Getting revved up

MSU students travel to the auto show for networking opportunities

When mechanical engineering junior Scott Smith arrived at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, he wasn’t there solely to gawk at cars.

He was there to forge his career path.

Every January more than half a million people descend on Detroit’s Cobo Center to witness the latest and greatest on wheels under the bright lights of the auto show.

Josh Sidorowicz / The State News
Josh Sidorowicz / The State News
Josh Sidorowicz / The State News
Josh Sidorowicz / The State News

The 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit features the latest products and technology in the auto industry.

This year, the show began on Jan. 10 and runs until Jan. 23. The show has been help in Detroit for more than 20 years.

But for every handful of car buffs or gear heads, there also are students looking for more than horsepower numbers or torque ratings.

These students are looking for opportunities.

“It’s safe to say I’ve always been a car buff, and I’ve wrenched on things for a long time,” Smith said. “So the draw is definitely there to be involved in something like this.”

Making connections
Smith, along with other members of the MSU Formula Racing Team, has been at Cobo Center since opening press day taking turns fielding questions and showcasing the team’s racing exhibit. Along with showing off his team’s work, Smith said the opportunity to network at the auto show is invaluable.

“You end up getting to know a lot of people within the industry by coming to events like this and talking to the professionals,” he said.

“(These people) are doing what I could potentially be doing one day.”

Born and raised in the Detroit area, Smith said his personal connection to the auto industry has made it a large part of his life.

“I’d definitely love to take a job if it was offered to me,” he said.

“I’d love to get in there and be a part of this industry.”

Smith said being a member of the MSU Formula Racing Team has given him opportunities which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

“I get to work with things I would’ve never been able to do on my own,” he said.

“The coolest aspect is I can actually get right up in there and make stuff and apply what I’m learning in the classroom in real life.”

Computer engineering freshman He Chen, Smith’s racing team partner, said this year marked his first trip to an auto show, and he was thrilled to have the chance to talk with several industry professionals.

“I can definitely see the value in being here,” Chen said.

“It’s a way to not only promote Formula 1, but to promote myself. I’ve already gotten a few business cards from people.”

Marketing senior Jeff Donnell also attended the auto show to showcase his work in front of professionals.

Donnell, along with two graduate students and MSU marketing professor Clay Voorhees, presented their study of auto-industry marketing to industry representatives, marketing firms and the press earlier in the week.

“It’s a great way to show what you have to offer,” Donnell said.

“To have all these big names, all these people brought to your doorstep in one room, it’s not like you can just ignore that these people you’re talking to could be really good contacts down the line.”

Now hiring
On the heels of Ford Motor Co.’s recent announcement that it will hire an additional 7,000 hourly and salaried workers within the next two years, Ford communications manager Anne Marie Gattari said the Dearborn, Mich., automaker is just one of many companies once again looking to recruit young, fresh talent.

“Whether it’s engineering, marketing, communications or finance, the work that those studies entail can all be seen on display at the auto show,” Gattari said.

Although engineering might be synonymous with the industry, marketing and human resources also play a signficant role, she said.

“Engineering works side by side with marketing. All of the displays you see here were dreamed up by marketing people, and human resources had to find the right people for the job,” Gattari said.
“It’s a huge process if you take a minute to think about what goes into making an entire vehicle come together.”

Former engineering reporter for Automotive News in Detroit, Richard Truett, who now works in Ford’s communication department, said MSU has had an excellent track record when it comes to producing highly recruited interns.

“I’ve found we got our best from (MSU) in all honesty,” Truett said when talking about his 10-year stint at Automotive News.

“MSU is golden as far as interns are concerned. Every one of them seemed to be a superstar.”
Truett said he wanted to emphasize, although there are many engineering jobs in the industry, there also are other avenues attached to the industry for students to pursue.

“Coming down to the auto show is really one of the best ways — if not the only way — to really get up close and see what actually happens in this industry,” he said.

The bigger picture
With the near implosion of Detroit’s Big Three in 2008 still fresh in the minds of many, Carmellia Davis-King, an adviser in the College of Engineering, said she views the show as a learning opportunity to dispel student’s fears.

Davis-King, who also is the co-curricular director of the Spartan Engineering Residential Experience has been taking a group of mostly first-year engineering students to the Detroit auto show for the past three years, she said.

“I found through talking with students — especially first-year ones — that a lot of them were worried there wouldn’t be an industry when they graduated,” Davis-King said.

“Being able to take those students to the show and turn them loose to have the opportunity to talk with different vendors is so crucial in helping them understand.”

Davis-King said she hopes the students expand their horizons of what transportation can be by realizing the numerous aspects that go into making an entire car.

“I want them to look at the technology, the environmental impact, the fuel efficiency and everything else that makes up a car and find out how it helps the industry,” she said.

“We’re not just looking at the design — it’s much bigger than that.”

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