Four-year engagement plan makes meaningful match between UAH students and employers

Drone showcase

UAH’s Office of Career Services has launched a four-year employer engagement plan to match UAH students with corporate employers.

Michael Mercier | UAH

With an eye toward helping to grow the region’s pool of talented, qualified STEM employees, the Office of Career Services at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has launched a four-year employer engagement plan – known as the i4 program – to match UAH students with corporate employers in a more meaningful, engaging way than that offered by traditional recruiting strategies.

“The i4 program is changing the way students and employers interact by creating a long-term relationship between candidates and potential employers,” says Candace Phillips, the senior coordinator in UAH’s Office of Career Services. “This program is an innovative way to support employers who are committed to building a pipeline of talented new hires who have hands-on experience in the professional workplace before graduation.”

The concept initially began as a mentoring program in partnership with Northrop Grumman Corporation, but it has evolved significantly in response to the needs of both the students and employers taking part. “This model is unique to UAH,” says Phillips, who recently presented it at the Cooperative Education & Internship Association’s Annual Conference in Charleston, SC. “We spent nearly a year developing it, and it’s received a lot of attention.”

The projects that have come out of the i4 program have been nothing short of amazing.

Candace Phillips
UAH Office of Career Services

Year one of the i4 program gives employers the opportunity to introduce participating students to their brand by taking part in a variety of outreach efforts throughout the year. This includes serving on a career panel, participating in UAH’s Month of Externships and Mentor-A-Charger programs, and becoming a sponsor of the university’s annual Co-Op Kickoff.

During year two, participating students are mentored by the employers in small groups whose size depends on the number of internship/co-op vacancies at the organization. The groups meet with their respective employer six times during the course of fall semester – four times on the UAH campus, and twice at the employer’s location. Of the latter two meetings, the first consists of a tour of the employer’s facility, while the second serves as both a graduation ceremony and an opportunity for the students to interview for internship/co-op positions with the employer.

The students then complete the internship or co-op with the employer during year three of the i4 program. “Early immersion into an organization’s culture is just as beneficial to the employer as it is to the student,” says Phillips. “Meaningful engagement with up-and-coming professionals gives employers the opportunity to identify shining stars – and future leaders – in the field.”

In the fourth and final year of the i4 program, the students – now seniors – are tasked with working on a two-semester design project or case study identified by the employer. The purpose is twofold; first, it gives them hands-on experience in the field, and second, it gives them insight into identifying and resolving real-world problems faced by the employer.

students in class

A recent design project challenged a team of five engineering students and three mentors from Northrop Grumman with figuring out how to stop an enemy drone from entering a protected zone.

Michael Mercier | UAH

“The projects that have come out of the i4 program have been nothing short of amazing,” says Phillips, citing a recent one that challenged a team of five engineering students and three mentors from Northrop Grumman with figuring out how to stop an enemy drone from entering a protected zone. “This was a problem Northrop Grumman has been working hard to try to solve itself,” says class advisor Dr. Landrum, who also serves as the associate chair of UAH’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Normally, we focus on a vehicle with its physical components, but this project was different because of the broader considerations of operational concepts, and distributed physical and software components that must work together.”

Consequently, the students had to seek out input from experts beyond not just their own discipline, but engineering as a whole – something that fellow class advisor and professor of industrial & systems engineering Dr. Phil Farrington says they can expect to do as professionals, too. “It provided a good foundation for the students because, when they graduate, it will be very rare that they work in a situation where they are only working with engineers from the same discipline,” he says. “It is more likely that they will work with both engineers and non-engineers. So this created a realistic situation, a very real-world problem.”

Which, in the end, is what the i4 program is all about. “First and foremost, it helps ensure that our students are fully prepared to walk off the stage at graduation and into a successful future as STEM professionals,” says Phillips. “But just as important, it gives our participating employers the ability to both hand-select and fast-track the students who they believe will be the best fit for their organization after graduation. It’s a combination that can’t be beat, and one that we’re proud to be able to offer at UAH.”

Students who are interested in participating in the i4 program can apply during the month of May using Charger Path, UAH’s career management system for currently enrolled students and alumni. To be eligible for selection, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.75 and have completed between 33 and 42 credit hours, and they must meet the employment criteria required by the employer. Faculty and former i4 program student participants are also encouraged to make recommendations to UAH’s Office of Career Services, whose staff members will review applications, conduct interviews, and select candidates.


Candace Phillips

UAH’s Office of Career Services


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