By Michael Fusco
I discovered the advice I want to share in this letter while I was a student, and I hope that by sharing it I can alleviate some of the challenges you may encounter. My perspective comes as a newly graduated alumnus (May 2019), fully aware of the daily life at ERAU and the energy required to earn an engineering degree.
The most important factor in succeeding at ERAU is to recognize why you are here in the first place. You must have an enduring passion for the work you are doing and want to be doing. I stress that this must be an extremely personal conviction, aligning with the core values you seek to achieve in your own life. For example, ask yourself “Why do I want a career in aerospace?” and justify your answer. “I like airplanes, rockets, robots, astronomy…” is a lead to an answer but not the answer: you need to answer for yourself why you enjoy creating, flying, observing, analyzing, etc.
I stress the importance of living with conviction because it will be necessary to guide yourself through many day-to-day concrete situations. The good experiences at ERAU should add to your conviction (e.g., completing your senior capstone project, solving a difficult problem, building flight hardware). Unfortunately, you will also experience many setbacks and disappointments. The homework may pile up, you may find learning from a particular professor to be difficult, or may not do well on an exam. Assuming you are acting within your highest ability, don’t let minor setbacks, mistakes, or errors of knowledge alter your fundamental conviction that you are efficacious and the universe is auspicious to your life. You are not at ERAU to be “perfect,” but rather to learn.
The method by which to advance and heighten your conviction is to make decisions. A decision does not close doors: it opens them. If that advice sounds paradoxical, let me explain that by making choices you achieve certainty and can then answer more advanced questions, gradually gaining confidence in your mind’s ability to judge what is in your interest. When I first arrived at ERAU, I was on the fence between a degree in aerospace engineering or physics. My ultimate decision in engineering rested on careful and, I must emphasize, selective consideration. In my case, by choosing engineering I concerned myself primarily with creating things rather than analyzing nature. This decision then opened the door to answering the type of aerospace products I’m really interested, then the systems of an aerospace product, finally leading me to the direction I want to take in my career.
The foregoing brings me to the topic of employment. The practical purpose for attending ERAU should be to train your mind and gain the necessary skills to pursue your passion—manifesting itself ultimately in a productive career, whether that’s in industry or academia. I suggest using the first three years at ERAU to build your skills using the many opportunities that the university has to offer. These skills and experiences will make you an attractive candidate for an internship in your third summer. Building from there, an internship enhances your ability to find a good job after you graduate.
The truth is that in your first two years you will more than likely not get an internship (I didn’t), despite the constant encouragement and pressure of others to do so. I am not advising to ignore opportunities as they may present themselves (e.g., still attend the career expo to gain familiarity and survey the industry). Rather, invest time in yourself to build your skillset. For example, my first summer I studied abroad, and my second summer I worked with an ERAU NASA Space Grant project.
Finally, some advice to senior students. If you already secured a job (or will shortly) once you graduate, that’s awesome! You will find a new and unique pleasure in your first job: the sense of a new beginning, but a beginning where you are equipped with the necessary skills to face it. To those who haven’t found a job yet, I can empathize; I secured a job this past July. My advice is to focus on finishing your studies and put that same energy (I know what it takes to finish) into finding a job once you graduate. (Again, don’t ignore opportunities in front of you!) Your ERAU degree carries significant weight, and it should be only a matter of time before you find a job you love.
Good luck, and I wish you all the best!