Adaptability And Networking Key To Employability In Computer Science And Engineering

By Jill Randolph
March 17, 2010


The University of Missouri - Kansas City, or UMKC, is one of four University of Missouri campuses. The main campus in Kansas City's Rockhill neighborhood, admits over 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students annually. Degrees are offered from the bachelor level to PhDs.

The School of Computing and Engineering offers ABET accredited undergraduate degree programs in computer science, information technology and civil, mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. SCE is Kansas City's only university with ABET accredited degree programs. SCE also offers master's degree programs in computer science and civil, mechanical, and computer electrical engineering, and participates in UMKC's interdisciplinary PhD program.

Whitney Carr Molloy joined SCE as the Director of Student Affairs in July 2009. Before arriving at UMKC, she spent eight years in college admission at a small, private university. Ms. Molloy received her BA in public relations and MA in communication from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.

Interview Transcript

Jill Randolph: What are the most important things high school students should do in order to be accepted into a college-level engineering program, and how soon should they start working on their plan?

Whitney Carr Molloy: As far as students thinking about what they want to do, the earlier they start, the better off they will be. With engineering, computer science, and information technology, math is a huge component of our course work, so the more math courses students take before entering into our program, the more prepared they will be once they get here. I think that is a very important aspect.

There are also a lot of opportunities for high school students to become more involved with engineering and math outside of class. Whether it's participating on a high school robotics team or finding other ways to gain outside experience, I think any experience like this is very helpful.

In addition, any organization students are involved with will help them stand out through the admission process, and also for scholarship consideration.

"It's important for students to have the fundamentals of engineering so that they can transition from one area to another, ... along with the ability to communicate effectively and to have an understanding of how businesses work."

Jill Randolph: Do you have any books or websites that you recommend to your students?

Whitney Carr Molloy: There is a great website for students who are trying to decide if the engineering field is the right one for them, called "Engineering, Go for It". The website is sponsored by ASEE, and it gives an overview of each of the different engineering areas, what engineers do, and different engineering career options. It's a pretty thorough website designed for students who are not yet in college, but who may be looking.

For students who are already here, we work in partnership with the UMKC Career Services office, so we direct students to that website. It provides direction and resources for the job search process, along with job postings.

Jill Randolph: Have you heard of other schools discontinuing their IT programs?

Whitney Carr Molloy: Yes, I have heard of several schools that have shut down their computer science degree programs, which is really interesting. I was recently looking at a list of the 10 degrees most desired by employers from 2007, and computer science was number three on the list.

This shows how important it is for students to be flexible in whatever they chose to do. A lot of students hear about new trends emerging that they want to pursue in order to try to be as employable as possible after graduation, but if these fields stop growing, it could end up really hurting those students when they are looking for a job.

It's important for students to have the fundamentals of engineering so that they can transition from one area to another. This is important in order for students to be successful when shifts occur in the economy, along with the ability to communicate effectively and to have an understanding of how businesses work.

Jill Randolph: Especially in a field as technical as engineering, which is so focused on a specialized set of skills, students need to zoom out and look at the big picture. They may have to become involved in a student organization in order to improve their communication skills, but this is what will make them stand out from the crowd in the end.

Knowing a trade isn't enough today, and it's amazing how drastically the job search has changed over the past 15 to 20 years.

Whitney Carr Molloy: It really is amazing. I graduated from college in 2000, and I got my first email account when I entered college. It's pretty amazing to watch how fast technology has progressed in the past 10 years. Who knows how everything will change in the future; that will be interesting to see as well.

"Students should complete an internship or gain another form of experience, because it is important that they have experience when they start their job searches."

Jill Randolph: Do you have any programs in place to help students who are changing jobs get into their desired field quickly?

Whitney Carr Molloy: Quick career changes are possible, but it depends on the student and his or her individual situation. I have been seeing more adults looking to make a career change, particularly into the Information Technology area. We work to help our nontraditional students, but we don't have a fast-track accelerating people through the program.

Jill Randolph: What are the three most important things students should do in order to prepare to find a job in the computing or engineering field after graduation?

Whitney Carr Molloy: Students should complete an internship or gain another form of experience, because it is important that they have experience when they start their job searches. Effective networking is very important as well, and I recommend students develop connections with people who may refer them to a position.

Effective networking makes a big difference. There are a lot of opportunities for engineering and computer science students to become involved within student chapters of professional organizations, which also provide connections and networking opportunities. Students may have the opportunity for job shadowing, or may be able to talk with professional engineers about their career paths.

We also have a program we started this semester called "Career Connections", where we bring in employers from the Kansas City area to give general informational sessions about their company or organization and the different career paths within it.

They also sometimes discuss projects they are working on, which has been really interesting for students. They are able to learn about different opportunities they may not have thought about or considered.

Jill Randolph: There are currently a lot of unemployed people applying for jobs, including those for which they may be overqualified. What do you recommend students highlight about themselves in resumes in order to outshine the competition?

Whitney Carr Molloy: It's really important for students to have been involved during college through internship opportunities or student organizations. Within our engineering school at UMKC, we have student teams such as the Steel Bridge Team and the Baja Buggy team, where students build these items, whether it's a bridge, a buggy or a human-powered vehicle, and then enter them into regional and national competitions.

This shows employers that a student has good time management skills if he or she has been able to maintain a GPA while dedicating time to student organizations. It shows leadership, as well, and these types of activities make a student stand out in the job-search process.

"It's really important for students to have been involved during college through internship opportunities or student organizations."

Jill Randolph: Because of the way the economy is right now, have you heard students are receiving lower compensation offers than in the recent past?

Whitney Carr Molloy: I haven't heard anything from employers or from our career services office to have any indication that this is happening. However, because of the recession, employers today realize they have the opportunity to be more selective in whom they decide to hire. They have such a range of candidates that they can pursue the exact qualifications or people they want.

On the other hand, I believe nothing has changed due to the economy for the candidates who are good at what they do and are wanted by multiple employers.

Jill Randolph: Do you offer any specific advice to students regarding networking?

Whitney Carr Molloy: The most important thing is that students attend as many activities as possible where they have opportunities to connect with potential employers, even if the students don't see how it will benefit their job search. I encourage our computer science students to attend employer presentations whenever representatives from engineering firms come in, because students never know who they will meet or connect with.

It's important that students are open to different experiences, because they never know who will be there and who may help them in the future.

Jill Randolph: What about students who have scheduling conflicts? Do you have recordings of the presentations so that students are able to view them virtually?

Whitney Carr Molloy: We don't, but that is a good idea. This is the first semester we have offered this program, so we are certainly always looking for new ways to connect students and employers.

Jill Randolph: What do you recommend students do in order to maintain a work-life balance once they start working full-time?

Whitney Carr Molloy: I think students should determine the job requirements and expectations of the position before they accept a job. If someone knows they don't have the ability to travel because of family or other reasons, they need to know that travel is expected before they accept the job, so that they can try to negotiate or opt for a position that suits their needs.

Work-life balance is different for everyone. It is important for people to take time for themselves, because if they are not happy outside of work, they most likely won't be happy at work, which doesn't help the employer or the employee's success rate either. I also think it's important for students to realize that it's okay to ask for help when they need it.

Jill Randolph: How have universities changed from the past?

Whitney Carr Molloy: I have been in higher education for several years, and one thing I have noticed recently is that there has been a transition from schools trying to filter students out to instead focusing on how they can help students succeed while in college.

We want to help our students through the program, and faculty and staff are always looking for new resources to provide to students in order to ensure that they are not only successful through their educational career, but after graduation as well. We want their transition to a job or graduate school to be as smooth as possible.

Jill Randolph: In the past, many schools had the philosophy that if students couldn't make it in college, they couldn't make it in the real world, so colleges were filtering people out.

"Students' success includes... networking, a well-rounded education, soft skills, and flexibility in their career path."

Whitney Carr Molloy: Yes, and we heard the old adage, "look to your left, look to your right, and one of these people won't be here when you leave." Colleges and universities are starting to realize that they should be working to ensure that this isn't the case, and they are determined to help students succeed.

Students' success includes having many opportunities to network, and a well-rounded education, soft skills, and flexibility in their career path, and we work with our students to help them graduate and to have these opportunities.

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