Hot Young Engineers!

The Cornell University Mechanical Engineer Heading Straight To The Top

Written by Imran Yusuf | Hot Young Engineers! | Thursday 8th August 2013 11:53:00 GMT

Kelly Callens is an EngineeringBecause Campus Manager at Cornell University. She's half-way through a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Kelly Callens says doing intense, hands-on internships is an essential supplement to your degree.

Kelly Callens says doing intense, hands-on internships is an essential supplement to your degree.

Why did you choose to study Engineering at Cornell?
Cornell has a very well respected engineering program—one of the best in the world. They place a great deal of focus on their undergraduates and even more so their women in engineering. When I visited during my senior year of high school, I picked up on this as well as there being incredible support in the College of Engineering, with the professors and advisors truly trying to help you succeed. (Check out other Cornell engineering students here!)
You've done internships - which was the most valuable, and what did you gain from it?
I was an intern at Pinnacle AIS, the leader in mechanical integrity for the petrochemical and refining industry, for almost a year. We have clients all over the United States and have been expanding globally at such a fast rate to many other countries. During my time at Pinnacle, I worked on approximately 10 projects with 7 different project leads and 3 different project managers. Aside from the hands on experience I gained from the refining/petrochemical industries, I learned how to work for different types of personalities and what it takes to succeed in different situations in the “real world.” I was blessed with the mentorship of so many individuals and learned how to work as part of a team.
I learned how to work hard. I have never worked so hard in my life as I did for my last project lead; he is the definition of disciplined. I learned how to own my work. I have never had so much responsibility placed on me as I did with certain projects. I learned how to ask for help. I was once tossed into an in-house project that I believe was testing my abilities to sink or swim. I quickly learned how to swim with the help of those around me. I learned how to interact in professional environments. When you’re on-site (this refers to client sites such as Lyondell Basell in Lake Charles, LA and Phillips 66 in Linden, NJ which were two I worked on), you better make a good impression—you could be the reason a new purchase order doesn’t go through.
Ultimately, I learned that having a mentor and asking questions will lead to an extremely valuable experience. I was blessed to have an internship in which I was handed the same work as full time engineers. Look for those. Because what you can gain from an internship far outweighs what you gain in school.
How did you get the internship? Any tips on this for your engineering colleagues?
I walked in the door and asked the CEO for a job. No, really. Well, technically I was approached at a café one day by someone who knew I had an interest in engineering. He is very good friends with the CEO and was trying to help him find interns for the summer. He took my information and when I didn’t hear back about anything in a week and a half, I looked up the company’s address and drove myself over, resume in hand.
I asked to speak to the CEO. We talked for two minutes, and I got an interview on the spot.
I didn’t get hired. Well, not right away. This was July after high school graduation and I would be leaving for college in 6 weeks. There was not enough time to train me to benefit a project. 
The key here is that I followed through, though. When freshman year rolled around and I needed an internship for the summer, I emailed the CEO, because let’s face it, at this point you can see I like to go straight to the top (but mainly because I was interviewed by an HR intern the summer before and didn’t know who to contact that would remember me). Within 24 hours, I had an offer on the table.
I realize you can’t just walk in to any company and ask the CEO for a job. But you can use the connections around you. It’s ridiculous to listen to anyone who says freshmen can’t get internships. Be ambitious, be driven, and be bold. Use your connections. Make new connections. And if the opportunity arises to ask the head honcho for a job, take it. The worst they can say is no. 
You're a member of other engineering clubs and societies. What do these involve?
I am involved with The Society of Women Engineers and have really enjoyed the outreach aspect of this organization. I love bringing science, math, and engineering to younger kids who are still exploring what they want to be when they grow up. We have the ability to help mold them into innovators and problem solvers. The smallest act can have the biggest impact on a child’s future. I love watching kids get excited about how our world works.
Aside from outreach, the organization involves mentorship programs, networking events, conferences, and an incredible network of women engineers.
What else can you tell us about studying engineering at Cornell?
The opportunities at hand are truly amazing and right there for the taking. There is incredible research being done day in and day out, and you have the chance to be a part of it. I feel as though most of my professors are truly invested in my academic career. Cornell has the resources and the funding to help you pursue any topic in engineering that interests you.
What are your plans for the future?
Since I was very young, I have wanted to be an astronaut. I love the aerospace industry and growing up so close to Johnson Space center in Houston has helped influence that. My dream is still to achieve that goal one day. At the same time, my grandfather, Gene Callens, has recently published research, The Physical Electron, in which he defines the geometric model for this particle, thus defining the makeup of our universe. I have a very strong desire to apply this research and help change the world for the better.

Meet other Cornell engineering undergrads here!

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