity, problem solving skills, and efficiency. It’s a fun challenge to design mechanical systems of various scales and purposes on a day-to-day basis.”

“We’re excited for our new MEP professionals to be a part of PBA’s dynamic, diverse and nurturing learning environment, as we continue to strengthen our MEP team,” stated PBA’s Human Resources Manager, Wendy Gregarek. “Our recent graduates provide a new perspective to our team that we welcome and encourage. While our seasoned professionals serve as mentors to our graduate staff, our graduate staff shares their knowledge and skillset in the latest MEP technological advancements. We’re excited to see what the future holds for PBA and for what we can create together as our staff continues to grow.”

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